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"Steroid Nation"

This article is more than 13 years old.

Even in the age of long subtitles, Steroid Nation distinguishes itself. This chronicle of chemical abuse is subtitled "Juiced Home Run Totals, Anti-Aging Miracles, And A Hercules In Every High School: The Secret History of America's Drug Addiction." It's not every subtitle that includes a colon of its very own. But maybe a bloated subtitle is appropriate for a book about bloated people with insanely expansive notions of how big they should get.

Shaun Assael has collected in this book the stories of some of the most notorious, chemically-enhanced athletes ever to loom over various sports. He has also connected that abuse to our culture's delight with record-setters, and to the inclination of lots of folks who aren't athletes to eat, drink and inject chemicals if somebody tells them that by doing so they will become more attractive, live longer, or both.

There are several threads running through this chronologically arranged history, much of which is not especially "secret." Assael gives us the stories of such notorious products of better performances through chemistry as Ben Johnson, of course, but he also charts the growth of the sometimes dubious industry spawned by the desire to catch the cheaters.

(We are an odd species, aren't we? or at least an ambivalent one. We want the homeruns, the more the better. We apparently needed them to save baseball. But we also want to catch, ridicule, and punish the guys who hit them if they weren't abiding by the rules.)

Shaun Assael's research has taken him to the pharmacies in Mexico's border towns where anybody with the cash can load up his car not only with steroids meant for Olympic sprinters, but with the stuff intended for cows and horses as well, since who knows how big that stuff might make a two-legged weightlifter until we try it? (Prescriptions? We don't need no stinking prescriptions.) Assael has also been to China, which, on the eve of the 2008 Olympics, seems to be flourishing as the world's largest supplier to athletes determined to become faster, go higher, and get stronger.

This program aired on October 25, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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