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

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  25,674 ratings  ·  1,415 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
Paperback, 656 pages
Published April 9th 2000 by Stonewall Inn Editions (first published November 1st 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 Fran…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)

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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 allo
Mario the lone bookwolf
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The book is mainly focused on the many tragic protagonists and politics, not so much dealing with science, and brings a new level of acts of inhumanity of a government against its own people to light. I mean, they called it gay cancer, that kind of sounds like a disease of the male, gynecological disorder, or childhood disease, implying and connoting that it´s no problem for all other groups or the general public. Reagan was no good person.

It´s Big History at it´s best, combining all elements w
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
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, recs
Alternately thrilling and harrowing, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic chronicles the epidemic’s early years. The work begins at the height of gay liberation on the bicentennial, a few years before the outbreak of AIDS in America, and ends in 1985 with the announcement of Rock Hudson’s death from the virus. Along the way Shilts documents medical researchers’ and gay activists’ embattled attempts to understand the virus and curb its spread in the face of public indif ...more
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
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
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took me a long time to read. I could only read small bits at a time. It was both informative and heartbreaking. And it made me think of friends I've lost. But other friends of mine actually lived through this time. It was a complete travesty how long it took this country to come to action against AIDS. ...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
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 was right in his grave warnings about the danger inherent in the 'military indus
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtqiap, 2018, nonfiction
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
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
Porter Broyles
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was not one of the books I expected to read when the pandemic began, but it is possibly the most enlightening one that I finished. As I write this, the United States is attempting to “reopen”.

A large segment of the population is worried about the economy and demanding their rights. This group believes that the efforts to control or prevent the spread of COVID 19 is a violation of their hard fought for Constitutional Rights.

Oh how this echoes back to the 1980s and the AIDS Epidemic!

I cannot
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
Roy Lotz
The story of these first five years of AIDS in America is a drama of national failure, played out against a backdrop of needless death.

Though this book has been on my list for years, it took a pandemic to get me to finally pick it up. I am glad I did. And the Band Played On is both a close look at one medical crisis and an examination of how humans react when faced with something that does not fit into any of our mental boxes—not our ideas of civil liberty, not our categories of people, and
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square

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?

"'We've got to show each other and the unfriendly world that we've got more than looks, brains, talent, a
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
Kasa Cotugno
I read this over 30 years ago and still remember its power.
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
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
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). ...more
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
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
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
Oct 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
Originally published on my book blog,

Randy Shilts creates a tour de force history of the early years of the AIDS epidemic in And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic. It’s 600 pages of intense details, drawn from thousands of interviews with 900+ people. Despite being published in 1987, it remains one of the most definitive books on the history of AIDS and the gay community.

After college, Shilts moved to San Francisco, working as a journalist for The Adv
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 importan
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
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, lgbtq
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
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
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
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Nonfiction Nerds: May 2020: And the Band Played On 21 38 Dec 27, 2020 12:55PM  
And the Band Played On Q3 1 7 Dec 19, 2018 11:36AM  
And the Band Played On Q2 1 5 Dec 18, 2018 11:00AM  
This Is Public He...: Interview with James (Jim) Curran, MD, MPH 1 52 Dec 17, 2018 08:57AM  
Can anyone recommend a follow-up read? 8 162 Jul 12, 2018 09:18AM  

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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.

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