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How to Survive a Plague

'Epoch-making . . . Brilliantly told. Informative, entertaining, suspenseful, moving, and personal.' Edmund White The riveting, powerful and profoundly moving story of the AIDS epidemic and the grass-roots movement of activists, many of them facing their own life-or-death struggles, who grabbed the reins of scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Around the globe, the 15.8 million people taking anti-AIDS drugs today are alive thanks to their efforts. Not since the publication of Randy Shilts's now classic And the Band Played On in 1987 has a book sought to measure the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms. David France, a chronicler of AIDS from the earliest days, uses his unparalleled access to the community to illuminate the lives of dozens 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. We witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the use of the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) early AIDS drug AZT, and the suspenseful - and often heartbreaking - march toward a lifesaving medical breakthrough. Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider's account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights - and one that changed the way that medical science is practiced worldwide.
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'Epoch-making . . . Brilliantly told. Informative, entertaining, suspenseful, moving, and personal.' Edmund White

About the Author

David France is the author of Our Fathers, a book about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, which Showtime adapted into a film. He is a contributing editor to New York magazine and has also written for the New York Times. His documentary How to Survive A Plague was a 2012 Oscars nominee, won a Directors Guild Award and a Peabody Award, and was nominated for two Emmys, among other accolades. Praise for David France: Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal 'Generous, authoritative, smart, powerful . . . The admiration David France earns is rivaled only by the heartbreak and indignation generated by his brave, important book.' San Francisco Chronicle 'Superb . . . The strength of Our Fathers is its anecdotal detail and psychological insight.' Washington Post 'No matter how thoroughly this material has been presented by other reporters, the effect of this cumulative retelling is devastating.' New York Times How to Survive a Plague 'The currents of rage, fear, fiery determination and finally triumph that crackle through David France's inspiring documentary... lend this history of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power a scorching electrical charge.' New York Times 'Made me realise how ignorant I was... An absolutely brilliant film.' Catherine Shoard, Guardian 'Extraordinary! It's moving, it's engaging, it's uplifting, it is ultimately empowering.' Mark Kermode, BBC Radio 5 Live 'Expansive, passionately conceived and wildly moving' Daily Telegraph 'An exceptional portrait of a community in crisis and the focused fury of its response . . . [The] film succeeds not just as a vivid chronicle of recent history but as a primer in grassroots activism.' Los Angeles Times


This superbly written chronicle will stand as a towering work in its field, the best book on the pretreatment years of the epidemic since Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On (1987), which it corrects in places. Most of the people to whom it bears witness are not around to read it, but millions are alive today thanks to their efforts, and this moving record will ensure that their legacy does not die with them. * Sunday Times * Important and powerfully written . . . Instead of diluting the emotional force of his narrative, France's personal perspective on the story amplifies it, particularly because his meticulously chronicled version of events is never clouded by sentimentality or petty score-settling . . . How to Survive a Plague stands on its own as a more richly nuanced telling of a chain of events that forever changed medicine . . . Inspiring, uplifting and necessary reading. -- Steve Silberman author of Neurotribes * Financial Times * Subtle and searing . . . [France] uses his privileged access to put us in the heart of the action, or more usually, inaction. * Observer * A remarkable book about a remarkable achievement: how an unlikely alliance of US activists, patients, doctors and scientists tamed one of the greatest threats to public health in the past 100 years, saving millions of lives. -- Peter Tatchell * Spectator * David France's remarkable book . . . somehow manages to pack all the emotional power of [his] film with far more granular detail and narrative force. I doubt any book on this subject will be able to match its access to the men and women who lived and died through the trauma and the personal testimony that, at times, feels so real to someone who witnessed it that I had to put this volume down and catch my breath. * New York Times * Flawless. Masterfully written, impeccably researched, and full of feeling for the living and dead heroes of the AIDS movement . . . No better person to write this book, which had to be written, creating a complete and correct record of this terrible story and its heroes. * Newsday * Substantial and elegantly written, it is at once a deeply reported . . . AIDS history and an intimate memoir . . . The book naturally invites, and merits, comparison to Randy Shilts's masterful And the Band Played On. * Boston Globe * David France managed to simultaneously break my heart and rekindle my anger in just the first few pages of his breathtakingly important new book . . . Riveting. * Washington Post * How to Survive a Plague is epoch-making: the whole social and scientific history of AIDS, brilliantly told. Informative, entertaining, suspenseful, moving, and personal. -- Edmund White 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. -- Carl Bernstein Tells the sweeping story of how successful HIV/AIDS treatments were often made available - or even possible - by grassroots movements . . . A hugely dramatic story. * National Post (Canada) * 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 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 David France is uniquely positioned to bear witness to the science and politics of the AIDS epidemic, its deeply personal impact, and the activists who refused to be silenced by it: courageous and brilliant, often selfless, willing to fight even as they struggle with death, but always fully human. From the story's beginning, France was on the ground doing hard-hitting reporting on the plague while living its toll in the most intimate of ways. How to Survive a Plague is a definitive, long-awaited and essential account of the plague years - haunting and hopeful, devastating and uplifting. Incredibly important. -- Rebecca Skloot Riveting account of the effort by citizens and scientists alike to combat AIDS in its devastating early years. France moved to New York fresh out of college, in 1981, and he focusses on the city, where nearly half of the gay population was infected with H.I.V. before the virus was discovered. Threaded with poignant personal recollection, his history is formidable in scope and profoundly humane. It's also a study in the power of protest and civil disobedience, bound to be useful in the days ahead -- Alexandra Schwartz * New Yorker * The most impressive non-fictional account of the AIDS crisis in the West to date . . . Even those steeped in AIDS history will learn much . . . This account - a challenging read, since if you aren't moved or shocked you're simply not absorbing the dark truth of the history David France relates - demands to be read and understood by everyone. * Literary Review * In this time of renewed activism in an increasingly uncertain world, France's definitive account of the AIDS crisis and the activists who changed the fate of so many lives, seems vital and important to inspire everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community. We couldn't be prouder to choose this book as the rightful winner. -- John Boyne, Chair of the judges, Green Carnation Prize 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 A lucid, urgent updating of Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On (1987) and a fine work of social history. * Kirkus Reviews * Powerful and profoundly moving, it's a soaring achievement * Winq * France's work is imbued with grief for those who have been lost and what he has lived through. But his work is also a majestic celebration of the transformative powers of a fight for justice, integrity and love. * Sydney Morning Herald * Masterful . . . riveting . . . inspiring . . . At a time when many Americans are worried once again about the wisdom and compassion of their elected leaders, How to Survive a Plague offers a salient reminder of what can be achieved by citizens who remain unbowed and unbroken. * Economist * My favorite book of the year is easily David France's How to Survive a Plague, a powerful history of the HIV/AIDS crisis. So many people seem to have forgotten what happened just a few decades ago: the ignorance and apathy of those in power, and the gay men and women who fought to break the stigma surrounding the plague that wiped out a generation. This book is heartbreaking, but it is also inspiring. We owe so much to those brave activists and to Mr. France for writing this vital book. -- Anderson Cooper * Wall Street Journal * The men and women in the AIDS advocacy movement saved lives and made history. France has honored them by telling their stories . . . How to Survive a Plague is the definitive book on AIDS activism, a long-overdue update on Randy Shilts' 1987 And the Band Played On . . . It's not easy to balance solid journalism with intimate understanding of a subject, and even harder to write eloquently about a disease that's killing your friends and loved ones. France pulls it off, in his own words (his description of finding a college roommate's panel in the AIDS Memorial Quilt is heartbreaking) and in letting his articulate sources speak for themselves. * San Francisco Chronicle * David France's riveting and comprehensive How to Survive a Plague purports, accurately, to be the definitive account of the successful struggle to halt the AIDS epidemic. Its 640 pages are packed with scientific, medical and social history, offering the reader a simultaneously intimate and sweeping understanding of the crisis from its earliest onset . . . and beyond to the era in which survivor's guilt troubled many of the movement's former activists . . . In rich detail and with a fine texture that benefits from his insider position, France charts the disease's spread as well as the heroic and flawed human efforts to contain it. Grippingly narrative and action-packed . . . A remarkably written and highly relevant record of what angry, invested citizens can come together to achieve, and a moving and instructive testament to one community's refusal - in the face of ignorance, hatred and death - to be silenced or to give up. * Chicago Tribune * An extraordinary story: a medical mystery that becomes a chaotic, contentious, but most importantly successful movement for the rights and dignity of people despised by society. It deserves an extraordinary book. How to Survive a Plague is such a book, a sweeping social history, a bracing act of in-depth journalism, and a searingly honest memoir all at once . . . Another, perhaps better, way to think of How to Survive a Plague, however, is as a chronicle of the recent past that sheds light on the fights to come. Now as our president-elect is Donald Trump, and we enter another time in which we must fight together against insurmountable odds to shift an unfeeling political and cultural landscape for the better, France's book is even more essential . . . Yet, while the book is inspiring, it is also unsparing in its depiction of the lasting ramifications of national trauma. France undercuts what could have been a simplistic, uplifting ending with a coda that brings us up to date with the survivors of the plague. Their accounts show us the ways they came to feel lost in the years following and the ways they are still haunted. Yet this honesty, just like France's honesty about the failures, trials, and absurdities of the fight to tame AIDS, means the hope contained within the book feels real and earned. * * An epochal book . . . the story this book raises to the level of poet Siegfried Sassoon's First World War and writer Primo Levi's Holocaust is the access and influence a group of privileged white men demanded and got in the medical and pharmaceutical corridors of power... The reporting and research that made this book are exquisite, the scenes and people painted test the limits of what's bearable . . . As much a monument as any AIDS memorial. * Toronto Star *

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