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

4.38 of 5 stars 4.38  ·  rating details  ·  11,677 ratings  ·  661 reviews
By the time Rock Hudson's death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously? In answering the...more
Paperback, 672 pages
Published October 4th 1988 by Penguin Books (first published 1987)
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This book brought back the early 80s in hallucinatory detail. I remember when we first heard about Gay Cancer, and how hard it was to get any decent information. I remember when the world got wobbly and my friends were dying and it seemed like nobody cared. I was quite certain that, given my penchant for fey boys, I wouldn't be around to see the turn of the century. I vividly remember making up file folders for 1989 for my job and thinking that the ones for 1990 would be in someone else's handwr...more

"AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals."

-Jerry Falwell

"In this respect our townfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogey of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away, and from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away ..."

-Albert Camus, The Plague

Katie Abbott Harris
If you're seeking a comprehensive history of the AIDS epidemic, look no further. Written as a detective story, this must read book covers all aspects of the disease, from history, to journalism, to politics, to people. Randy Shilts, in his thorough investigative report, highlights the many blunders along the way, blunders that are unbelievable in retrospect. It is not an anti-Republican rant, rather it is a very fair assessment of the collective failure of all entities involved. Because the indi...more
I recall being so incensed at the failure of common decency across every part of the 'establishment' spectrum that I think I can trace much of my continuing skepticism of our political process directly to Randy's work.

I actually think this book should be required reading at college level for any political science class that is examining the flaws of what our system can become. Eisenhower was right in his grave warnings about the danger inherent in the 'military indus...more
This book is really important, considering:

1. We are likely not safe from another random crazy deadly virus that will catch us offguard.

2. You have probably underestimated what an asshole Reagan was.

3. You might be going to see Milk soon and would like to read of some of what happened after him in SF politics.

4. Prop 8 effing passed, proving our society has farther to come than perhaps we realized.

Points deducted because apparently the Patient Zero story is a bit hinky. Also it's often a lot to...more
I think everyone should read this book. Seriously. Randy Shilts presents the epic tale of the beginning of the AIDs epidemic through the eyes of health officials, scientists, doctors, politicians, patients, and the media. It is an incredible story of how America willfully ignored the spread of AIDs until it was too late to stem. He uses all the interviews and research that he did as a journalist for the SF Chronicle who covered the epidemic full time for years. The book travels all over the worl...more
Tamora Pierce
This has to be the most maddening book I've ever read, and that includes books on the Vietnam and Second World Wars. As AIDS arrives in the world in the late 1970s, it strikes Africa first, then the American gay scene. Shilts documents the search for the virus in all its muddled, politicized, under-funded, disregarded insanity, during which gay men died quickly or slowly, without drugs that did more than eased their passing for years, in their homes or in facilities that had no more notion of ho...more
As I read this book, I couldn't help asking myself, over and over, how people could possibly have let it all happen like that. How could the bathhouses stay open so long? Why was almost no one willing to use a condoms or curtail their activities? Why were federal and local governments so unwilling to do anything?

From this late vantage point, it is easy to wonder that. Having seen AIDS, if there was to be another disease like it in sneakiness and severity, we'd likely catch on quicker, because we...more
I didn't finish this. Reads like bad journalism. The story is, of course, tragic, but the various accounts ring false like the stories that actors tell. For example, we find: "On a hunch, Gottlieb twisted some arms to convince pathologists to take a small scraping of the patient's lung tissue through a nonsurgical maneuver." OK, so the author isn't a doctor, but 1. pathologists don't do endobronchial biopsies, pulmonologists do, 2.nobody has to twist a pulmonologists arm to do an endobronchial b...more
Kater Cheek
This book has just about everything I like in a non-fiction. It's got science, medicine, high stakes, historical significance, and modern relevance. Trying to figure out why it wasn't more compelling to me, I had to focus on the 6th word in the title: Politics.

This novel is about AIDS, but it's much more about people than about science. Shilts has a huge cast of characters, from French researchers to gay activists to scientists with the NIH and CDC. He tracks the disease from Fire Island nightcl...more
Ayne Ray
This landmark work is a detailed investigative report and eventual scathing indictment of the social and political forces that helped contribute to the tragic and rapid spread of the AIDS epidemic in its earliest years. Twenty years later, it still stands as one of the most important books on its topic.
There are a few things in my life that I can point to as having monumentally changed it.

#1, As a child raised by a racist mother, seeing the movie "Mississippi Burning" for the first time. I bawled my eyes out when I realized the extent of my ignorance of my black brothers and sisters and feeling utterly ashamed that I did not know more about the civil rights movement. Because someone I cared about had intentionally seen to it that I hadn't learned about it. Because watching Roots "wasn't neces...more
And the Band Played On is as important a tool in the teaching of American history as Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. When crafting the required reading for students of American history, And the Band Played On needs to be added to that list.

For many of us, this epidemic started in our lifetime. We remember first hearing about it on the news, but not really knowing what it was about. We remember the misinformation and differing accounts of t...more
Sam Honeycutt
If someone wished to write an how NOT to, he /she should follow how this book reads. The is an book that reminds me that the President of the United State never let the word AIDS leave his mouth until a friend of his Rock Hudson died of it. No one wanted to do anything about it as long as it was kept within the blacks, queers, and hemophiliacs. As long as it was GRID it didn't matter.
When they were told that it was bloodborne and there was a test for it, the American Red Cross didn't want to run...more
Shilts writes at the end of And The Band Played On that the book is a work of journalism and that there has been no fictionalization, yet goes on to state that he reconstructs scenes and conversations, albeit based on interviews and other research. To me this process necessarily entails some degree of fictionalization, or at the very least, a departure from an 'objective' history of AIDS in Europe and America. Shilts can hardly be faulted for this given his professional and personal immersion in...more
This book had been sitting on my shelves for years before I finally read it. I remember reading a review back on LibraryThing, where someone described as one of the best pieces of non-fiction they had ever read. Since it was about a period and a subject I knew little about but was curious to learn more, I got a copy. But then, it just never was the right time. I actually picked it up every so often but never managed to read more than the first couple of pages. This time, however, it was differen...more
Elizabeth Finnegan

A friend of mine loaned me this book in the late eighties, and it cut through the illogical and gimmicky rhetoric I was hearing about HIV/AIDS in my late teens. It is a book that emphasizes the need to take care of the sick and explains how our vanities and prejudices can prevent us for doing that. Several years ago I saw this book laying amongst a pile of discarded books in the dusty hallway of a college. A note had been posted above the pile which read "Please take." This book is too important...more
A great and compelling book, but somehow, even in Reagan's America, it's hard to go along with the conspiracy theorists who make out that the government was merrily fiddling away while Rome burned. I mean, look at the response which people got when they wanted to close the bath houses.
Todd Libasci
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nicole Mercer
I started reading this book because I noticed a few of my grad school classmates were required to read it for their TAships. When I found it at the bookstore I was a little intimidated by its length. 600 pages isn't really that long, except that science books tend to be dense and relatively difficult reads.

I shouldn't have worried. Randy Shilts was a living breathing reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. I would call "And the Band Played On" an ama...more
This book took me nearly a month to finish and I don't regret any of it. In some ways, I'm surprised I didn't do more marathon reading to get through it, but it felt right for the events to trudge forward on a slower time frame. The backdrop to the story itself is the heartbreakingly slow movement of the government, science community, and gay community to taken action once AIDS took root in San Francisco and New York, and reading just 30 pages or so a day out of 650 brought that feeling home.

Simply put, one of the best books I've ever read, and probably the most gripping nonfiction I've ever come across. Told in straightforward, chronological order, with a mix of personal portraits and political, medical, and social reporting, this traces the first many years of the spread of the AIDS virus. It is a fascinating, but horrifying account of the (lack of) response to the disease during its brisk progression from rare and mysterious affliction to a much more common, but still marginalize...more
"Later, everybody agreed that the baths should have been closed sooner; they agreed health education should have been more direct and more timely. And everybody also agreed blood banks should have tested blood sooner, and that a search for the AIDS virus should have been started sooner, and that scientists should have laid aside their petty intrigues. Everybody subsequently agreed that the news media should have offered better coverage of the epidemic much earlier, and that the federal governme...more
Apr 27, 2010 Becca rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Doctors, historians, and LGBTQ folk
Recommended to Becca by: Dr. Calabrese
Shilts' contemporary account of the advent of what is now HIV/AIDS is truly a classic. Shilts takes an unbiased, journalistic approach to the science surrounding the discovery of the "GRID" complex, the underlying virus, the epidemiology required to figure out how the disease was spread as well as the international politics limiting the closing of the bathhouses, treatment, testing of the blood supply and delaying the correct taxonomy of HIV.

Interspersed with this, Shilts shows the ready a very...more
This is a doorstop book that was recommended to me by my boss when I was 21 years old. I hunted it down, and now re-read it every 2 years. It is by far the most comprehensive study of the AIDS virus and its impact on the world (particularly the US) since its discovery. Randy Shilts covers multiple continents and scenarios including but not limited to the reaction of the US blood bank industry, politics and the widely acknowledged but disputed patient zero. Throughout it all the tragedy is the po...more
As someone born in 1978, the existence of (and fight against) HIV and AIDS has always been something I took for granted, but “And The Band Played On” takes readers back to the first days of the epidemic, when very little was known and, unfortunately, even less was done. For those unaware of the details surrounding these early days (which included myself), this book is an eye opening, and comprehensive, look at all aspects of this disease. The slow recognition (by members of the gay community, an...more
Feb 03, 2008 Grumpylibrarian rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
This book changed my life in the most literal sense imaginable. And The Band Played On forced me to become an practicing feminist and advocate for sexual and, far more importantly, global health.

I read Randy Shilts tome for a Sociology of HIV/AIDS course at University of Toronto in the summer of 2005, arguably one of the most popular and most difficult courses to get into on the undergraduate schedule. The course was facinating and demanding. We read Shilts' book as a text and avoided more te...more
I don't remember not knowing about AIDS. Growing up in the 1990s, news stories about the disease were everywhere, and even my elementary-school sex ed class addressed the importance of safe sex. It was scary and we were always cautioned about how risky behaviors could contract it. At the time HIV was still a death sentence and I remember even being afraid of the idea of blood transfusions.

I'm saying this because, while as an adult I have heard vague mention of how AIDS was ignored in the early...more
History isn't the best category for me to shelve this title, since the crisis continues, but it was the best I could do. Randy Shilts has done a remarkable work of journalism here, and 25 years later, it still infuriates.

In 1981, when doctors first started noticing young men turning up in their offices with strange ailments that usually only afflicted the elderly, they pushed for a strong research backing to find out what was causing it. Nobody lifted a finger or spent a penny in those early da...more
And the Band Played On opens with a vivid, spectacular scene: the country's Bicentennial celebration on July 4, 1976 with the Tall Ships from fifty-five nations gathered New York City's harbor. It was an incredibly festive occasion, a symbolic display and a coming together of people and nations.

Unbeknownst to us, something else was commencing that day - something that would forever change and darken the country that was so joyfully celebrating its 200th birthday.

"New York City had hosted the gre...more
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The 2014 Reading ...: July 2014- And The Band Played On 16 26 Jul 18, 2014 06:41PM  
Can anyone recommend a follow-up read? 4 60 Apr 22, 2012 06:02PM  
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  • The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS
  • The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies
  • Polio: An American Story
  • Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
  • The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History
  • The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government
  • The Origins of AIDS
  • Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues
  • The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals
  • Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service
  • When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973
  • The River : A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS
Randy Shilts was a highly acclaimed, pioneering gay American journalist and author. He worked as a reporter for both The Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as for San Francisco Bay Area television stations.
More about Randy Shilts...
The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk Conduct Unbecoming: Gays And Lesbians In The Us Military And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic And the Band Played On As Real As It Gets: The Life of a Hospital at the Center of the AIDS Epidemic

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