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on 20 May 2012
It's a curious phenomena, but adding the word "popular" to any academic subject seems to carry with it a perjorative tag (eg "popular science", "popular history"). There seems to be a feeling in some quarters that having a book labelled as 'popular' is a way of saying that it is contributing to the general dumbing down of the masses.
However in many ways nothing could be further from the truth, as popular [(insert your chosen topic here)] books are notoriously difficult to get right and having read a panoply over the years you realise there is a real art to getting them spot on.

It is with pleasure, therefore, that I can report that this book is one of those few to get it right...and so very right!

Not only is this a masterclass in how to write clear spare scientific prose but it also manages to simplify fairly complex topics without sacrificing accuracy on the Altar of the jealous 'god' Booksales. This of course isn't easy to do and so it's not done perfectly ....but few things are perfect are they?

The books point of departure is the now notorious event of the 100m mens final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where the majority of those taking part can be seen to have been tainted with the stigma of having used (potentially or obviously) performance enhancing drugs at one point in time or another.

The books then describes the why's and the how's of this subject by delving into the physiology, pharmacology and genetics of exercise. It is quite up to date and I would recommend it to all science students doing A-levels all the way up to PhD's and beyond (and to anyone else interested in the topic.) Along the way the author covers not only the usual subjects of 'why caffeine works' but more recent developments such as 'what beetroot has in common with viagra' (I paraphrase) and PEP-CK mutations in 'marathon-mice' (I paraphrase again.)

The book ends on the ethics of the topic (and catching drug cheats) and what is nice is that the author does not then do an ethical vanishing act or try to scale Mount Moral's highground:- instead the argument seems balanced and sane.

For those who want to go further there are plenty of references and all in all this is a pretty comprehensive but not cumbersome (or expensive) little book.
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on 14 November 2012
(I should preface this review with the fact I was looking for more of an academic book with lots od detail and not much in the way of a narrative. This book does not fulfill those criteria).

This book is fine if you're a slightly familiar with physiology/pharmacology and the information here is useful. It does tend to be a bit long-winded and some of the tangents are a bit irritating when you want to get to the point but that is in a big part due to it being inappropriate for my needs. After reading and understanding it, you will be well versed in the the how doping is used in sport and, like me, you may even suspect drug use in sports more ubiquitous than is commonly suggested in the media and that's a difficult pill to swallow (pun intended). You'll begn looking at the nation's sporting heroes in a new, cynical light because if a few athletes are doping, then what chance do the others have unless they are too.....?
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on 29 June 2012
I must say at the start that the book is a well written, well set out and thorough account of doping in sports. That being said, I can't believe I'm the only reader who struggled with the lengthy biochemistry sections. As a doctor, the science wasn't new to me, and I could understand it, but was still bored by the depth of detail in some sections. I think if I did not have a science background I would definitely have struggled.

I would also have liked some more detail of real cases/ athletes- the BALCO scandal and Tour de france drugs debacle were alluded to frequently, but some specific case studies would have livened up some of the more deadly biochemistry chunks!
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on 30 November 2012
This book is a rare breed, in that it is both a story and a science book in one fantastic amalgamation of what one would want from a sports book.

I read this book as I wanted to understand how drugs work. This book explains the effects in reasonable scientific detail without getting bogged down too much. The author weaves a good intermittent web of story and science. For example a brief history of testosterone use in sport, from testicles to modern day is covered, followed by chemical structural differentiations between nandrolone and testosterone. A great number of drugs are covered including amphetamines, testosterone, cortisone, HGH etc.

This is not just for those interested in sports and drugs but any person looking to improve their sporting performance. You will certainly find new information here of use. The sections on muscle growth covering myostatin and other protein functions etc are quite good.

I am sure the author could easily expand this book to be much longer if it were not a `restrictive subject'. However the conclusions would ultimately remain the same - drugs help, but so does self-belief.
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on 6 January 2013
As someone who is researching performance-enhancing drugs in sport, I found this book very interesting and will use it in the future as a reference tool. It is, without doubt, quite complicated, but certainly worth reading through the heavy science parts. I do not come from a science background, but I did want to know some of the scientific details on how testing is done, how drugs work etc. This book worked well for me in that regard.
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on 19 June 2012
I found this book really interesting it is set out in a straightforward way and really opens your eyes to the use of drugs in sport. It does make you sceptical on the performance of athletes. It is written by a biochemist but he makes it simple to understand. Highly recommended.
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on 4 May 2012
This is an exceptionally lucid survey of a very complicated and contentious topic. For anyone watching the Olympics, taxiing a sports-mad child or training for an event it is a worthwhile read. Chris Copper is a proper scientist, unlike most commentators in the field, and does a good and amusing job of teasing out the complications.

If you think the issues are simple try this (from p178): "To summarise: the inhibition of an inhibitor leads to the activation of an inhibitor of the inhibitory pathway." As the author concedes you need some patience to be a biochemist, and a fine appreciation of the quadruple negative, I'd add.

So what is a performance enhancing drug?

Placebos work. And intra-venous placebos work even better.

Your body has 38 or more hormones controlling diverse functions such as blood cell production, mood, muscle build-up, stamina... Are these drugs? Artificial drugs mimic their actions.

Are drugs just things made in a lab? They have to bind to the same receptors as your "natural" drugs, which might also be "enhanced" by the unscrupulous. Many of these don't, in the author's view, actually work, but coffee (not banned) does.

Given the difficulty you might think to hell with it, let them take dope and see the best doper win. This is a view shared by many athletes. Asked in a survey whether they would take (undetected) drugs guaranteeing sporting glory for five years, only to drop dead the day after, 50% of respondents answered "yes". (We aren't told what proportion of the other 50% was holding out for a longer winning streak.)

There are four good reasons for carrying on this "unwinnable" war on drugs. First, body building. Anyone know more than a wife and a dog who watches this sport? Second, East Germany. You don't drop dead, but you do have long term health issues from the side effects. Third, informed consent. Cooper shows that the earlier you start taking drugs, particularly gene doping drugs, the greater the effect. How could a child refuse?

Fourth, and most surprising, is Cooper's conclusion that while we'll never "win" we are far from losing. Most sports drugs are spin offs (even millionaire sportsmen can't fund the research) and the pharmaceutical companies produce tests as fast as they produce experimental drugs. So be optimistic, the Olympics this year might, just might, be relatively drug free, and fair.
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on 9 April 2014
Excellent, accessible book on the physiological basis of doping. Having some background in bioscience would help a reader, but Cooper breaks down his approach to make anyone understand why doping works the way it does, why certain drugs are used in certain sports and how some are so hard to detect. Illustrated with many case studies, this is a fascinating study for anyone wanting to understand more of the hard science behind these doping scandals hitting the news, or why, for example, it is much easier to make a difference with doping in the 100m than the 10,000m races.
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on 13 May 2016
Was hoping for more examples of people who have cheated and maybe more first hand accounts of how they went about it.
The book is dated now with no mentions of Lance Armstrong for example. It does however go into scientific detail about certain aspects, much more detail than this reader could understand but I did still enjoy the book.
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on 12 September 2015
Useful as a sportsman to understand training, nutrition and the ways you can supercharge your performance (legally) - it's also a very good primer on how doing works and what really is its potential, effects and later consequences. If you love sports and science, it's a must read!
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