When it comes to nonfiction books about optimizing output, performance, or efficiency in life, the market is somehow overly saturated in quantity and nearly completely devoid of quality. Fortunately, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success finds a way to buck that trend and provide a completely worthwhile and engaging read.
This should come of no surprise to any frequent readers of Steve Magness or Brad Stulberg. The co-authors have both consistently produced interesting and smart content through their individual outlets. When the two come together, it’s as if their writing style is elevated, and the book is able to reach another level. It’s that sort of synergy that so many “self-help” books preach, but fail to actually hit the mark on.
I almost want to apologize for using the phrase “self-help book” in this review, because for many of us, all that will do is conjure up bad connotations of authors with vapid credentials, speaking about ways to hack your life. So many authors, bloggers, and podcasters have made a living off this area, meaning there are piles of crap to wade through. Instead of just presenting a bunch of ideas without support, Magness and Stulberg interviewed scores of top performers and scientists to boil down an absorbable process for optimizing performance. This isn’t a self-help book. This is a look at how elite performers have honed their life in a way supported by science. It just so happens that plenty of those same principles can easily be applied to anyone’s pursuits.
With as many interviews and studies that they reference, it could be easy for the book to feel convoluted or overly-dense. That isn’t the case. Even at times where it seems like there’s a new story in each paragraph, the flow of the story never stumbles. That’s a remarkable feat.
It seems that when writing about neurochemistry, it could be very easy to get bogged down in the science and create a book that becomes a task to get through. A book that is in-digestible if read in anything more than 20 minute segments. That isn’t the case here. The way the authors weave in and out between real-life stories and scientific research is as engaging as the latest John Grisham thriller. I’ve read plenty of nonfiction books that I enjoyed, but very few have felt as easy and as valuable of a read as this book does.
In fact, I almost felt guilty staying up late reading as I got to sections about the value of sleep. Turning the page to see the chapter title “Rest Like the Best” when I’m still up reading hours past my bedtime was an odd sensation. Hopefully the authors would pardon me putting off their principles for one more day, as I essentially had no problem finishing the book in one sitting.
The section about sleep is especially resounding. I’ve always known sleep was important and tried to emphasize that to athletes I coach, but the way Magness and Stulberg break down the value of rest is the best I’ve ever heard it articulated. I want to buy a copy of at least those sections for every high school athlete I ever work with. But really, they should probably be reading the entire book.
All in all, you aren’t going to find a much better book on being elite. Peak Performance is a must read for not only athletes, but anyone interested replicating elite performance within their own pursuits.