One of the great joys of co-editing The Final Four of Everything
is the talent that we were able to assemble to create our brackets.
We have two Pulitzer Prize winners: David Maraniss, who has written biographies of Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente, did our American Olympian bracket. Why? His most recent book is about the 1960 Rome Olympics. Final matchup: Jesse Owens vs. Michael Phelps.
We also have David Oshinsky, the author of books on polio and Senator Joseph McCarthy, who created the Radicals and Extremists bracket. Final matchup: red-baiting Sen. McCarthy vs. the anti-slavery insurrectionist John Brown.
Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic, did our License Plates bracket, which ended with a Maine-New Mexico duel.
Mary Matalin, who served both President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney, did our Conservative Texts bracket. She boiled down our field of 32 to to the U.S. Constitution and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. (Have you ever seen the two together like that?) Her husband, James Carville, interviewed me on his XM show and in his inimitable way, declared The Final Four of Everything the perfect bathroom book (but not in those exact words!).
For Financial Villains, we turned to New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, whose bracket came down to a Bernie Madoff-Charles Ponzi smackdown.
Two presidential speech writers, Jeff Shesol and Curt Smith, are in the book. Shesol, who served President Clinton, built the tournament of Memorable Speech Lines, which came down to a Martin Luther King vs. Abe Lincoln final. And Smith, who wrote for Bush 41, bracketized presidential speeches, and ended up with Lincoln's Second Inaugural playing off against FDR's first inaugural.
The fun of creating or editing a bracket is more in seeing the path to the final than in the final matchup itself.
Take my Bald Guys bracket. The first thing I did was to follow the model of the NCAA men's basketball tournament — which has done more than anything in sports to popularize brackets — and split it into regionals. In my case, the regionals weren't geographic; instead, I had the Fringe-Hair and Shaved-Head regionals. I was for many years the former; but at the tonsorial request of shaved-headed Charles Barkley, the Round Mound of Rebound, I shaved off what I once had. "What you've got ain't working for you," he told me four years ago.
Once the regionals were set, I made my lists. Who had shaved their heads? Michael Jordan had, so had Yul Brynner, Isaac Hayes, Mr. Clean, Curly Howard, Homer Simpson, and Montel Williams. Who was known for hair on the side? Rudy Giuliani, John Glenn, Larry David, Dick Cheney, and John Adams. (And let's not forget the 1952 and 1956 presidential archenemies, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson.)
From there, I created regions with 16 great baldies in each. I arranged them into matchups, in a sort of arbitrary but still compelling way. Where else but in bracketology could you get a Yul Brynner-Stone Cold Steve Austin pairing?
Then I declared the winners in each matchup and it came down to Jordan vs. Glenn, each man involved in different forms of flight, one through natural means (Jordan) and the other through jet propulsion (Glenn). Each had taken unique roads to the finals. Jordan had defeated Bruce Willis, Hayes, Samuel L. Jackson, and Brynner to get to the title game. And Glenn had chalked up wins against Simpson, David, Joe Garagiola, and Ron Howard.