How to Survive A Plague

How to Survive A Plague

The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS

Book - 2016
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One of The New York Times "100 Notable Books of 2016"

KOBO "Best of the Year"

From the creator of the seminal documentary of the same name, an Oscar finalist, the definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic, and the powerful, heroic stories of the gay activists who refused to die without a fight.

Shortly after David France arrived in New York in 1978, the newspaper articles announcing a new cancer specific to gay men seemed more a jab at his new community than a genuine warning. Just three years later, he was reporting on the first signs of what would become an epidemic.
Intimately reported, suspenseful, devastating, and finally, inspiring, this is the story of the men and women who watched their friends and lovers fall, ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large. Confronted with shame and hatred, they chose to fight, starting protests, rallying a diverse community that had just begun to taste liberation in order to demand their right to live. We witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT, and the gradual movement toward a lifesaving medical breakthrough. Throughout, France's unparalleled access to this community immerses us in the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader turned activist; the prominent NIH immunologist with a contentious but enduring relationship with ACT UP; the French high school dropout who finds purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York; and the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers' club at the height of the epidemic.
Expansive yet richly detailed, How to Survive a Plague is an insider's account of a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights.
Publisher: Toronto : Signal/McClelland & Stewart, ©2016.
ISBN: 9780771047510
Characteristics: x, 624 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations (some colour), portraits (some colour) ;,25 cm.


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JCLFlanneryC Mar 19, 2020

A fascinating, surprising, and inspiring book. David France takes a hard look at the heroes and villains of the AIDS crisis, at the individuals who helped mobilize communities and the higher-ups in government and medicine that actively peddled misinformation, stigmatized the gay community, and prevented or delayed their access to life saving treatment. It is amazing how many resources were marshaled before the government made any meaningful interventions. It is shocking how many harmful missteps were made. Ultimately this book is an uplifting testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of groups dedicated to social welfare, and an evergreen read for communities in crisis.

Sep 06, 2019

David France was a gay journalist who made a career of documenting the plague of HIV and AIDS, especially in NYC in the 1980s and 1990s. He stresses how the plague affected those most affected by AIDS, especially as the death tolls rose past 100,000 just in the city itself, where Mayor Ed Koch did his best to keep resources from those affected. As time went on, organizations arose to help themselves--since nobody else was going to help them--began out of sheer fear and desperation, and then to fight among themselves. The scientists, especially in the drug companies, worked hard behind closed doors to develop drugs that would "cure" AIDS, or at least add weeks to the lifespan of its victims. PWA, or People With Aids, as one brave man who ended up dying of the disease phrased it, worked equally hard to have input into the process. It did, after all, affect their lives. When, a dozen years into the epidemic, the drug companies let PWA into the scientific process, progress began to be made. Yet, the survivors, many of them, couldn't celebrate. They'd lost too many friends and lovers; many suffered PTSD from what they'd been through; others sunk into drug addiction; suicide claimed others. France was lucky; he found friendship in the family of a man who he had nursed through his gruesome death. And he found, in the end, love that made it all worthwhile. I withheld 1/2 a star because there were so incredibly many characters that it was very hard to keep track of them all, and so many potential treatments discussed that it was hard to keep track of them too. The book helped me understand the single AIDS patient I helped care for as a hospice employee, and his AIDS blindness and AIDS dementia. Anyone who wants to understand, in the particular or the general, what the AIDS plague was about, must read this book. Long, but well worth the effort.

Jun 27, 2019

Also see the documentary of the same name and "And the Band Played on."

Jul 23, 2018

A detailed and thorough exploration of the AIDS epidemic, I found this book a fascinating and engaging read. It delves into the biology and biochemistry involved in the identification of the virus and the development of functioning drugs, follows specific timelines for individuals involved in the movement, and captures the panic and urgency of those early years. It was astounding to read about those who would die weeks after diagnosis and those who survived for over a decade. I feel acquainted with every step of the movement and understand more fully how the fight isn't over today.

Nov 23, 2017

This history is an insider’s look at the activists who advocated for AIDS treatments and victim’s rights in the early days of the epidemic. France’s account centers on New York, and the founding of such organizations as ACT UP and the Treatment Action Group, as well as the safe sex movement. France truly makes the reader feel the uncertainty and fear of the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when even the cause of the disease was a mystery. Some early and influential activists believed that AIDS was the result of immune overload in “promiscuous” gay men, and advocated abstinence as treatment. While this theory was controversial and eventually thoroughly debunked, it did lead to the creation and promotion of the safer sex guidelines that helped curtail transmission of the disease. France also delves into the bureaucracy and homophobia that delayed the development of effective AIDS treatments by researchers and public health officials. Desperation led to thriving experimental drug undergrounds without proper oversight or data collection. Especially if you were born after AIDS went from being a death sentence to a manageable health condition, this is an essential and illuminating read.

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