And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS EpidemicAnd the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts
Published by Stonewall Inn Editions

From the publisher:

By the time Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously? In answering these questions, Shilts weaves the disparate threads into a coherent story, pinning down every evasion and contradiction at the highest levels of the medical, political, and media establishments.

Shilts shows that the epidemic spread wildly because the federal government put budget ahead of the nation’s welfare; health authorities placed political expediency before the public health; and scientists were often more concerned with international prestige than saving lives. Against this backdrop, Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced. And the Band Played On is both a tribute to these heroic people and a stinging indictment of the institutions that failed the nation so badly.

I don’t even know what to say about this incredible, devastating, marvel of a book. I feel like I have nothing whatsoever to add to what was I’m sure an intensely interesting conversation when the book was first published, nor do I have anything to add to these three words: incredibly important read.

I just can’t with this. The insanity of a government, of the very people elected to serve and protect the citizens of a country, making the conscious decision NOT to spread awareness and educate the very group of people most at-risk for a deadly disease is just unconscionable to me. And yet. This is what happened, not many years ago, in the United States, with the AIDS virus. There is so much more to this book than that, but much of the trajectory of the spread of AIDS resulted from that one simple fact. And it is just bananas to me.

This book is really, heartbreakingly sad. Shilts gives the reader an up close and personal look at the lives of many of the people who were some of the first to be diagnosed with AIDS, and of the people who were fighting for education and preventative measures, and you fall in love with these men and root for them, and then almost all of them die. And then if you’re like me, when you finish the book, you research the author to learn that he also died of AIDS. It’s sad in the saddest of sad ways. But it is also fascinating and SO well-written and unbelievably compelling and really, this book produced so many emotions in me I can’t even begin to explain it.

So here is what I will leave you with – yes, this book is long, and complicated, and really freaking sad, but how important it is outweighs all of that. To me, And the Band Played On falls in the must-read category, one hundred percent. As difficult and heartbreaking and infuriating as the book is, it is so incredibly great. And so, so important.