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Merlino grew up in Seattle, Washington and attended the Lakeside School. He studied government at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles, and received graduate degrees in journalism and international affairs from the University of California, Berkeley. He lived in Budapest, Hungary, where he worked as an editor at the Budapest Business Journal. He is married and now lives in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City.
Merlino has worked for publications including Slate, Wired, Men's Journal, the Budapest Business Journal, and the Seattle Times. He reported on post-genocide reconciliation in Rwanda for the PBS show Frontline/World.
Merlino's first book, The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White, was published by Bloomsbury USA in January 2011. The nonfiction book tells the story of a basketball team that Merlino played on as a 14-year-old in the 1986. The team, an integration experiment, mixed privileged white players from Merlino's private school with African-American kids from Seattle's Central Area. The boys won an AAU championship that season, and the organizers began a program to enroll some of the black players in private schools.
Several years later Merlino learned that Tyrell Johnson, one of his African-American teammates, had been murdered and dismembered. This spurred him to track down the remaining players to find out what happened to them, and how they looked back at their team. They include a hedge fund manager, a Pentecostal preacher, a prosecutor, a frequently incarcerated cocaine addict, a winemaker, and a street hustler. The resulting book tells the story of these individuals, but also focuses on the shifting dynamics of race and class, manhood, education and gentrification over the last thirty years. Many of the players and coaches from the team reunited in January 2011 for a televised panel discussion that coincided with the release of the book.
Merlino's second full-length book, Beast: Blood, Struggle and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts  was published by Bloomsbury USA in October 2015. It details two years that Merlino spent following professional MMA fighters from elite American Top Team in Florida. The main fighters profiled include Jeff Monson, an American anarchist rising to fame on the Russian fight circuit; Daniel Straus, a Cincinnati native fighting his way toward a title shot after a stint in prison; Steve Mocco, an NCAA champion wrestler and Olympian attempting to make the transition to cage fighting; and Mirsad Bektic, a Bosnian refugee and one of the sport’s top prospects. The book was praised for its gritty realism in outlets ranging from No Holds Barred to the New York Times Book Review.
Merlino has also published an e-book, The Crossover: A Brief History of Basketball and Race, from James Naismith to Lebron James.
- Westneat, Danny (January 1, 2011). "A Courtside Seat to an Experiment in the Elusive Goal of Integration". Seattle Times. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- "Musical Tea." The Fortnightly, Claremont McKenna College. January 20, 1992. "" Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- "Official website".
- Merlino, Doug. "Mass Media for a Minority." Central Europe Review. October 18, 2002. "" Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- Merlino, Doug. "After the Genocide." Frontline/World. December 2003. "" Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- Merlino, Doug (2011). The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-60819-215-1.
- "Book Review: The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White." Kirkus. October 1, 2010. "" Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- Morrison, Douglas. "The Novel Road Interview: Doug Merlino." The Novel Road. February 11, 2011. "" Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- Lightfoot, Judy (March 31, 2001). "A Captivating Hustle". Crosscut.com. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
- Tjarks, Jonathan. "Book Review: Doug Merlino's 'The Hustle.'" Open Salon. March 5, 2001. ""Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2011-04-17." Retrieved April 17, 2011.
- "Town Square: One Team and Ten Lives". Seattle Channel. January 27, 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- Merlino, Doug (2015). Beast: Blood, Struggle and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts. New York: Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 9781620401552.
- "Beast: Blood, Struggle and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts". Bloomsbury USA.
- "Beast: Blood Struggle and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts".
- Goldman, Eddie. "No Holds Barred: Doug Merlino on "Beast: Blood, Struggle and Dreams at the Heart of Mixed Martial Arts"". No holds Barred.
- Taylor, Ishan (November 30, 2015). "Sports: 'The Grind,' 'Billion-Dollar Ball,' and More". The New York Times.
- "The Crossover".
- Gwinn, Mary Ann. "2011 Washington State Book Award Winners". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 16 September 2011.