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And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987)

de Randy Shilts

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2,468564,440 (4.42)94
An investigative account of the medical, sexual, and scientific questions surrounding the spread of AIDS across the country.
  1. 30
    The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS de Helen Epstein (espertus)
    espertus: Two interesting books on the spread of AIDS in two very different locations and times. "And the Band Played On" is about the emergence of AIDS, with a focus on the San Francisco gay community in the 1980s, which the author was a part of, and the (non-)response by the American government. "The Invisible Cure" is about governments' and NGOs' responses to AIDS in African countries in the 1990s and early 2000s, with varying degrees of success based on different levels of understanding of the problem and effectiveness in directing resources.… (més)
  2. 10
    The Hot Zone de Richard Preston (Sandydog1)
    Sandydog1: Another epidemiological thriller, even faster-paced.
  3. 21
    World War Z de Max Brooks (timspalding)
    timspalding: Some may take offense at the suggestion, but I think don't think World War Z could have been written without And the Band Played On, an oral history of the all-too-real AIDS epidemic. Shilts' is by far the better book, even if it weren't true and important.… (més)
  4. 00
    The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer de Siddhartha Mukherjee (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are excellent history-of-medicine narratives.
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I recall from looking over my journal from back then that this book was extremely engaging. It made me angry at times. I wrote more in my journal, but I will keep it there. I did note that I enjoyed the book, which I found to be very well documented. Also it felt like reading fiction in a way I could not quite describe. Don't get me wrong though; I was fully aware this was real. This was what kept my sense of anger and outrage inflamed. Let's just say the U.S. does not come out looking good in this book and leave at that. There were a lot of failures, and a lot of moments where compassion and humanity were missing, yet also moments of extreme humanity as well.

Overall, this is a definitive history of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. ( )
  bloodravenlib | Aug 17, 2020 |
I had read another book by the late author Shilts ('The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk') and thought that book was really informative. It seemed like this would be another good pickup as I was already familiar with the author.

Shilts chronicles the early 1980's as AIDS was coming to public knowledge. He looks at the people (from the those who have AIDS and the people who love them, the doctors, government officials and the like) tracing how it spread throughout the community, the questions it created in the medical field, how it was seen by the public, members of the LGBTQ+ community, the government, etc.

I think describing it as a chronicle is the best way to put it. For me, unfortunately, this was difficult to read in many ways. It's basically a chronology of people, events, deaths, news developments and so on. There isn't really a "plot," there's no one person or group of people the reader can easily follow (which I think might have been the author's intent given what wasn't known about AIDS and the rate of its spread).

As a reference and for someone perhaps more steeped in this history this might have been useful to put things into context but as someone who was expecting more of like his Harvey Milk book (which in fairness sometimes went on tangents and could also be difficult to read), this really wasn't the book for me. It could be right for the right person and I do recommend his Milk book, especially if you liked the movie and want more information. ( )
  HoldMyBook | Jul 20, 2019 |
i can't imagine that there will ever be a more comprehensive or exhaustive book (of journalism or any other kind) about the early years of the aids epidemic. this is just so detailed, so seemingly even-handed, so full of history and science and personal anecdotes. it's such an important and such a hard read. shilts does a truly excellent job of showing what was happening on all sides of the issue through every stage. (socially, politically, personally, etc.)

the first time i read this was in (or near) sept 2003. it absolutely shattered me. i mean shattered. while i had forgotten a lot of the details and specifics, i am not sure i ever fully recovered from reading this book the first time. i was a bit nervous about rereading it because of how deeply i was affected by it; i might even be able to say that this book tangibly changed the course of my life, but that might be a bit extreme, i'm not sure. either way, i was utterly gutted by this the first time, and for good reason.

the information here is so unbelievable, so hard to accept, and so important to understand. it was crushing to my naive, idealist self, the one who believed that people genuinely have each other's best interests at heart, that government is supposed to work for the people, and especially that scientific institutions are there to do the work of science and to help people.

there are few heroes in this book. even the good people fighting the good fight stopped short or made excuses or only decided to fight when it was long past the time to make that decision. and as for everyone else - well, it's almost incomprehensible how callous and self-serving people were, throwing other people's lives away like they were so much garbage. (and i only say "almost" because of the time we're living in right now, with the trump administration. honestly i'm sure that there are awful things done by every administration, but some are worse than others, and both trump and reagan qualify.) it's stunning what was left to happen, and how many were left to die (and die horribly) for political expediency and bigotry. i believed in things, and in people, before reading this book for the first time. the reality of the infighting between the world's largest science institutions, the lying to protect an uncaring administration, the value placed on some lives versus others, that there is a cost/benefit weighed even when people's (*thousands* of people's) lives are in the balance, and even the resistance to changing behavior or societal norms when necessary - all put together it was crushing to see that, at its base, people are out for profit. whether that's in making their business thrive, saving their business money, getting an award, getting more money in a grant, making less work for themselves, getting to do what they want regardless of how it harms others, or myriad other ways - it's just about what's best for themselves, irregardless of everyone else.

when they saw this new disease and realized it looked fatal, they (and i mean the government, the pharmaceutical companies, the scientists, the bathhouse owners) didn't care because it was happening at first to gay men and because it would cost them money and work to do something about it. really and truly they didn't care. reagan in particular wasn't willing to do anything about it; while thousands of people were dying, he wouldn't even think about it. and he was allowed to get away with it by his administration and everyone else in government, scientists, the media. no one cared enough to do something about it. (sure, a few people here and there tried, and some even tried hard, but no one was willing to take a step that would go against their boss or make a statement to the media so people would understand what was really happening. even the "good guys" in the story are often letting 16 months go by before pressing an issue, or are lying to congress about the administration, or not subpoenaing documents to save someone embarrassment, etc.) the world didn't care until someone famous (rock hudson) died. it's the most appalling history of disinterest, lying, under-funding, under-educating, misleading, hoarding of information to the detriment of science, that is imaginable. literally every step of the way they fucked it up more than before, and people died because of it. literally every step of the way they had a chance to finally make it right (at least for the people not yet infected or infected but not symptomatic) and they entrenched themselves deeper into the path of death. it's an incredible story and one that makes a person lose faith in just about everything. truly. such a hard, but important story. i'm not sure i can put myself through reading it ever again, though.

(ok, you have to read between the lines to find them, but there are heroes - the people themselves who had aids and didn't hide it, who said what it was. the people who cared for them. the guy (cliff montgomery maybe?) who started the aids ward that allowed the patient to decide who could visit, the activists and even the congresspeople who asked some hard questions, expecting that they were being given honest answers. even orrin hatch asked for more money when reagan gave too little (but i'll never call him a hero). there were people giving everything they had to fight this. and by "this" i mean not just the virus, but the politics, the media, the society, the culture, even the gay community that wouldn't accept certain things or allow certain things to be said. a perfect confluence of things to make it so completely fucked up. so yes, some heroes, but they were mostly the everyday people dealing with the devastation of the virus, not the people we needed to be heroes.)

from the prologue, this really made me think of where we are right now with climate change: "By the time America paid attention to the disease, it was too late to do anything about it."

it was hard for me to understand truly how strapped the scientists were for money, how the reagan administration wouldn't approve anything for aids research, until this sentence: "At one point, Don Francis ordered a basic textbook on retroviruses, only to have the requisition refused. The CDC could not afford even $150 for a textbook."

while the reagan administration was particularly egregious in its handling (by completely ignoring) of the aids virus, everyone failed. largely because it most (initially) affected the gay community. but everyone failed. the media failed. scientists failed. (although international scientists sure did a better job. so i should say american scientists failed.) gay community leaders failed (although they failed less often). local governments failed. everyone down the line failed. and so many people died. and are still dying. if the world health organization is to be believed, 35 million people have died from aids. had action been taken - reasonable, basic action - when it first appeared, most of those people would be alive today. i mean only a few hundred might have died. what contributions are we without because their lives, mostly gay lives at the outset, weren't valued?

it's overwhelmingly sad. i'm not shattered, reading it this time, likely because i was never quite whole again (it's hard to unknow the stuff that you can't be an idealist and know) but i'm shaken. so important, this book, for so many reasons. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Feb 20, 2019 |
to call this a comprehensive history would be a gross understatement. Exacting reporting of detail upon detail. It is important to document history, but this is not an easy book to read. In fact in the 100 New Classics list, this book does not have a peer. ( )
1 vota deldevries | Sep 5, 2018 |
My mother asked me about what I'd been reading lately. When I told her, she made a sound of recognition. "It's kind of like a detective novel, isn't?" she mused. "Except the murderer is a virus."

Indeed—especially as Randy Shilts has written it. And the Band Played On covers the AIDS crisis from 1980, the year doctors began to notice a pattern of unusual illness in gay men in San Francisco, to 1985, the year Rock Hudson was outed as gay and a person with AIDS. At over 600 pages, And the Band Played On is perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the early days of the AIDS crisis. It's particularly illuminating for those of us who were born or came of age after the crisis. I was born in 1991, years after we had identified the AIDS virus and established how it was transmitted. I grew up with safe sex lectures and mandatory blood testing; it was shocking to learn how cavalier people were about safe sex, and how far the blood industry went to avoid testing the blood supply.

It would be easy to cast people as heroes and villains, but Shilts goes out of his way to humanize everyone involved. Those he cannot cast in a good light he at least casts in a way that allows us to understand them. He does it almost too well. His characters were so compelling that I found it hard to maintain interest in the political and medical science aspects. I was interested in the discovery of the virus; I was less interested in the subsequent battle between the French and the Americans as to who deserved credit for the discovery. By the end, I had stopped reading the medical science scenes altogether.

But these are small quibbles. And the Band Played On captures a moment in history we'd be remiss to forget. It's recommended reading for everyone, but especially Gen Z and Millenials and those who want to understand the history of gay rights and social justice. ( )
2 vota aechipkin | Sep 24, 2017 |
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Counihan, ClaireDissenyadorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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I came here today with the hope that this administration would do everything possible, make every resource available -- there is no reason this disease cannot be conquered. We do not need infighting. This is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is not a gay issue. This is a human issue. And I do not intend to be defeated by it. I came here today in the hope that my epitaph would not read that I died of red tape.
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An investigative account of the medical, sexual, and scientific questions surrounding the spread of AIDS across the country.

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