Written 30 years ago, this is still the quintessential book regarding the origin of the AIDS epidemic in America. Shilts lambasts the CDC, the Reagan administration, the homophobia of Americans, and (at times) the gay community itself for not taking the warning signs of this epidemic seriously enough in the beginning. It is, of course, a heartbreaking read at times, but also incredibly informative from a scientific and political point of view. I highly recommend.
Nearly 30 years after its initial publication, "And the Band Played On" is the definitive book of the early years of the AIDS crisis and how it all went wrong. There were problems on several fronts.
One was the anti-gay campaign led by people like Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schlafly. Another was the bigotry of corporate America. A third was warfare between Congress and the Reagan White House to appropriate funds for research into the disease. A fourth was the battle between the CDC and the National Cancer Institute over who should take the lead in research. And fifth was competition between Atlanta and a lab in Paris over who actually discovered HIV first.
But just as surprising was the attitude taken by the gay community, especially in San Francisco. They opposed virtually every common sense measure that would have slowed down the spread of the disease within its own numbers; including the regulation of bathhouses, safe sex information distribution, and the screening of blood products - all were seen as violations of human rights. Also of note was Patient Zero, a Canadian flight attendant who slept with as many as 2000 men and who wasn't stopped in part because he thought he was invincible.
The bottom lines were if people saw this for what it was early on, AIDS could have been contained and even eliminated, rather than become the worldwide pandemic it became, spreading to the heterosexual population (in particular hemophiliacs) in no time flat. And that it took the deaths of people like Rock Hudson, Liberace and even Roy Cohn for people to wake up and realize what should have been done to begin with.
This is an amazing book, absolutely rivetting and compelling. If it isn't compulsory reading for students going into the field of public health, it should be.
The previous commentor notes how surprising it is that Randy Shiltz pulled all of this information together so quickly. It should be noted that he was a journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle (maybe the Examiner, I can't remember) who was covering this story from the early days. Many of the interviews that he uses to pull together the story were ones that he himself conducted at the time of the emergence of AIDS.
After reading half of the book, I checked the cataloguing information and discovered that the book was published in 1987. Given the comprehensive study of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic as well as the in-depth analysis of many of the major players that set the policy which would deeply effect the spread of the disease, it is absolutely stunning that Randy Shilts was able to write within five years of the initial case reported to the CDC. The book reads like a political thriller and pulls no punches when it comes to the ineptitude of the U.S. governmental agencies that would usually protect us from such threats. Everyone is put onto the examining table: the CDC, the NIH, the NIAID, the FDA, the Reagan Administration, city governments, the medical establishment, prominent physicians and researches, the gay leadership, and many others. Anyone who is interested in this history should start here.
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