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Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It Hardcover – March 1, 2012

3.5 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A remarkable volume. With rare clarity, Tinderbox lays bare the origins of the AIDS virus, and then reveals the often hapless and delinquent responses of the international community. It's a fascinating read: relentlessly honest, sometimes scathing, alway principled."
    —Stephen Lewis, Founder/Director of AIDS-Free World, Former UN Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa

"Remarkable...reads like a detective novel."—The New Yorker

“Gripping … buy the book.”—The Nation

"A strong warning to those who would disregard the cultural specificities of those one is trying to serve."The New York Times (EDITORS CHOICE)

"Tinderbox will help readers understand...why the period ahead is so critical in fighting the epidemic. Millions of lives depend on the effort."The Washington Post

“In addition to a useful history of the disease, Timberg and Halperin examine how to confront it and develop more effective ways to fight it…[Timberg and Halpern] present a forceful case with which future students of HIV and AIDS will have to reckon.Kirkus (STARRED REVIEW)


 “Essential for understanding a relentlessly urgent issue.”Library Journal

An essential and engrossing read, Timberg and Halperin’s sweeping work covers AIDS from its origins…to its impact on the world today…Extensively researched, eminently readable and accessible, Timberg and Halperin’s work is a notable and invaluable addition to the AIDS canon.”Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)

"Tinderbox is an unusually compelling and informative account of how the AIDS epidemic has affected the world, particularly the peoples of Africa. In a compassionate and engaging manner, Timberg and Halperin bring to life the story from its beginnings to the most recent evidence on how to effectively prevent further tragedy."
—Jay Levy, M.D., director, Laboratory for Tumor and AIDS Virus Research, University of California, San Francisco

"Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin have written a searing book about the AIDS epidemic. Tinderbox is an indictment of Western ineptitude and meddling and lost opportunities to prevent millions of infections and deaths. But it also contains valuable prescriptions for making changemdash;and it's an important read for anyone who cares about Africa."
—Stephanie Nolen, author of 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa

"Timberg and Halperin have been challenging conventional wisdom (and behavior change skeptics like me) for years. Their book is entertaining, thought-provoking, human, and in the end, hopeful for a continent that craves some answers after two decades of HIV prevention failures."
—Francois Venter, M.D., president, Southern African HIV Clinicians Society

"Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On was the first—and for decades the best—book on AIDS. Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin's Tinderbox is every bit as good, revealing the same denial, the same story of politics trumping science, and the same tragedy. This time, it is about the whole world, not just San Francisco. Read it!"
—Malcolm Potts, M.D., author of The AIDS Reader and Ever Since Adam and Eve

"The sometimes glorious, often tragic constellation of science, politics, and personalities in the fight against AIDS comes to life in the masterful storytelling of an energetic journalist and a passionate scientist."
—Arthur Allen, author of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver

"An excellent read. Tinderbox brilliantly outlines the successes, failures, and missed opportunities in the battle of HIV prevention over the last thirty years."
—Elly Katabira, M.D., president, International AIDS Society

About the Author

Craig Timberg is the former Johannesburg bureau chief for The Washington Post. From his position, he visited twenty-three African nations  and penned dozens of major stories about AIDS. He is now The Washington Post's deputy national security editor.
Daniel Halperin, PhD, is an epidemiologist and medical anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and has taught at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. He was a top technical adviser in the US government's PEPFAR program to combat AIDS.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420327X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203275
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,006,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There clearly are two camps posting comments about this book. Those who endorse Male Circumcision (MC) as an HIV prevention strategy, basing their conclusions on three key African trials, and those who oppose male circumcision for multiple reasons, including: doubting those studies findings, seeing condoms and education as more effective, and seeing MC as an abusive or intrusive practice.

There have several comments accusing others of mis-truths, lies, etc. I know I will have such calls thrown at me, but I'll try to help move the debate forward somewhat as best I can.

Firstly - regarding credentials and conflict of interest - I am a health policy researcher who has worked on HIV prevention in Africa for 15 years, and I hold a PhD on the subject of AIDS in Africa (specifically Uganda). I am a social scientist, not a virologist or epidemiologist, although I have a good understanding of epidemiology from my work. I also know one of the authors of this book as a colleague (I've even once co-authored a short journal communication with him and others). So I am declaring all this upfront.

I am, however, primarily an educator and a researcher, looking to learn and contribute. I hope this comment can help people to do that. There are multiple issues here which seem to come up in these debates which need to be clarified:
1) Whether MC reduces susceptibility to HIV
2) Whether it is ethical or moral to circumcise
3) Whether MC affects sexual performance or pleasure
4) What other complications one might face with MC
5) If other HIV prevention interventions are better or more effective than MC

1) First is whether male circumcision reduces the susceptibility to HIV.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
"Great spirits have always encountered violent oppostion from mediocre minds."
-- Albert Einstein
If you are not imitated or criticized violently your work is irrelevant. This is why this book has been so criticized. It is very relevant, timely and challenging...it will face fierce opposition, no doubt.
It takes someone as unusual, intuitive and curious as Daniel Halperin to question what becomes common knowledge or otherwise invisible. Many years ago, Daniel was part of team that came to assess and plan a more comprehensive response to the AIDS epidemic in my country. His ideas were radical and made some of us very uncomfortable, but time proved him soooo right. He has a true scientific spirit and holds back at nothing when he has one of his hunches. This book is witness to an incredibly daring and courageous soul who shares with us an interesting mix of science and passion.
After 30 years in this field I have seen it all, the rise and fall, the pendulum sway ... biomedical and the grassroots NGO approaches, etc. I confess I get tired and even ironic sometimes, but for this special occasion I'm happy to see the passion back. I thank the authors for the book and higly recommend it.
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By Tammy on September 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In the annals of medical history,this book will stand out as uncovering the true story of humankind's greatest epidemic. The authors--a journalist and medical scientist--are a formidable team, carefully researching and documenting the history, introduction and spread of HIV/AIDS. The authors not only provide the story but solutions for how to address this epidemic. This is a must read for students, scientists, policy makers and anyone interested in winning the battle against HIV/AIDS.
Comment 135 of 174 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I've been working in Sub-Saharan Africa for most of the last decade on HIV and AIDS prevention. Timberg and Halperin paint a compelling history of the epidemic with evidence based and balanced research and reporting.

While not a intended as a road map for prevention efforts, they nonetheless highlight key interventions that every country grappling with a generalized heterosexual epidemic must consider.
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By Hoopla on September 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover

I read this book as someone who is not very knowledgeable of recent HIV epidemic issues, discoveries, and theories.

This book did a few things really well:

1. It laid out current HIV origin theory.
2. It gave examples of what African countries are doing, have done, and could do, in order to curve their particular epidemics.
3. It gave a number of examples of both general and individual stories about HIV/AIDS.
4. It showed what the world is doing, and what developed countries are pushing.

I think the best thing this book did was laid out the case that there is no one cure, one solution, one anything when it comes to the fight against AIDS. There was definitely advocacy for more circumcision, but the argument was made in light of what appears to be great resistance towards this particular measure of combating the virus. At -no point- in the entire book did I read a single line that led me to think that the authors, whether the Washington Post writer or the scientist, meant for circumcision to be the only method nor that men in Africa should be told that they're immune from the virus. However, if men in Africa were told they were immune after circumcision then the book did not go into that at all.

I got a sense from the book that the authors spouse an individual treatment of sorts for the epidemic, depending upon country, culture, and particular subgroup behavior. The book seems to reject the idea that we should ignore that individual and group behavior has not helped or hindered the spread of HIV. At the same time, the authors caution against imposing Western ideas upon Africa without taking in mind how they will affect communities. Such steps were previously taken by the West and these likely created the HIV epidemics around Africa.
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