Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports

ISBN: 1592401996
ISBN 13: 9781592401994
By: Mark Fainaru-Wada Lance Williams

Check Price Now


2006 Baseball Currently Reading History Journalism Non Fiction Nonfiction Sport Sports To Read

Reader's Thoughts


Meh. I give it about a C. Books written by journalists -- specifically, newspaper reporters -- tend to be a little dry in style but make up for it with details. This book chronicles the rise and fall of BALCO, a supplement "facility" in San Francisco linked to the creation and distribution of designer steroids, with a client list reading like a who's who of elite athletes in track and field, professional baseball, the NFL and Olympians. Some of the details/back stories were interesting, but by the last third of the book, with a federal investigation in full swing, it became incredibly boring. Yes, I wanted to see what the authors had to say about Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, et al, but I am always suspicious of such bodies of work where this is little legitimate attribution. And when it is attributed, there are a lot of unnamed/unidentified sources. Gonna write a book? Gotta name your sources.The information, however, is compelling. I do believe Bonds juiced up with steroids he received through BALCO. And I believe doezens of others did as well.


I picked up this book thinking it would be more about baseball and sports in general, but it turned out to be focusing on steroids involved with BALCO, not just baseball. It covered many athletes in several sporting events, focusing on many Olympic runners. I found it hard to finish this book, but glad that I did. It was very dry at times and took time to read. If you are into steroids, this is the inside scoop for you.


This book got a lot of attention (and still does) for how thoroughly it documents Barry Bonds' steroid use. And there's a lot of that in the book, and the authors should get credit for it. But what's even more fascinating is that the book looks at steroids beyond Bonds and outside of the baseball, painting a portrait of an age when athletes in all sorts of competition were looking for a pharmacological edge. It's less a story exclusively about Bonds and baseball and more a story about how sports became tainted by steroids thanks largely to a company known as BALCO.

Kevin Kirkhoff

Just like Fainaru-Wada’s other book League of Denial, this was a very interesting and entertaining read. Although it seemed that most of the book dealt with the BALCO and track and field side as opposed to the baseball (Bonds) side, they did a great job of tying everyone together. But I was a bit surprised at the number of typos and grammatical errors.It did bother me though when they got to the investigative section of the book (Part II). I’m of the opinion that it’s none of our business what people put into their bodies. When the main IRS agent is sifting through BALCO’s trash (I never realized you didn’t need a search warrant to do that) and voicing a strong dislike for Barry Bonds, I started wondering if they just wanted to find something on Bonds. And as it did to me back then, it really bothered me when President Bush is mentioning steroids in a State of the Union speech and Congress is having hearings on “cleaning up baseball”, although it was encouraging that most of the Bush Justice Department thought the idea of government caring about baseball and steroids was laughable. If MLB, the NFL, or NBA want to police their sport, that’s one thing. To have the Feds try to tell a private business how to conduct itself is a different story.Bonds’s teammates and girlfriend did shed light on clubhouse atmosphere and Bonds as a person. While there was no mention of the NBA, tennis, hockey, or golf, the book pretty much gave the impression (maybe rightly so) that most professional sports are plagued by athletes doing whatever they can to get an edge. Part of that is finding chemicals that are not yet detected by drug screens.But, I do give the book 4 stars in spite of the typos, grammar, and queasiness of having the government involved in sports. It was enlightening and very well-written, content-wise.


Very in depth and covered more than the doing problem in baseball. It always bothered me that baseball got so much attention in regards to performance enhancing drugs. Very troubling how much of this goes in in various sports. Also amazing how many people are involved in creating and promoting PEDs. What was especially surprising is how some guy creates a performance enhancer in his kitchen and athletes actually take it without wondering what it is or what is might do to them.


Game Of Shadows is about BALCO and the impact that it had on the sporting world at large from Baseball (Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, etc...) to Track and Field (Marion Jones) to Football (Bill Romanowski). But the main crux of this book focused squarely on Barry Bonds, detailing his steroid use starting in 1999.If Hollywood ever decides to make a movie about BALCO, this is the book they will no doubt use as it's blue print. I for one would love to see it happen because this book was a gripping, fantastic read. I could not put this book down for one second and that's saying a lot since I knew pretty much the entire sordid story before even reading it.With all the knowledge of what's been happening in real life concerning BALCO, the more I read the book, the more I devoured what was happening in the pages here. Knowing how it all ends, it was fascinating watching, er...reading about this group of people and associates that comprised BALCO as they were building their house of cards. A very shaky house of cards at that. It amazes me that the house didn't collapse sooner than it did with Victor Conte at the helm. He is nothing more than a spoiled little child, crying out for attention. He never amounted to anything in life so the only way he could feel like "someone" was to hang on to celebrities.I can recommend this if you want an excellent read that will have you flipping page after page, even if it is "incomplete" in that Barry Bonds was never convicted in a court of law or that the book came out before his assault on Hank Aaron's all-time Home Run record which is not documented within'.Highly recommend this book. Check it out.You can find more of my Book, DVD, TV and Movie reviews at my Forum (Penny Can) at... http://pennycan.createaforum.comFeel free to stop by and contribute your 2 cents.

Jaymz H.

The game of baseball was forever changed when the all-star, Barry Bonds was caught using steroids and growth hormones supplied by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or BALCO, nutrition center. This story was fully explained in the Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.The Game of Shadows is very similar to Love me, Hate Me by Jeff Pearlman because they both are about how Barry Bonds converted himself from a baseball hero, to a baseball anti-hero. Bonds was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates before he was out of college, which you have to be very talented for. He personally upped the attendance to all the games he played in, which were at record lows before Bonds. However, when he was not being noticed because of the other stars of baseball, he wanted to try and get an edge on them. His personal trainer, Anderson, supplied Bonds with his performance enhancing drugs. And Anderson was getting anabolic steroids from BALCO.The authors make Barry seem like a stuck up guy that need all of the attention of everyone. He didn't want to play baseball at first because then he would be held up to his father’s records and achievements. This will lead Bonds toward the path of using performance enhancing drugs. Bonds was connected to BALCO by the federal government when they raided the BALCO company in 2003. Everyone was against Bonds and there was seeming no way out. His own wife told the BALCO grand jury that Bonds was taking steroids. 5 of Bonds friends from baseball told the court that they received performance enhancing drugs from Anderson and they only know Anderson because he was Bonds trainer. By the end of the book, Bonds was able to take the field again as “the greatest player of all time [to] take his position in left field”, said the Giants executive vice president.The Game of Shadows is sports non-fiction. This book is strictly off the facts. There is no opinion from the author in the book anywhere so as a reader, you can get the whole picture of the story without it being distorted in any way. As a reader of this book, you are supposed to understand what happens when you cheat. The extreme case of Barry Bonds was used because his cheating exposed a huge string of athletes that have also been using steroids and are getting away with it and the company supplying the drugs.After reading the Game of Shadows, I would rate it a 3 out of 5. I like baseball and was very interested in the effects this case had on it, but I don’t really like the lack of opinion. I really didn’t expect there to be much opinion because this is just not a topic you can insert much opinion. I did find this book to be very educational also. I knew about this scandal, but now I know the details about the scandal.


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.


This slightly overly detailed book tells the story of how steroids invaded professional sports, including the Olympics. Beginning in the late 1970s, steroids and other drugs were being tested and researched by personal trainers and body builders on how to bulk up, increase speed, and fine tune athletic performance. The "steroid story" is told here, including the negative physical and mental side effects. This book also delves into the tabloid fodder of the mistakes made by Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, as well as sadly, so many other revered professional athletes. This book pulled away the proverbial curtain on how drugs have infiltrated sports and so many "heroes." Redemption is not included secondary to many athletes did not admit to using (or if they did, justifying why they cheated) drugs. A little depressing to me, a sports fan, yet important to know and be aware of when watching these phenoms in the stadium, on the track, on the field, and in the dugout.


This was an eye opening book that pulls back the covers on the steroid abuses in professional sports. Olympic, MLB, and NFL players were all involved. You may walk away saddened by how many recent top athletes were implicated. I am waiting to see the outcome of the Barry Bonds purgury trial. There is overwhelming evidence he took steroids and then lied to the Grand Jury investigating the steroid dealers. GoS also uncovers the motivations and rational of the players who took them. GoS is well written. It becomes a page turner at many points.


There is no way anyone could read this book, see the amount of hard evidence documented within, and still conculde anything other than Barry Bonds knowingly took performance enhancing drugs. The Federal agents have:1) Calenders denoting which drugs he took on which days used by the BALCO lab to control his drug cycles and maximize the drugs effectiveness.2) A wire recording from an undercover agent that recorded Barry's personal trainer saying what drugs Barry was taking.3) Results of failed drug tests from a private third party testing facility, performed at the request of BALCO labs when trying to determine the chamical balance required to make the drugs undetectable (has to be adjusted to each person's body chemistry). The test was performed for an anonymous person, code-named Barry B.4) A confession from Victor Conte diretor of BALCO labs that Barry was taking the things the above records indicate and that he did so knowingly (This confession has later been denied). 5) Other evidence that I either can't remember, would take a long time to explain, or was smaller in scope.Combine this with the testimonies of several people near him, like his former mistress and former agent, and it is an open and shut case. If his name remains in any of baseball's record books or if he gets in the hall of fame, it would be a tragedy. See my Dr. King quote.


Barry Bonds used to be one of the most iconic baseball players the MLB had ever seen, by hitting monstrous homeruns into McCovey Cove while also being the son of hall of famer Willie Mays. But than when Bonds was later found out to be linked to BALCO and abusing steroids his life took a turn for the worst. This book gives you an elaborate description of how Bonds' steroid abuse caused his life to spiral downwards, from his days in Pittsburgh till he retired. Many of the people that knew of the scandal and a part of Bonds' life also help display the changes they started to see in not just his physical attributes but along with his everyday life. We see how the home run king is striped of his crown and everything he ever works for, due to bad decisions and pressure put on him to be the best. Fainaru-Wada's style can seem very lengthy at times along with going into too much depth on some matters that seem like he could do without, but for the most part he has a solid writing style that is easy to read. At Times this can be one of the most exciting books and hard to put down, due to the great imagery and the author allowing you to feel as if you are right next to Barry throughout most the book makes up for the lengthy parts. Although at some points it seems as if the author takes a side upon wether what Bonds did was right or wrong at some points, he mostly stays unbiased about Bonds. Fans of sport stars that are effected by steroids will enjoy this book. If you enjoy Biographies that make you think what if, Game of Shadows is for you.


This book is terrific. If you are even mildly interested in the steroid scandal that rocked baseball and the Olympics, this book is startling. The depth of information you get truly reveals the extreme level of cheating and thus the pathological denial of the athletes as they chemically manipulated their bodies. Don't be fooled, they cheated. Rest assured that if a name is mention in this book, they cheated using performance enhancing drugs regardless of their public denials. If they say anything other than they cheated they are lying and this book proves it beyond a reasonable doubt.


I found this an interesting account of the steroids history in baseball and the Olympics. It told the story of Barry Bonds and many of the other steroid users in baseball as well as Marion Jones and other Olympic athletes who used or were caught using banned substances in sports. I know there are strong urges to use steroids to become the best you can be in your sport. I can now better understand the pressure that Lance Armstrong felt to use steroids to win the many Tour de France's he competed in. I'm optimistic that we can get these substances out of sports, but know there will always be a temptation to use them. Lifetime bans for cheaters might be the only way to rid sports of these intense problems. A recommended read.


I thought I was going to be very interested in this story since I was a big baseball fan at the time of reading the book, but it had trouble keeping my interest.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *