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

by Randy Shilts

Paperback, 2007




New York : St Martin's Griffin, 2007


An investigative account of the medical, sexual, and scientific questions surrounding the spread of AIDS across the country.

User reviews

LibraryThing member krazy4katz
It took me more than 5 weeks to read this book and during that time I felt as though I lived daily with the author and the people he portrayed. The book is written in a journalistic style punctuated with beautiful prose and a sense of indignation that grows stronger and stronger as the storyline progresses. Randy Shilts did a superb job of placing personal stories in the context of civil rights, politics, and American biases regarding discussions of sex and sexual orientation. Truly, this is a story about how we damage each other in society. Very few groups come out looking good. Of course, the Reagan administration, which didn't want to spend money on a "gay disease" even after it was budgeted by Congress, the gay rights advocates, whose fears of civil rights violations kept them from advocating safe sex policies that could have saved thousands of lives, the NIH, which was locked in a fight with the Pasteur Institute for credit for the discovery of the AIDS virus, the list goes on and on. Only at the CDC did I find a few officials who saw the coming epidemic and tried very hard to make the decisions necessary to save lives. Otherwise, the heroes of this book are a few people, physicians, doctors, private citizens who worked very hard to avoid this catastrophe. I think every college student should be made to read this book in a lesson on civic responsibility. It is an amazing book, rendered even more poignant by the early death of its talented author.… (more)
LibraryThing member rowmyboat
As I read this book, I couldn't help asking myself, over and over, how people could possibly have let it all happen like that. How could the bathhouses stay open so long? Why was almost no one willing to use a condoms or curtail their activities? Why were federal and local governments so unwilling to do anything?

From this late vantage point, it is easy to wonder that. Having seen AIDS, if there was to be another disease like it in sneakiness and severity, we'd likely catch on quicker, because we'd be able to say, oh, this is like AIDS, better not fuck it up this time. I was born while the events on page 435 were happening, more than two thirds of the way through the book, and grew up in a world where AIDS was a reality, where blood drives have requirements, and where condom use is taught in school. Queer people are freer than they've ever been and getting freer every day. Jonathan Larson has long since written that song asking us how we measure a year.

In the early 1980s, none of this was true. Medicine had recently conquered small pox, most STIs were treatable with a quick dose of antibiotics, nothing like AIDS had ever been see before, and even the Ebola virus had been quickly and efficiently dealt with; that the medical establishment would clear up a new disease quickly was a given. Queer people were liberating themselves but still rightfully wary of oppression and hate, wary of any attempt to curtail civil liberties or have their lives looked upon in askance. Frank public discussion of sex was a non-starter, condoms were uncouth, and Reagan was president.

Let's talk about the Reagan administration for a second. If any one person could have changed the course of all this, it was Reagan. If he had been at all interesting in spending money on anything besides mucking around in the Middle East and Latin America, AIDS would have been less of a fiasco than it was. That it took so long to figure out what was going on was directly the fault of the administration's unwillingness to fund research at the CDC and other agencies, in the name of fiscal responsibility. The man got through a term and a half without ever publicly addressing the issue! It is true that many other people made many other mistakes, but the buck stopped at the top.

So, why did the AIDS crisis end up so badly? Because no one wanted to believe it could be so bad, and Republicans hate you.

I thought of myself well versed is recent social/political history such as this, but, oh man, was this book as eye-opener. I'd only ever heard good things about ACT UP and Gay Men's Health Crisis, how they were so important and vigilant in helping the get the response to AIDS rolling. Being from down-state New York myself, I'd never heard just how abysmal the response was of New York City and New York State in the first half of the '80s. I'd never heard how San Francisco was so far ahead of the game, and how that city had the first AIDS hospital ward, and at one point was spending more on AIDS than the federal government. I have new-found appreciation for some members of the government -- Henry Waxman, Dianne Feinstein, among others -- for their roles in it all.

I couldn't stop reading this book. Even though it is over 600 pages and I read it during my last two weeks of grad school. It is engaging and heart-wrenching and mind-blowing.

There was a commercial on TV 10 to 15 years ago, where an actor went through some Suburbia, USA, and asked what it would be like if such and such high percentage of people had died, with so many orphans, and empty houses and what not. And then the actor told us that that's what it's like in some locales in Africa, where whole families are dying of AIDS daily. As the people in this book died off, I thought that's what it must have been like in the certain neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco. Gay men would watch everyone they knew die horribly -- AIDS is not a pretty death -- and then wonder when their turn would come. Could you imagine that among your own circle? I could, especially because, like some of the gay men depicted in this book, we've been in and out of each others' beds (though now with rampant condom use and HIV/STI tests that are taken regularly, things are obviously much safer) over the last few years. But what if? I can hardly imagine it, except that I can and the thought is horrifying. And here we have an account of the people who lived through (or not) such a reality. May it serve as a warning to us all, and a memorial to them.
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LibraryThing member spacecommuter
It says it right on the cover: "The Definitive, Best-selling History." Shilts writes with an all-seeing eye, as though he was present at every moment in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, as though he stood next to each scientist, each congressman, each person who contracted the disease when they were struck with their epiphanies or dismay. Shilts is just a man, but you feel as though you can see the crisis as God must have seen it from above, watching the courage of some and the despicable self-interest of others.

AIDS was and will always be a political disease because of the manners in which it is spread - sodomy, drug use, and extramarital sex. After reading over 600 pages of stories about the compassion the fallen show each other, the apathy of leaders to do anything, the vanity of researchers who withheld research until they were given full credit for new discoveries, and the cruel rhetoric of the "Family Values" crowd blaming and ostracising the victims, you stop cringing about AIDS' transmission. Because if AIDS really is a disease wrought by God to punish humans for their sins, then the sin He is punishing is indifference. Christ healed the sick while the NIH and the FDA tied up potential treatments in red tape. Christ embraced sinners while American zealots campaigned to ban AIDS sufferers from public spaces. If we cannot follow Jesus' example and heal and comfort the dying, we will join them. He was our Savior - but now that we know Him, we must save ourselves as he once did.

For almost 20 years now, I dodged the book because when my mother read it, she accused me of having AIDS every time I sneezed. It made me hate Shilts and his stpuid book. But once I opened a page, I couldn't put it down - the writing is fast, beautiful, and written more like an incident report than a dry history book. What shocks me, though, is how prescient he sounds - writing in 1988 - when he states at the end of the book that the next stage of AIDS will play out in Africa, not San Francisco or New York. "...while AIDS would play a central role in gay history, it was clear that gays would not play the most central role in the future history of AIDS. They were sepearate stories now, the story of AIDS among gays and the story of AIDS elsewhere, and they were stories that shared very little except their common historical roots and the physical suffering wrought by a horribly cruel and insidious disease."
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LibraryThing member NellieMc
Remarkably more even-handed than I would have expected -- some individual heroes but a lot more than surrendered to politics than empathy--from all political sides. Particularly interesting given the controversy over the Nobel Prize award to the French for finding the HIV virus--according to this book, they got it right. History at its best for those of us who believe that you must study history in order not to repeat the errors.… (more)
LibraryThing member thorswitch
A powerful - and important - story detailing the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Shilts has taken what could be a lot of dry reading about governmental bureaucracy, medical research, and political agendas and and policies and created an amazingly *human* story. He covers some of the very few cases of AIDS that go back as far as the late-50's and documents - with a reminder of the increasing death toll as the years go by - our government's indifference and the efforts of the gay community and others to try to get our leaders to even acknowledge that it existed.

Shilt's book is a remarkable tribute to the people who tried to address the disease before it became an epidemic and a stark reminder that even in a country where we're all supposedly "created equal" some aren't as equal as the rest.
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LibraryThing member hammockqueen
wonderful depiction of what went on when the aids epidemic first started...the denial, the politics to keep the bath houses open, the fear, the hatred against the gay community. Randy Shilts did a fine job of putting it all together.
LibraryThing member whirled
And The Band Played On is what all good non-fiction sets out to be - detailed, interesting and deeply illuminating.
My simplistic understanding was that AIDS got its toe-hold on the world because Reagan and his cronies were only too happy to let gays and IV drug users die. In this landmark book about the early days of the epidemic, Randy Shilts lays out a much more complex picture of the truth. Also among the groups complicit in the unfolding tragedy were the scientists who placed their overweening egos before the needs of the sick, and the gay leaders who were more interested in preserving gay men's rights to anonymous bathhouse sex than educating them about the mortal dangers they faced. A masterpiece of investigative journalism.… (more)
LibraryThing member lovesbooksandcats
The best and most easily read review of the beginning of the HIV epidemic.
LibraryThing member Sandydog1
One of the best epidemiological detective stories of all time.
LibraryThing member ElizabethPisani
The Godfather of all AIDS books. Written with great passion and a fair bit of insight.
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
And the Band Played Onhas got to be one of the best pieces of journalism I have read in a long, long time. Shilts' reporting of every aspect of the AIDS epidemic is nothing short of mesmerizing. From the very beginning controlling the spread of AIDS never stood a chance. AIDS was to be ignored by everyone. If you were heterosexual you didn't want anything to do with the gay man's disease. If you were homosexual you didn't want someone telling you how to have sex, disease or no disease. Shilts does a fantastic job bringing to light the political power struggles that kept education and research about AIDS in the dark for nearly a decade.… (more)
LibraryThing member DanDanRevolution
An absolutely phenomenal account, expository journalism of the highest caliber. Shilts was a fantastic author, and this treatment is detailed and immaculate. Deeply affected my life.
LibraryThing member PattyJC
The ultimate story about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It covers all the issues with government bureaucracy, medical research, politics, and general homophobia in those early days when AIDS was considered the "gay cancer" Shilts has given the story a very human face. now , after all these years, it's still hard to stomach all the mishandling of the AIDS epidemic… (more)
LibraryThing member NativeRoses
100 pages into And The Band Played On: Politics People and the AIDS Epidemic, some doctors hope a bad batch of poppers is causing the 'gay cancer'. A few other doctors are doing the legwork of interviewing patients in an attempt to piece together better theories. Shilts details fierce struggles between the CDC and the patronizing NCI and New England Journal of Medicine which turn deaf ears to CDC doctors' pleas for resources and speed. He brings the story to life through the voices of people involved in the crisis ~ Larry Kramer, Paul Popham, Gaƫtan Dugas, and Grethe Rask stand out so far.

As i read, i find myself seething at the willful blindness, homophobia, egos, and ideologies of those who hindered the work. For example, in the last few pages, a doctor noticed similar symptoms in the baby of a drug-addicted mother and noted it on the baby's chart. His notes were struck out by higher ups who insisted it was 'just a gay disease' that had nothing to do with the child. Aargh!

By the end of the book, the greed, venality, timidity, fear, apathy, hatred, self-interest, and lust for power that created one unconscionable act after another and led to unfathomable suffering and death has been detailed. But what also stood out was the courage and spirit of AIDS victims such as the young psychotherapist, Gary Walsh. i wish every America would read this book.
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LibraryThing member wordygirl39
I've read this book twice and parts of it over and over again. It reads like a novel and tells the truth. Shilts' last act, to get this book out, was a fine one.
LibraryThing member mabernet
Easily the best non-fiction book I've ever read. Shilts was a master journalist, storyteller, and has become my hero. It's fearless men and women like him who keep our country strong.
LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Shilts delivers an account of the events in the AIDS epidemic in the West, particularly America. He presents the details in a relentless chonological order, almost minute by minute in some cases. He shows the foolish steps and miscalculations that allowed the disease to spread as politics, religion and prejudice held ascendancy over practical medicine and humanity.… (more)
LibraryThing member Katie_H
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 individuals initially infected were mostly gay or drug users, the public was extremely apathetic. Due to the transmission methods (sodomy, IV drugs, etc.), AIDS was seen as an "embarrassing" disease and was ignored by the media and government officials (federal AND local, Dems AND Reps, Feinstein, Reagan, and many more). Gay activists considered calls for safe sex to be homophobic slurs, scientists were uncooperative and only interested in earning the Nobel Prize, and blood banks were only concerned with the bottom line, refusing to admit that their supplies were contaminated. The "Patient Zero" theory, in which one extremely promiscuous man knowingly spread the disease to MANY men in several regions, is touched upon. In addition to the disasters, the author also cites many heroes, including Rock Hudson (the first celebrity who went public, making the cause more relevant to the general population) and C. Everett Koop (Reagan's surgeon general who published the first realistic and understandable report on the insidious disease, disregarding common "pc-isms"). Shilts himself was infected with the virus while writing this, but he did not want to bias the book by getting tested before he was finished. This should be required reading for all; while it appears daunting at 600 pages, it is extremely interesting, well researched, and worth the time spent.… (more)
LibraryThing member Oreillynsf
I remmeber reading once that this book was a history of a disease, but it's really far more than that. There's a Stalin quote that goes something like "The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic."

Which is one of the reasons why this story is so powerful. It's the story of AIDS, but it's more the story of PWAs, and the people populating their lives. An epidemic told from the perspectives of individuals destroyed by it. It's an incredibly powerful technique, and this book affected almost every aspect of the way I perceive politics, faith, passion, and dispaasion.… (more)
LibraryThing member deldevries
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.
LibraryThing member willoughby
This is nothing less than a compulsively readable tour-de-force in modern medical journalism. It's the history of a disease, a people, and an era all in one.

I always knew I'd read this book eventually, but as with any long non-fiction tome there comes a risk that at some point your attention span might have to bow out. Not here: this book holds your interest on nearly every page (I skipped one or two of the more dense courtroom testimony pages, but often later went back to read them anyway). Randy Shilts does not ask for your time lightly - every chapter here is earned.

It seems almost an omniscient narrative voice in involved, and with over 900 interviews and his own previous years of investigative work on AIDS, there's a reason for that.

Before reading, I had foolishly assumed the word politics had been added to the title to sex it up a bit. Nope. The story of the various responses people, communities, and entire governments had to AIDS was all about politics. So often reading this book did I get the impression you could actually hear the bullet whiz past your ear. If you were born around or before 1980 in a first world country and ever had a blood transplant, this could have been your story too. While Mr. Shilts avoids sensationalism, the story is sensational enough in its barest facts for that point to be clear.

I immediately looked up the author to learn more about what he had written only to discover he too died from AIDS in the 1990's. His book, already a tribute to a lost generation, is now an example of all the substantive contributions those men and women could've made if politics could have been shoved aside sooner.

This book is a rare thing: it is both a great, historic work and a damn good read. Would that Randy Shilts had lived long enough to give us many more of its calibre.
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LibraryThing member ocgreg34
In the early 1980s, a new disease quickly began appearing in San Francisco and New York. The purple blotches of Kaposi's sarcoma and mysterious bouts of pneumocystis carinii seemed to only affect a very small minority of the public -- the gay community. But unlike other mysterious outbreaks, such as with Legionnaires' disease, the government and media response to the new disease was almost non-existent. Randy Shilts' "And the Band Played On" chronicles the early days of the AIDS epidemic, how many groups (the Regan administration, the media, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, gay activists and organizations) responded to the situation. Infighting, political red tape, and silence -- most surprisingly from within both the medical and gay communities -- affected and undermined the research into discovering the disease. It made me angry reading this book, learning how lax the media was in paying any attention to the outbreak, reading how egos within the CDC and NIH (not to mention the lack of immediacy from the government) hampered efforts to locate the cause for the rash of odd diseases. The reaction of most in the gay community was in most cases, to ignore it. I could understand the anger in Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart", as he's one of the main players in the book.

The book is very sobering and sad and alternately uplifting, realizing that not everyone was apathetic. Many of the doctors and researchers involved risked their livelihoods and reputations, seeing AIDS not as a gay disease but as a human disease. Many gay groups appeared to help get the word out about AIDS, holding candlelight vigils for loved ones, refusing to remain silent in the face of opposition.

"And the Band Played On" provides an in-depth and thorough look at the first years of the AIDS epidemic, and it's one of the best books I've read in quite some time. I most definitely recommend it.
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LibraryThing member Cherizar
Riveting explanation of the origins of the AIDS epidemic - documents the medical, social, and political back stories of the times - the definitive story of how a blind eye was turned time and time by the politicians, medical community and society itself and how committed individuals refused to give in - this book provides a critical history to the current AIDS epidemic still going on today.… (more)
LibraryThing member timspalding
A devestating account of the early part of the AIDS epidemic. Shilts portrays a political train wreck. Conservatives act like conservatives, liberals act like liberals and all the prejucides and political stances pile up and react against each other to tragic effect, while the doctors strugle to understand what's going on and patients die. The narrative--short, relentlessly chronological cuts--is detailed, character-centered and gripping.… (more)
LibraryThing member shinekomi
Had to read this book for an AIDS class. It is a very insightful book, regardless of the inaccuracies reported in it.



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