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And the Band Played On - Randy Shilts

This book was not very good.

As a history of the AIDS era, from the earliest cases to just before the approval of AZT, I think it did a good enough job and was easy to read. This is a very long book (600+ pages), yet didn’t really feel bloated. I got a good idea of the people involved (as patients, researchers, politicians etc.), without too much detail.

The story itself was skillfully written. But, the story doesn’t end up telling us much. I couldn’t figure out the unifying theme to this book. It is fine to JUST write the history, but this fell flat for me without a real point being made.

There are many controversial aspects of the AIDS theory, but none of them were addressed satisfactorily. “Poppers” (inhaled nitrogen) are to me one of the most important factors in AIDS, and the popper theory WAS briefly mentioned several times in the book, yet it was dismissed without explanation. This was jarring and hard to look past - why focus on less significant factors?

The viral theory of AIDS gradually becomes accepted by the characters as the story moves forward chronologically, and thus the book also seems to accept this theory, without real justification. Even though several problems with the viral theory are discussed in the book, they are simply dropped to focus on the viral theory.

There are many books written about this topic and period, but without any useful scrutiny of the official lines and without a unifying theme (even if wrong), I don’t see a reason to recommend this book.