Kurt's Reviews > Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports

Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada
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Jun 08, 11

bookshelves: science, sports, non-fiction
Read from March 25 to April 20, 2011

When GAME OF SHADOWS arrived on the scene, the clamor was to know about Barry Bonds and what, if any, illegal drugs he took to fuel his pursuit of Major League Baseball’s all time home run record. To a lesser degree people wanted to know why. Those questions are answered painstakingly throughout the book. In fact, the presentation of Barry Bonds in this book is so brutal, like a villain from a penny dreadful novel, that if it wasn’t true he would have sued. Truth be told, I have been a Bonds hater since he signed with the San Francisco Giants---rival to my LA Dodgers. But even I often blushed at the broad strokes of distasteful behavior that he is shown to be capable of. That, however, is the prurient part of the book. What makes GAME OF SHADOWS a book of historical note is the depth it plumbs into the entire performance enhancing drug culture. The book was criticized upon arrival for not being all about Barry Bonds—as if the rest of it were just padding. Bond’s outsized personality is used to shine a light on the rest of what was going on at the time. Tempting to just use the term steroids when talking about performance enhancing drugs as a short cut, most people have some sense of what those are, but the book reveals that the many different drugs used come from many different places and medical disciplines. Following the drugs from creation to distribution to use is fascinating and the extent to which they have permeated the sports world—including to a very large degree our Olympic athletes who seemingly should have held themselves to a higher standard—is astonishing. Basically an extended newspaper article, the book remains fresh and lively throughout by deftly dropping one story line for another so by the end there is the feeling of having followed the story for months and staying on top of it the whole time. Don’t be scared off if you are not a baseball fan. Or a sports fan. The book reminds us that we may think we have air tight characters, but one wrong decision and we sink like stones.
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