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

de Randy Shilts

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2,592574,529 (4.42)97
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: A Terrifying True Story 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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This is a wonderful book about how AIDS was discovered in the U.S. (and Europe, and the rest of the world...but the book is pretty U.S.-centered) in the early 1980s. The author wanted to demonstrate that AIDS could have been prevented a lot earlier and a lot better, and AIDS treatment could have been developed a lot earlier, if only multiples parties including federal government, state government, city government, gay activists, blood bank operators, scientists, and news media did their job properly. The book was pretty long, with the author basically developing a chapter to each month in 1981, 1982 and 1983, and also plenty of chapters on 1984 and 1985. While detailing the plight of selected AIDS patients, congressional aid's repeatedly failed attempts to get federal funding or recognition, AIDS doctor's repeatedly failed attempts to provide better AIDS treatment and receive more funding, and the CDC's repeatedly failed attempts to have a coordinated strategy to control the spread of AIDS, the author regularly updates the reader on how many patients contracted AIDS so far and how many people died from the disease. Everybody who had a chance to make things better for AIDS patients have a thousand probably good excuses on why they didn't do their job as well as they might have had. In the meantime, patients just pass away. It's a sobering read.

I find some interesting parallels between how people responded to public health policy on AIDS in the 1980s versus how people are responding to public health policy on COVID nowadays. Both now and back then, I see concern over political implications, science entangled in politics, and a back-and-forth choice between preserving individual rights versus maintaining public health. ( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
It would help if you knew a bit about Harvey Milk before you start this book, but it's a good introduction to the AIDS epidemic. ( )
  jenniferw88 | Nov 30, 2021 |
“Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.”

“The primary problems we now face are not scientific problems but social problems involving science.”

Such statements certainly provide an impetus to read this classic about the early history of AIDS in America. Though this book is over thirty years old, its meticulous research still communicates how human nature often denies diseased persons respect, compassion, and the resources necessary to recover. Such was certainly true in the 1980s with HIV/AIDS when the ball was dropped by almost everyone – politicians, doctors, scientists, activists, those with a disease, those afraid of a disease, the gay community, and the business community, to list a few.

Reading this in an era of a new global pandemic (COVID), I am struck by the emotions that AIDS evoked during the 1980s and how those same emotions are reflected in encounters with a new disease. Denial, bargaining, pride, and greed are all common, human responses when encountering deadly threats. In this book, Shilts brings to life how those factors played into the advent of AIDS. He educates readers not just about HIV but about social responses to adversity.

This book does not delve into pure science much. Indeed, if anything, it’s a little light on biology. However, what it lacks in hard science, it makes up for in human concern and focuses on four leading cities: San Francisco, New York City, Washington, and Paris. It treats impacted individuals with a depth of empathic understanding and detailed reporting that sucks the reader in. Intrigue is built section by section, chapter by chapter, part by part, through presenting the right facts in the right order.

Few heroes dwell in this book; in fact, most heroes end up dying. Instead, this story becomes a malady of errors where human weaknesses continually jeopardize ultimate success. Forty years later, AIDS remains with us. Successful treatments exist, but they are not cures. Vaccine trials, in which I am involved as a community advisor, have repeatedly failed. Homosexuals are less socially stigmatized in America, thanks to prolonged efforts of activists. Indeed, homophobia, the norm in this book, has become more stigmatized. Reagan’s legacy has positively become bound up with the defeat of totalitarian communism, but this book reminds us that his legacy also negatively reflected a coldness when presented with his people’s suffering.

This book deserves a serious read by just about everyone due to the accuracy of its depiction of human nature. As COVID reminds us, pandemics can still occur, and humans can still struggle to squarely face their realities. This book gripped me so much that while reading, I allocated most of my spare energy and all of my spare time towards digging deeper into the subject. If more people read this book decades after the emergence of AIDS, perhaps America and the world can deal with the next pandemic better. (But don’t count on it!) The obvious, most recent options to study about pandemics are the Spanish flu and AIDS. Having studied both, I definitely think this book deserves its place on a short reading list about modern epidemics and the sociology of disease. ( )
  scottjpearson | Aug 6, 2021 |
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 |
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By October 2, 1985, the morning Rock Hudson died, the word was familiar to almost every household in the Western world.
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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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