67 pages 2 hours read

Randy Shilts

And The Band Played On

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1987

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Summary and Study Guide


And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic is a work of investigative reporting by Randy Shilts, a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle. Shilts covered the AIDS epidemic from 1982 for the only newspaper willing to give its full attention to the epidemic.


Shilts examines the roots of AIDS beginning in 1976 to two events and focuses on the mysterious illness of a Danish physician working in Africa, Dr. Grethe Rask. Before the virus even has a name, it leaps across continents and destroys communities, while many stand idly by.


Shilts is critical of the Reagan Administration, whose budget cuts affected the programs that needed funding for AIDS research; the scientists, whose dismissal and later rivalry causes the delay of necessary answers; the businesses, whose choice to keep blood banks unaccountable and bathhouses liberated helps to spread the disease; the mainstream media, which is reluctance to cover the disease; and numerous political officials, public health authorities, and community leaders, whose irresponsible and/or blasé attitude sped the deaths and stole the dignity of those affected with AIDS.


However, Shilts also shows that throughout the AIDS crisis, there are faces of humanity who come together for the singular cause of solving the crisis: doctors and scientists devoted to seeking the truth behind the chaos of the epidemic, and political leaders and activists dedicated to finding solutions to the failures of their government.


It is the idea that the AIDS epidemic was a gay disease, a problem of homosexuality, and deemed an insignificant misfortune that causes a nation’s conscience to stumble and push itself deeper into its own blunders. The death of Rock Hudson, in 1985, (a man famous enough where AIDS could no longer be ignored) places everyone’s focus beyond their respective divisions and into committed cooperation.


In this book, Shilts writes not only of the history and the hubris behind a human crisis, but creates a tribute by honoring the heroes who fought in the way each knew best, to try and make sure that everyone gets a chance at life.