The definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic—from the creator of, and inspired by, the seminal documentary How to Survive a Plague.
A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.
Not since the publication of Randy Shilts’s classic And the Band Played On has a book measured the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms.
In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation’s disease-fighting agencies.
With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers’ club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.
Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider’s account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights. Powerful, heart-wrenching, and finally exhilarating, How to Survive a Plague is destined to become an essential part of the literature of AIDS.
“David France brilliantly chronicles AIDS in America during the 1980s and 1990s. . . . Powerful. . . . American history, memoir, public health, and a call-to-action are perfectly and passionately blended here. Spectacular and soulful.” —Booklist, starred review
“Heroic and heartbreaking and magnificent history throughout, How to Survive a Plague is one of the great tales of our time: the story of incredibly brave and determined men and women who defied government, the pharmaceutical industry, vicious homophobia, and the death sentence of AIDS to overwhelm an awful scourge. These gay activists—refusing to die without a fight—were vital in staunching the epidemic. Their resistance and cunning—while so many of their bodies were weakening and failing—will remain as seminal to medical history and humanity as the efforts of Pasteur and Salk.” —Carl Bernstein
“This is a masterpiece of intimate storytelling with moral purpose, a contemplation not so only of an epidemic of illness but also of an epidemic of resilience. It’s a book about courage and kindness and anger and joy, written with fierce, passionate intensity and utter conviction.” —Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity
“How to Survive a Plague is epoch-making: the whole social and scientific history of AIDS, brilliantly told. Informative and entertaining, suspenseful, moving, and personal.” —Edmund White, author of Our Young Man
“How to Survive a Plague is both a great and an important book, and we owe David France an enormous debt of gratitude for writing it. At once global and achingly intimate, his story provokes righteous rage, despair, the blackest of humor, heartbreak and, finally, blessedly, hard-won hope . . . for all of us. You will not soon forget these smart, courageous, dying young men. In fact, let's call them heroes, since they were.” —Richard Russo, author of Everybody’s Fool
“As one generation grows up with the misconception that AIDS is nothing more than a manageable illness, another grows old with the fear that the epidemic’s early days will disappear into the fog of history. How to Survive a Plague is the book for both generations. France has pulled off the seemingly impossible here, invoking the terror and confusion of those dark times while simultaneously providing a clear-eyed timeline of the epidemic’s emergence and the disparate, often dissonant forces that emerged to fight it.” —Dale Peck, author of Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS