“Winning is everything” is such a common phrase that we rarely question where it comes from and why we apply it to everyday experiences. One can win a little league game, an election, the lottery, a friendly competition at work or an unfriendly one. Entrepreneurs can win in business and patients aspire to win their battles over cancer and other sickness. We can win in life itself, and as the actor Charlie Sheen has recently told us, we can actually be “bi-winning” in our struggles with swings of mania and depression.
In Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession (Princeton University Press, 2010), Francesco Duina’s attempts to discover where this fascination with winning comes from, and why as Americans we’re so fond of using the concept in almost everything that we do. Behind our drive to win, he claims, is our desire for differentiation – the longing to be set apart from the rest, and to prove to others and ourselves that we are legitimate and right. But when Duina explores winning outside of the American context, he finds that not all societies share equally in this obsession.
President Obama has recently challenged Americans to “win the future.” In this book, Francesco Duina tells us why Obama–and so many Americans–considers the future and everything else a kind of zero-sum game.
This week’s episode of new books in sociology is hosted by David Phillippi.