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And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic Paperback – April 9, 2000
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"Stunning . . . An impressively researched and richly detailed narrative."--Time
"Rivals in power and intensity, and in the brilliance of its reporting and writing, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood."--The Boston Globe
"A monumental history."--The Washington Post Book World
"The most thorough, comprehensive exploration of the AIDS epidemic to date . . . It is fascinating, frightening, and essential reading."--San Francisco Sentinel
"A textbook on how institutions work--or fail to work--in the face of such a threat."--San Francisco Examiner
"A lucid and stunning indictment of public policy toward the vicious disease . . . A valuable work of political history."--Business Week
"Shilts successfully weaves comprehensive investigative reporting and commercial page-turning pacing, political intrigue, and personal tragedy into a landmark book . . . Its importance cannot be overstated."--Publishers Weekly
"A popular history of the early years of the AIDS crisis, the book conveys in detail the political complexities--and many different human dimensions--of the story. Reading Shilts, you wonder who will die next. You worry whether this terrible disease can ever be controlled. And you begin to feel anger at what Shilts portrays as the federal government's dithering . . . Shilts has produced the best--and what will likely be the most controversial--book yet on AIDS. Though many of the details in the book are familiar to veteran reporters, Shilts does not shy away from naming names and casting blame. He writes with passionate conviction, which is one of the book's strengths--and also, of course, a sound reason for some skepticism."--Jim Miller, Newsweek
"Shilts, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle who has covered AIDS full-time since 1983, takes us almost day by day through the first five years of the unfolding epidemic and the responses--confusion and fear, denial and lindifference, courage and determination. It is at once a history and a passionate indictment."--H. Jack Geiger, The New York Times Book Review
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Throughout the book there's a palpable tension between the medical and political arenas as they grapple with (or attempt to ignore) the disease. Anyone who agitates to cut government spending by getting rid of or sharply reducing the powers of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) should be required to read this book. Although there are a number of heroes among the characters, the CDC--with its intelligence, tenacity, and compassion--heads the list. At the beginning, it seemed that a handful of CDC scientists were the only people who cared, and they were among the very few that sensed the illness was likely to become an epidemic. To essentially foresee the future--but to not be able to convince others of the reality--must have been nightmarish.
The story successfully blends a number of elements: competitive jealousies within the scientific community (it's likely that the French actually discovered the AIDS virus, despite a neck-in-neck US researcher who claimed the glory), the politics of the slow-moving National Institutes of Health (NIH), Reagan's stubborn refusal to address the AIDS issue (he finally did so six years after the epidemic began--and after 20,850 citizens had died), and a number of incredibly touching stories of people with the disease. One thing I hadn't known was the schism within the gay community: some people recognizing the reality of the threat while others (understandably) discounted it as internalized homophobia or as a homophobic attempt at sexual repression.
Ultimately--when all the medical and political wrangling is stripped away--the book is about people facing AIDS during a time when it was a horrible death sentence. In reading this account, one can't help but have compassion for all patients everywhere whose end of life includes ostracism, derision, and shaming. Yet, despite the dire circumstances, there was also love and compassion. Selfless nurses volunteered to work the AIDS unit, even when the disease was still somewhat of a mystery. The Shanti Project was a grassroots effort that cared for the sick and the dying by providing housing, medical care, friendship, and emotional support. This book captures a period in time where, in the midst of sometimes slow-moving science, second-class-citizen politics, and a seemingly indifferent larger society, some dedicated people struggled to raise awareness, to change habits, and others, to face death with equanimity.