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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times 2016 Notable Book 

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' 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. 

©2016 David France (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Prepare to have your heart buoyed and broken in this riveting account.... This highly engaging account is a must-read for anyone interested in epidemiology, civil rights, gay rights, public health, and American history." (Library Journal)

"Powerful.... American history, memoir, public health, and a call-to-action are perfectly and passionately blended here. Spectacular and soulful." (Booklist)

"A lucid, urgent updating of Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On (1987) and a fine work of social history." (Kirkus)

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What listeners say about How to Survive a Plague

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Sad story, beautifully told

This is a devastating history but wonderfully told. Rory O'Malley provides excellent narration. Should do more audiobooks.

6 people found this helpful

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Gripping history of early AIDS epidemic & ACT UP

David France begins his history of the early years of the AIDS epidemic with the 2013 funeral of Spencer Cox, an activist with ACT UP-New York who was integral in the group's fight to get access to drug trials and drugs and get a too often indifferent government to care about the plight of people living with AIDS.

Cox had survived the death sentence of AIDS when the life-extending drug cocktail became available in 1996, only to lose contact with the friendships he'd formed in ACT UP and his sense of purpose. For some reason, he just decided to stop taking his AIDS medication.

The second chapter goes back to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. Just like Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On, How to Survive a Plague follows the epidemic forward through key figures and events in what was at first a mystery disease. Larry Kramer, the Old Testament prophet of the epidemic, plays a large and divisive role in early activism. He's a great character and a real champion with a habit of alienating those he's needs.

Peter Staley also figures a lot. He's the baby-faced Wall Street trader who, to keep his job, stays in the closet until AIDS makes it impossible. Then activism becomes his new mission.

There are a lot of characters in this engrossing story. A lot of them die off. Because before 1996, AIDS was nearly 100 percent fatal. The epidemiology of AIDS reads like a great murder mystery. What is this disease killing young men? Why is it concentrated in the gay community? The medical community was scrambling for answers through a fog of confusion and fear.

David France also tackles the unresponsiveness of the federal government and New York's mayor Ed Koch. The evolution and work of ACT UP becomes the backbone for much of this history because it exemplifies the coalition of people living with AIDS who had to come together and act when no one else would. This book is a great follow-up to And the Band Played On because it covers a longer period of time. Shilts's published his in 1987 and a lot has happened in the HIV/AIDS fight since then, including the debunking of the Gaetan Dugas/Patient Zero myth and the drug cocktail.

The narrator does an excellent job.

3 people found this helpful

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Inspiring activism in the face of great odds

Though consistently dark, this book is rarely bleak, and it proves itself a landmark in queer historical literature. From throwing a giant condom over a politician’s house to creating an illegal drug market that was both a protest and a means to survive, the AIDS Epidemic activists disrupted society with a relentlessness far greater than the disease that ravaged their bodies. We typically regard this period of Queer History with appropriate reverence and gravity, but if I had to pick one word to describe the ACT UP movement, it would be this: Badass.

3 people found this helpful

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Read This Book!

It's almost hard to write a review for this excellent book, because there's just so much to it, all of it very well written. Not only is this an excellent and detailed account of the early years of the AIDS crisis, but it's a deeply personal account of the lives of the author, his friends and lovers, and other activists during that time. I wanted to thank the author at the end, for sharing so much of himself with his readers and truly opening a window into the horrors and also the amount of love and dedication that defined the AIDS crisis in New York in the 1980s. What the men and women activists accomplished during to save their loved ones and themselves was remarkable. This is a story that needs to be read at the very least, and probably should be shouted from the rooftops.

The narration was wonderful, and felt very personal. This was so dry, monotonous reading.

7 people found this helpful

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Learned so much!

By far such an interesting and expensive work. Highly recommended I couldn’t stop listening. Highly effective speaking style as well.

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Heartbreaking

This isn't an easy listen, and there are times it gets confusing because it covers so many players and so much medical information, but it's a powerful account of a terrifying time. A must read.

4 people found this helpful

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WOW

Loved this read. It was hurtful to read all the suffering so many people were affected by such a horrible plague and now we're here again with a different name.

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Insightful and a reminder 🎗️

As a person with HIV, and having had a family member die from an O.I. of AIDS, it a somber memory of many things. Certainly no one should forget this time period - ever!

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If you're into this topic do not miss this

as someone who was already very interested in the topic oh, I could not get enough of this book. it might be overkill for anyone who is not interested in this level of detail.

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Heartbreaking, incredibly informative

This has far more detail than other books I had read, and is far more heartbreaking. But it allowed me to understand far better why my closest friend, who did not survive long enough to see the creation of life-saving drugs, fell into homelessness and street drugs. It remains the greatest sorrow of my life, and I searched for him for decades until I discovered the truth.

This is no hagiography, and all of the figures are very much human, but the things that they lived with while continuing the struggle to take care of loved ones, move a recalcitrant government and industry, and earn a living make them entitled to be called “the greatest generation,” version 2.0.

This is evocatively told by Rory O’Malley, and one hopes he will continue to narrate.

1 person found this helpful