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And the Band Played On: Politics, People,…

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987)

by Randy Shilts

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,220534,304 (4.41)86
  1. 30
    The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS by Helen Epstein (espertus)
    espertus: Two interesting books on the spread of AIDS in two very different locations and times. "And the Band Played On" is about the emergence of AIDS, with a focus on the San Francisco gay community in the 1980s, which the author was a part of, and the (non-)response by the American government. "The Invisible Cure" is about governments' and NGOs' responses to AIDS in African countries in the 1990s and early 2000s, with varying degrees of success based on different levels of understanding of the problem and effectiveness in directing resources.… (more)
  2. 10
    The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (Sandydog1)
    Sandydog1: Another epidemiological thriller, even faster-paced.
  3. 21
    World War Z by Max Brooks (timspalding)
    timspalding: Some may take offense at the suggestion, but I think don't think World War Z could have been written without And the Band Played On, an oral history of the all-too-real AIDS epidemic. Shilts' is by far the better book, even if it weren't true and important.… (more)
  4. 00
    The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are excellent history-of-medicine narratives.

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» See also 86 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
i can't imagine that there will ever be a more comprehensive or exhaustive book (of journalism or any other kind) about the early years of the aids epidemic. this is just so detailed, so seemingly even-handed, so full of history and science and personal anecdotes. it's such an important and such a hard read. shilts does a truly excellent job of showing what was happening on all sides of the issue through every stage. (socially, politically, personally, etc.)

the first time i read this was in (or near) sept 2003. it absolutely shattered me. i mean shattered. while i had forgotten a lot of the details and specifics, i am not sure i ever fully recovered from reading this book the first time. i was a bit nervous about rereading it because of how deeply i was affected by it; i might even be able to say that this book tangibly changed the course of my life, but that might be a bit extreme, i'm not sure. either way, i was utterly gutted by this the first time, and for good reason.

the information here is so unbelievable, so hard to accept, and so important to understand. it was crushing to my naive, idealist self, the one who believed that people genuinely have each other's best interests at heart, that government is supposed to work for the people, and especially that scientific institutions are there to do the work of science and to help people.

there are few heroes in this book. even the good people fighting the good fight stopped short or made excuses or only decided to fight when it was long past the time to make that decision. and as for everyone else - well, it's almost incomprehensible how callous and self-serving people were, throwing other people's lives away like they were so much garbage. (and i only say "almost" because of the time we're living in right now, with the trump administration. honestly i'm sure that there are awful things done by every administration, but some are worse than others, and both trump and reagan qualify.) it's stunning what was left to happen, and how many were left to die (and die horribly) for political expediency and bigotry. i believed in things, and in people, before reading this book for the first time. the reality of the infighting between the world's largest science institutions, the lying to protect an uncaring administration, the value placed on some lives versus others, that there is a cost/benefit weighed even when people's (*thousands* of people's) lives are in the balance, and even the resistance to changing behavior or societal norms when necessary - all put together it was crushing to see that, at its base, people are out for profit. whether that's in making their business thrive, saving their business money, getting an award, getting more money in a grant, making less work for themselves, getting to do what they want regardless of how it harms others, or myriad other ways - it's just about what's best for themselves, irregardless of everyone else.

when they saw this new disease and realized it looked fatal, they (and i mean the government, the pharmaceutical companies, the scientists, the bathhouse owners) didn't care because it was happening at first to gay men and because it would cost them money and work to do something about it. really and truly they didn't care. reagan in particular wasn't willing to do anything about it; while thousands of people were dying, he wouldn't even think about it. and he was allowed to get away with it by his administration and everyone else in government, scientists, the media. no one cared enough to do something about it. (sure, a few people here and there tried, and some even tried hard, but no one was willing to take a step that would go against their boss or make a statement to the media so people would understand what was really happening. even the "good guys" in the story are often letting 16 months go by before pressing an issue, or are lying to congress about the administration, or not subpoenaing documents to save someone embarrassment, etc.) the world didn't care until someone famous (rock hudson) died. it's the most appalling history of disinterest, lying, under-funding, under-educating, misleading, hoarding of information to the detriment of science, that is imaginable. literally every step of the way they fucked it up more than before, and people died because of it. literally every step of the way they had a chance to finally make it right (at least for the people not yet infected or infected but not symptomatic) and they entrenched themselves deeper into the path of death. it's an incredible story and one that makes a person lose faith in just about everything. truly. such a hard, but important story. i'm not sure i can put myself through reading it ever again, though.

(ok, you have to read between the lines to find them, but there are heroes - the people themselves who had aids and didn't hide it, who said what it was. the people who cared for them. the guy (cliff montgomery maybe?) who started the aids ward that allowed the patient to decide who could visit), the activists and even the congresspeople who asked some hard questions, expecting that they were being given honest answers. even orrin hatch asked for more money when reagan gave too little (but i'll never call him a hero). there were people giving everything they had to fight this. and by "this" i mean not just the virus, but the politics, the media, the society, the culture, even the gay community that wouldn't accept certain things or allow certain things to be said. a perfect confluence of things to make it so completely fucked up. so yes, some heroes, but they were mostly the everyday people dealing with the devastation of the virus, not the people we needed to be heroes.)

from the prologue, this really made me think of where we are right now with climate change: "By the time America paid attention to the disease, it was too late to do anything about it."

it was hard for me to understand truly how strapped the scientists were for money, how the reagan administration wouldn't approve anything for aids research, until this sentence: "At one point, Don Francis ordered a basic textbook on retroviruses, only to have the requisition refused. The CDC could not afford even $150 for a textbook."

while the reagan administration was particularly egregious in its handling (by completely ignoring) of the aids virus, everyone failed. largely because it most (initially) affected the gay community. but everyone failed. the media failed. scientists failed. (although international scientists sure did a better job. so i should say american scientists failed.) gay community leaders failed (although they failed less often). local governments failed. everyone down the line failed. and so many people died. and are still dying. if the world health organization is to be believed, 35 million people have died from aids. had action been taken - reasonable, basic action - when it first appeared, most of those people would be alive today. i mean only a few hundred might have died. what contributions are we without because their lives, mostly gay lives at the outset, weren't valued?

it's overwhelmingly sad. i'm not shattered, reading it this time, likely because i was never quite whole again (it's hard to unknow the stuff that you can't be an idealist and know) but i'm shaken. so important, this book, for so many reasons. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Feb 20, 2019 |
to call this a comprehensive history would be a gross understatement. Exacting reporting of detail upon detail. It is important to document history, but this is not an easy book to read. In fact in the 100 New Classics list, this book does not have a peer. ( )
1 vote deldevries | Sep 5, 2018 |
My mother asked me about what I'd been reading lately. When I told her, she made a sound of recognition. "It's kind of like a detective novel, isn't?" she mused. "Except the murderer is a virus."

Indeed—especially as Randy Shilts has written it. And the Band Played On covers the AIDS crisis from 1980, the year doctors began to notice a pattern of unusual illness in gay men in San Francisco, to 1985, the year Rock Hudson was outed as gay and a person with AIDS. At over 600 pages, And the Band Played On is perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the early days of the AIDS crisis. It's particularly illuminating for those of us who were born or came of age after the crisis. I was born in 1991, years after we had identified the AIDS virus and established how it was transmitted. I grew up with safe sex lectures and mandatory blood testing; it was shocking to learn how cavalier people were about safe sex, and how far the blood industry went to avoid testing the blood supply.

It would be easy to cast people as heroes and villains, but Shilts goes out of his way to humanize everyone involved. Those he cannot cast in a good light he at least casts in a way that allows us to understand them. He does it almost too well. His characters were so compelling that I found it hard to maintain interest in the political and medical science aspects. I was interested in the discovery of the virus; I was less interested in the subsequent battle between the French and the Americans as to who deserved credit for the discovery. By the end, I had stopped reading the medical science scenes altogether.

But these are small quibbles. And the Band Played On captures a moment in history we'd be remiss to forget. It's recommended reading for everyone, but especially Gen Z and Millenials and those who want to understand the history of gay rights and social justice. ( )
2 vote aechipkin | Sep 24, 2017 |
(38) I am continuing this new foray into influential non-fiction. I have formerly been a novel only kind of gal and I realize now how limiting this predilection has been. So, obviously really late to the party with this one. I have always wanted to read this; I think I may have seen parts of the HBO movie at some point.

This is written by a SF journalist who himself eventually died of AIDS ( had no idea!) - I think he does a commendable job avoiding inserting himself into the narrative. He is as scathing with his portrayal of the gay communiy's hurtful political correctness which hampered public health efforts to stop the spread (AIDS-speak) as he is with homophobic at worst or indifferent to the plight of gay people at best media and government people of the times. I really had not realized how progressive our media and society has become until I compared it with what went on in the 80's. You couldn't use the word "gay" in newspaper articles - really?

So while engaging medical and social history of a time I lived through - with both my own "before" and "after" being my entrance into medical training and how the disease has changed over time -- critically speaking the book was all over the place. I could not follow the organization or the themes of each chapter and section (?the fault of a Kindle vs the fault of the author.) I sometimes felt I could pick this book up at any random point and read a paragraph and it would virtually be saying the same thing - there was no money for research, no one supported our efforts, people are dying. . . . I actually would have liked more science and more medical history re: the African connection. I am not sure what to think about the patient zero parts - I was most engaged when reading about this one individual who may (or more likely may not)have brought HIV to North America.

This book on the whole was at its best in the beginning - relayed almost like a mystery with the first few medical articles and the statistics surrounding the first cluster of cases diagnosed. It did surely bog down in the middle and eventually ground to a halt. But I agree, an important book and one that still resonates today. ( )
  jhowell | Aug 27, 2017 |
This book (published in 1987) is a damning recounting of how a series of bad decisions -- some malicious, some just tragic bad judgement -- let the AIDS epidemic get out of control in the first half of the 1980s. Spoiler alert: a large portion of the blame rests with the Reagan administration and its obsession with cost-cutting. But there were other problems too, like lab directors more concerned with personal prestige than finding the cause and treatments for AIDS, or mistrust between local officials and the gay community over the intentions of public health campaigns, or miscalculations about what information to release to avoid panic or anti-gay backlash.

I learned a lot from this book about what the early days of the AIDS epidemic were like, and some measure of the horror of watching the crisis unfold as people stood by and opportunities were missed to keep it from getting worse. About a few of the heroes, too, who did what they could to help even though there was little hope to be had. ( )
  lavaturtle | Feb 26, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
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Randy Shiltsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Counihan, ClaireDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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By October 2, 1985, the morning Rock Hudson died, the word was familiar to almost every household in the Western world.
I came here today with the hope that this administration would do everything possible, make every resource available -- there is no reason this disease cannot be conquered. We do not need infighting. This is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is not a gay issue. This is a human issue. And I do not intend to be defeated by it. I came here today in the hope that my epitaph would not read that I died of red tape.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312241356, Paperback)

In the first major book on AIDS, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts examines the making of an epidemic. Shilts researched and reported the book exhaustively, chronicling almost day-by-day the first five years of AIDS. His work is critical of the medical and scientific communities' initial response and particularly harsh on the Reagan Administration, who he claims cut funding, ignored calls for action and deliberately misled Congress. Shilts doesn't stop there, wondering why more people in the gay community, the mass media and the country at large didn't stand up in anger more quickly. The AIDS pandemic is one of the most striking developments of the late 20th century and this is the definitive story of its beginnings.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:06 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

An examination of the AIDS crisis critiques the federal government for its inaction, health authorities for their greed, and scientists for their desire for prestige in the face of the AIDS pandemic, in a twentieth anniversary edition of the acclaimed exposâe.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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