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on 27 August 2009
"And The Band Played On" is a book I missed when it first came out over twenty years ago. I read Randy Shilts "The Mayor of Castro Street" after having become intrigued by the life of "Harvey Milk" since seeing the excellent Sean Penn film "Milk" at the beginning of the year, and I was anxious to read anything else that he had written.
"And The Band Played On," is a reference to the musicians on the Titanic, who reputedly kept playing as the ship sank.
The book details how this was exactly the way the authorities behaved while people in their thousands were dying from AIDS.
This new disease, which in its early stages, was unknown to science, devastated the lives of not just the sufferers, but also of those that loved them.
As it was mostly gay men, and intravenous drug users who were affected,(not REAL people, not people who mattered), little money was found for research, and the scientists involved had to make do and mend, in the most outrageous way.
The whole subject was considered embarrasing, one not to be talked about, and still people were dying. Some members of the gay community were reluctant to face up to the fact that their behavior in "bath houses," the taking of multiple sexual partners, had anything to do with the spread of the disease, and saw any restrictions placed upon them as a breach of their human rights.
Still people were dying.
Then the scientists started to play politics with the research, the French at the Pasteur Institute who discovered the virus, were disbelieved until Dr Robert Gallo could confirm their work in the US.
A year was wasted, and still people were dying.
The virus contaminated the blood supply.
Still there was denial.
Haemophiliacs were dying, patients were contracting AIDS from operative transfusions.
Still the wrangling went on.
For money, for kudos, for sexual freedom, for the hope of a Nobel Prize.
And all the while, people died.
Now, particularly in Africa, people are dying in their millions, this particular genie can never be put back into the bottle.
The band played on.................
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on 2 February 2006
This is a really thorough book. Charts the rise of AIDS with immaculate attention to detail and extensive research.
Unsurprisingly it is a sad story and reveals just how much government complacency and local business interests hampered the fight against AIDS.
It's very readable, so even though it's a big book, it is easy to get through.
The focus on the lives of various individuals important in the spread of/ fight against AIDS- scientists, politicians, the infamous "Patient Zero":
makes it more readable.
I read it for interest's sake, but it would be ideal for people studying the history/sociology of the AIDS epidemic in the USA.
Makes very little reference to the spread of AIDS outside of the USA after the opening chapters.
Other books on AIDS from a more personal perspective which would compliment this book well are:
P.W.A. by Oscar Moore and anything by David Feinberg, such as "Queer and Loathing" or "Spontaneous Combustion"
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on 29 February 2004
The beauty of this book is that you feel like you're there, living through one of the most significant periods of recent history. The personal stories of living with HIV/AIDS, the courage of those who were there at the start, the PWAs, the loved ones and the professionals (although many of these were not so courageous!) all provide for a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
I believe that this is an essential read for anybody who cares about the global impact that AIDS has had and continues to have. There are a handful of works that can change one's view of the world. This, for me, was one of them.
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on 12 October 1999
I enjoyed Shilt's book much more than I did the film. Although he can be criticised by professional historians from many angles, he does approach the issue of disease and American society from a perspective too long absent in medical history works. Shilts attempts to bring the patient into the history of AIDS continually. In fact, the best passages in the book are about the poeple who lived outside of the medical and political spotlights. Hollywood may have missed the point, but you can still read the book.
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on 25 October 2006
I read this book as it was recommended as a useful insight into the history of the AIDS epidemic and it's links to the gay community. It, however, is much more. As a nurse I have an obvious interest in the health aspect but politically and socially this is possibly one of the most important books written on a global epidemic. Randy Shilts uses all his journalistic nouse to conjur a piece by piece account which held me from the first page to the last and offers an insight into a piece of our history which should not have been allowed to happen
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In autumn 1981 I was a Briton in Reno when this new disease, GRIDs, got mentioned in tiny reports among the sidebars of the SF Chronicle in the university staffroom. I thought little of it. Shilts, after a seemingly irrelevant preamble about new diseases occurring in west Africa, starts in a small way too, with a seemingly insignificant condition burgeoning and within a few years terrifying governments and populations. Researchers into the etiology and identification of this 'AIDS,' as it was agreed to call it,, after an unseemly dispute between Montagnier and Gallo, the French and American researchers from which Gallo emerges with little credit. To call this the New Plague was right, although in the west it affected gay people so it could be ignored; who cared about this bothersome minority? Act-Up and Stonewall were among the activists to combat this cruel marginalization, if sometimes misguidedly and the part played by bellwether Larry Kramer is told both with skill and feeling, he's a brave man indeed.. Shilts demonstrates a novelist's skill in tracing the index case, Patient Zero, as well as the efforts made to identify the struggle to identify, classify and deal with this terrifying new disease in the teeth of undoubtedly callous indifference, especially by Reagan's reactionary administration, some of whom thought of it as divine punishment (some cruel fools still do!). A magisterial achievement, utterly engrossing and one of THOSE books that, once I start it, I have to finish. The storytelling is that good, the drama is so intense and some of those who worked to help the stigmatized sick were hardly less than saintly. It was a sad day indeed when I read that A.I.D.S. had claimed Randy Shilts, a brave and honourable man whose monument this wonderful book is.
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on 14 July 2014
Great book and gives the full story of the start of the H I V Aids epidemic and how governments chose not to do anything about it.
The title And the band played on indicates that fact.
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on 7 November 2014
This charts the relentless rise of HIV in the early 1980s. It's a tale of power and politics as much as the devastation of mainly young lives, as the Reagan administration turned its back on the gay community and through inaction, allowed the infection to spread.
Meticulously researched, this book both fascinates and appals in equal measure. Very readable and quite shocking. A lesson where bigotry and ignorance leads us - millions of unnecessary deaths.
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on 25 January 2013
I bought this as a sort of encompass-all guide to the birth of the AIDS epidemic as references to it kept springing up in LGBT literature I was reading and I only had the sketchiest of ideas about it.
I couldn't put it down. In turns witty and tragic, raising admiration, anger and disgust, it truly is a must-read.
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on 22 May 2016
I am half-way through this book; and I am just thinking; what a story, what a book, incredible. This book, this story NEEDS to be read and re-read by any generation in the future. This horrific history captured in these beautiful written and powerful words drills down to the core of what we are as humans and lays bare our humanity, our vulnerabilities, our vanities, our power and our weakness as individuals, as a society, and as humanity at large, not only in the context of this catastrophe. The narrative of the book follows the history of the outbreak on a day-by-day basis, articulating the many simultaneous story lines in science, politics, patients, press and people and so slowly lifting the lid of this story.

When I opened the book I was taken back by the small and not very nice font, but once reading I do not notice it. Perhaps start to even like it.
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