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

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4.38  ·  Rating details ·  18,984 Ratings  ·  1,019 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
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Paperback, 656 pages
Published April 9th 2000 by Stonewall Inn Editions (first published 1987)
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slauderdale From the Dramatis Personae at the front of the book:
"Dr. Selma Dritz, assistant director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at the San…more
From the Dramatis Personae at the front of the book:
"Dr. Selma Dritz, assistant director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at the San Francisco Department of Public Health."(less)

Community Reviews

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Emily May
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
The gay plague got covered only because it finally had struck people who counted, people who were not homosexuals.

1) This is an absolutely astounding piece of investigative journalism. Shilts has dug deep into the history of the AIDs crisis: from its very early origins in Africa, being passed around by a lack of medical hygiene, to the bath houses of New York and San Francisco. He has provided a comprehensive, horrific history of the disease, its victims, and the uncaring government who allowe
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Melody
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Hadrian


"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

Perh
...more
Katie
Dec 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
laaaaames
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Tamora Pierce
Jun 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Larry
Aug 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 http://youtu.be/8y06NSBBRtY was right in his grave warnings about the danger inherent in the 'military indus
...more
Sasha
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mark
Mar 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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Jennifer
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
David
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
Exhausting.

You're screaming "It's AIDS, you dumb fucks!" for the first third, "Just close the goddamn bathouses!" for the middle, and "Where's the fucking beef?!" at Ronald Reagan for the last third.

And then the liver spots on the back of your hand start to look like KS.

Fascinating, heart-breaking ... not our finest hour.

Who knew that San Franciscans thought New Yorkers were so closet-y?

Bits:
"'We've got to show each other and the unfriendly world that we've got more than looks, brains, talent, a
...more
Laini
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
E. V.  Gross
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tremendously thorough, very engaging, heartbreaking and furious. This was, sadly, a perfect book to read given the recent administration's demonstrated negligence and ineffectiveness in dealing with large-scale crises. Especially crises that are most devastating to vulnerable communities (i.e., everyone not white, cis, straight, Christian, male).
Ayne Ray
Oct 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Paul Bryant
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.
Charlene
This is a great book to read in conjunction with Oshinsky's Bellevue, which details the history of medicine in general and includes a brief summary of the story told in this book. It was great to be able to get the full story here. Bellevue also touches on the ebola epidemic. I highly recommend reading David Quammen's Spillover. It was one of the most spectacular books I have had the pleasure to read.

This book really reminded me of so many things about the aIDS epidemic that I had forgotten or w
...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
E
Dec 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jeremy
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociological
Brutal. Just...completely and totally brutal. Shilts weaves together a stunningly wide variety of people and perspectives, bouncing between the ramifications the early AIDS epidemic had on public health, public policy, medicial/scientific research, blood banks, the gay community, government spending, media coverage, social stigma...ad infinitum.

This book catalogs one of the great nadirs of modern American life; a time when institutionalized apathy and indifference in almost every government and
...more
Laura
In an eloquent editorial in Advertising Age , editor-at-large James Brady wrote, "I am tired of compiling lists of the dead. They are actors and writers and designers and dancers and editors and retailers and decorators and sometimes when you see their names in the obituary pages of the [ New York] Times you think, yes, I knew that fellow....The dead are homosexuals who have contracted and will perish from AIDS. Almost everyone who knew them knows this, but there is a gentle, loving conspirac ...more
Neville Longbottom
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, lgbtqia
If you want to be infuriated as fuck and saddened to your core, read this book. And the Band Played On shows how AIDS was able to spread unchecked for so many years during the early days of the epidemic. It highlights the stories of different people who died of AIDS as well as the doctors, researchers, and politicians working to combat the epidemic.

While this book did make me sad to see the stories of so many different people who died of AIDS, this book mostly made me so incredibly angry. Wheth
...more
Sophie
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, lgbt
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
Lisa Gallagher
My top 10 list of books consists of fiction - and this. I was in my 20's and came across this book at a garage sale. The title looks academic but there's nothing cold or dispassionate or removed about it. The author (small spoiler) died not long after he finished this and you can feel the race against time he must have experienced, as you read it.

This story-of-a-disease is really about people. Health care practitioners, politicians, bureaucrats, epidemiologists, one famous Hollywood actor and a
...more
Graceann
May 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Grumpylibrarian
Feb 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Karen
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a life-changing book. Like so many straight people, I had few contacts in the gay world when the AIDS epidemic began to take hold, and since (as I now know, thanks to Shilts) almost no major newspapers or media were following the story, it wasn't until the news broke about Rock Hudson that I began to understand what was happening. Shilts fills in those gaps for everyone like me. As the book progresses in its mesmerizing, chronological style, jumping from place to place, alternating perso ...more
Sara
May 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely blown away. Longer review forthcoming.
Bryan Schwartz
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sexuality
"Magisterial" and "authoritative" are words that appear too often in academic reviews. Frequently employed to describe any monograph over 500 pages, both words have lost much of their intended meaning.

But to describe Shilts' chronological history of the AIDS epidemic as anything less than a magisterial and authoritative tour de force would be a mistake. While historians have since revised parts of his narrative, Shilts' painstaking research on the people, agencies, and organizations that fought
...more
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Around the Year i...: And The Band Played On, by Randy Shilts 1 5 Jun 17, 2018 07:00PM  
Can anyone recommend a follow-up read? 7 131 Oct 21, 2015 07:31AM  
The 2018 Reading ...: July/August 2014- And The Band Played On 23 42 Jul 31, 2014 08:22AM  
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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

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“How very American, he thought, to look at a disease as homosexual or heterosexual, as if viruses had the intelligence to choose between different inclinations of human behavior.” 8 likes
“What society judged was not the severity of the disease but the social acceptability of the individuals affected with it…” 5 likes
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