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Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  335 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
In this groundbreaking narrative, longtime "Washington Post" reporter Craig Timberg and award-winning AIDS researcher Daniel Halperin tell the surprising story of how Western colonial powers unwittingly sparked the AIDS epidemic and then fanned its rise. Drawing on remarkable new science, "Tinderbox" overturns the conventional wisdom on the origins of this deadly pandemic ...more
ebook, 432 pages
Published March 1st 2012 by Penguin Press
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Nina Cohen
May 06, 2012 Nina Cohen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The horror here is that this book is gripping, compelling, and tragically misinformed and misguided. We all want a "magic bullet" to protect the world from the spread of HIV. Condoms work brilliantly - better than anything else yet discovered or invented - when used properly. But this book champions male circumcision as an essential prophylactic in the fight against AIDS. This claim is dubious at best; even those who defend the controversial research suggesting that having a whole penis somehow ...more
Sue
Mar 13, 2012 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: Rebecca Huston
I actually thought I knew something about the origins and growth of the AIDS epidemic but reading this book shattered those illusions and has taught me so much about the disease, it's probable origins in Cameroon and growth throughout Africa and then to the world. Seeing the ties to the huge changes in traditional cultures made by colonial powers just adds to the overwhelming sadness.

This is a powerful book, full of medical, social, political, public health information. It also has the words of
...more
James Loewen
May 04, 2012 James Loewen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There is no denying writer Craig Timberg's writing skills and Tinderbox reads like an exciting work of fiction that's chock full of the colourful adventures of our hero Halperin, out to slay AIDS.

Sometimes Halperin is depicted as an ace reporter/ cab driver, waiting outside a San Francisco bathhouse with the meter running, while his HIV wasted customer runs inside to get his rocks off. Elsewhere he's a Jewish Mother Teresa, tenderly caring for AIDS victims.

Many of these stories have the ring of
...more
Caroline
May 27, 2012 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Well-written and thought provoking.

I used some of the ideas in this book as the foundation for a project I did in my dynamic modeling class this past semester. Specifically, I examined Timberg and Halperin's theory that the beginning of HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa was a direct result of European immigration and colonization to the continent. It made for an interesting project topic, and because I hadn't read the entire book (only some of the articles it was based upon), I knew it would be one o
...more
Lisa
Apr 16, 2012 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine-science
One of the best public health/epidemiology books I have ever read--a fascinating study of the AIDS virus and how the epidemic has spread and been fought throughout the world. The authors show strong scientific evidence that male circumcision, as well as teaching people that having multiple, concurrent sex partners is possibly fatal, are the most effective ways to stop AIDS from spreading. The widespread distribution of condoms has been helpful in reducing the transmission of AIDS to and from pro ...more
Clifton
Jun 07, 2012 Clifton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an important contribution to the literature of HIV/AIDS. The opening chapters about the origin of HIV, how it passed from a primate with SIV (probably a chimp) butchered by a human and then followed the paths created by colonialism from Cameroon to the Congo are fascinating. Initially the first person narrative by Craig Timberg is engaging. Eventually it becomes cloying. I found myself wishing he'd stick to the scientific/historic/political facts. (Why do we need to know how a certa ...more
Rebecca Huston
This book will shake you up. The authors are honest, and forthright in their appraisal of how AIDS began and spread through Africa, and the various means, both good and bad, used to try and stop it. Not for the sensitive as some of the narrative is rather graphic. The story is very accessible to the lay reader. Overall this one got five stars, and the book is one that I can recommend to anyone interested in the topic.

For the longer review, please go here:
http://www.epinions.com/review/Craig_...
...more
Mary Kay
Eye-opening, compelling account of the origins of the HIV virus including cultural and sexual implications around colonialism. Reads like a mystery/adventure and with short chapters it is a quick read (albeit a little redundant at times). If you like this you should definitely check out Randy Shilts's comprehensive tome on the aids outbreak in the US - And the Band Played On.

Two other fascinating public health-y ethnographies are The Serpent and the Rainbow (zombies in Haiti) and The Spirit Cat
...more
Molly
Man... this made me feel guilty. But I think they make alot of excellent points- who are we to think that we know the answers to Africa's problems more than Africa does? Why do we focus on treatment more than prevention? It's crazy and sad to me that people are still dying at such rates of an entirely preventable, slow-acting disease.
Colleen
Well written and interesting, though certainly written with an agenda. The information on circumcision and continuous breast feeding was compelling, some of the other information seemed less well supported and their criticism of Peter piot is, I think, unwarranted
Kaitlin Oujo

High three stars.

This book was recommended to me by a friend a few years ago when we were backpacking in Cameroon- we were chatting about how it seemed like the local culture was especially prone to having having multiple sexual partners, and how sex seemed like a really casual part of life for many people, and how this might be related to HIV infection rates in Africa.

Well, it turns out there is a book about it! Timberg traces the history of the spread of HIV from where scientists think it be
...more
Marzie
Mar 07, 2012 Marzie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A meticulously detailed account of the origins of AIDS that strikes at many of the underpinnings of colonization in Africa, some of which imposed Western or Christian values on tribal culture in a way that has resulted in broad changes in sexual culture that actually promoted spread of the disease. From SIV jumping to humans in Cameroon, to the pressure to dissolve insular polygamous relationships which led to prostitution, to the influx of sexually transmitted diseases other than AIDS that left ...more
Rebecca
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Hadrian
May 07, 2012 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book in two parts. The first being a history of colonial Africa, and how the already brutal management of the Cameroon and the Congo may have contributed to the spread of AIDS- some hunter might have gone for bush meat in the 1900s, and got a cut while handling the corpse. Entirely plausible, and it does correlate with recent genetic studies.

The latter, longer part discusses the current spread of AIDS. The authors studiously using the word 'pandemic', as the spread has been extremely uneven. T
...more
John
Mar 26, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely an eye-opening challenge to conventional wisdom regarding how best to handle the AIDS epidemic in Africa!

I picked up this book because I was primarily interested in the new understanding it details of how HIV originated and spread from Central Africa to the rest of the world. But that's only the first quarter or so of the book. The rest is a history of how (in the authors' opinion) the West has substantially mishandled the way we deal with AIDS in Africa.

The book feels very one-sided
...more
Megan
Sep 16, 2014 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read this book before, but I picked it up again because I've been following the news of the Ebola epidemic very closely and wondered if there were parallels between these writers' thesis and what's happening in West Africa now. These writers suggest that Western development, like deforestation for the rubber industry and road construction, and imposition of Western cultural norms, like outlawing polygamy and traditional circumcision, helped to spark the AIDS epidemic in central Africa. They ...more
Tucker
May 17, 2012 Tucker rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really good overview of what went wrong (and is still potentially a problem) in dealing with HIV/AIDS in a manner that is economical, apolitical, and, most-importantly, humanitarian. Although the book clearly favors certain scientists and perspectives, the statistics paint a ghastly picture streaked with the impacts of misperceptions, miscalculations, and misguided intentions of the powers that be in dealing with this public health crisis that at once impacts the whole society and our ...more
Margaret
Apr 07, 2012 Margaret rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Well written and well researched account of the AIDS epidemic, focusing on its origin in western Africa (Belgian Congo region) and when (circa approx. 1900), and why the disease has disproportionately devastated parts of Africa. Author Craig Timberg does a masterful job of assembling history and epidemiology, and an important part of the story assembles in an easy to grasp (for this science layperson) assessment why one should personally be concerned about AIDS but, if one isn't a member of a hi ...more
Laura
Feb 29, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: NPR Books
Almost everything I knew about AIDS is wrong. As it turns out, HIV is not particularly contagious (an intact vaginal lining is a largely effective barrier, and mere circumcision significantly reduces a man's risk of infection), as a white female in the US I have a very small chance of catching it (billboards about HIV testing to the contrary), and Africa's poverty has little to do with its epidemic (in fact, the kinds of sexual activity that spread HIV most effectively actually decrease when a c ...more
Rebecca
Really interesting; while Jewish people like myself have practiced circumcision (um, that sounds weird but I haven't actually circumcised anyone) for centuries, the argument the authors present in terms of the prophylactic value of circumcision regarding AIDS is hard to ignore. It will provoke a ton of controversy, for sure, but it's worthy of discussion. Also, I strongly enjoyed that the book did not portray all of sub-Saharan Africa as poor and helpless; it emphasized that many of the AIDS pat ...more
Hugo
Aug 10, 2015 Hugo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amanda
Dec 19, 2012 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting read. I hadn't previously done a lot of reading about the African side of the epidemic, so it was interesting to learn about factors in the African world that may have contributed to viral spread in those countries. As an immunologist, my mind is naturally slanted towards the question of how we can improve on existing HIV therapeutics, however, this is the second book in a row that I've read that has suggested that what we have now in terms of anti-retrovirals is sufficient, b ...more
Sam Poole
People are generally missing the point in critiquing or analyzing this book. Is it informed and informative? Yes. The appendix alone is worth a star. The problems with this book and unavoidable- it has a scope that is very large with a focus that becomes diluted at points. The boundary between reporting and pontificating is crossed at times. This is not an egregious misstep but it does leave a bad taste at some points. The high points were the appendix, history at the beginning and interviews wi ...more
Wilma
Sep 12, 2014 Wilma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read about a third of this in the fall when I was teaching the class on Polio and AIDS. It had an interesting section on colonialism in Africa, especially in the Congo, and how that influenced the development of trade and settlement patterns. Also interesting parts on how it was determined the HIV virus sprang from the mutation of a simian immunodificiency virus that jumped to man. Good section on how Haitians came to Congo to fill middle management and teaching positions after the Belgians le ...more
Jennifer
The subtitle of this book caught my eye, and made me curious. And in fact the authors make a good argument that colonialism in Africa sparked the AIDS epidemic--as laborers were forced into the remote areas where the HIV virus first made its appearance--and then made it vastly worse by tearing apart traditional social order in African society. Fortunately, the authors also offer hope for the future. The rate of infections are generally slowing, both because of the natural progression of epidemic ...more
David
Dec 22, 2012 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
very interesting recap of the scientific and historical detective work involved in figuring out origins of AIDS and crossover from chimps to humans. Somewhat less interesting (to me) detailed analysis of the evidence relating male circumcision to lower HIV rates.

The underlying subject matter is obviously important, but it gets buried to some extent under excessively long tales of the heroism of coauthro Daniel Halperin, referred to awkwardly in the third person throughout, for bucking establish
...more
GEPL Staff Picks
Eye-opening, compelling account of the origins of the HIV virus including cultural and sexual implications around colonialism. Reads like a mystery/adventure and with short chapters it is a quick read (albeit a little redundant at times). If you like this you should definitely check out Randy Shilts's comprehensive tome on the aids outbreak in the US - And the Band Played On.

Two other fascinating public health-y ethnographies are The Serpent and the Rainbow (zombies in Haiti) and The Spirit Cat
...more
Pam
May 22, 2012 Pam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is part medical detective story of how HIV first evolved and then burst onto the world scene and part exploration of the underlying factors driving its growth, particularly in its region of origin, Africa. Timberg clearly has an agenda with this book; his goal is to drive home the importance of spending at least as much resources on prevention as on treatment, as well as the need to tailor approaches to each individual culture (rather than imposing solutions that worked somewhere else). The ...more
Heather Durick
Oct 02, 2015 Heather Durick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book raises a lot of interesting points and provokes some good debate. It is also highly critical and sometimes overly so of the international effort to fight HIV/AIDS in the developing world. I felt like it was easy to Monday morning quarterback some of the decisions that were made early in the epidemic. Although a lot of the points are valid, it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth to be so critical of some of the people that were out there doing the best they could at the start of the e ...more
Corinne
A fascinating advocacy piece. I appreciated learning about the history of the disease and the challenges faced in combating it in African nations. The book is heavily an advocacy book and Timberg and Halperin's writing style helps to move their case forward. The authors, however, display a fair amount of cultural bias and doggedness in their approach, which they are quick to denounce in others. Nonetheless, the book has sparked curiosity in the apparently heated debate over how to prevent and tr ...more
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