I popped into a New Age store one day. Being me, I found my way to the clearance book section and nearly had a heart attack. And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts was there and only THREE DOLLARS?!?! It couldn’t be! Didn’t they know what they had here?
I took the book off the shelf, heart still palpitating. I read the back: It WAS the book I wanted to read, which I had only heard mentioned (numerous times) in passing, most notably as a discussion of sociological methods.
There was no way this book wasn’t coming home with me.
The cashier didn’t share my excitement. None of my friends had heard of the book. But I had. And I was going to read it, and its incense smelling pages, Damnit!
And so, I did.
And let’s just say, being born after ALL the events in the book took place, and having only heard of them briefly, it was a real eye opener. It put the US Government in a new light and briefly made me want to track diseases. But the government wasn’t hiring when I looked and I lack experience and the necessary degree and yadda yadda yadda.
I have several pages marked, too numerous to feel like recounting here. But this book: I was shocked. I was shocked from the underhanded political dealings that went on, from the lack of listening people would do to save their own skin while meanwhile people were DYING, the ignorance that grew (and still persists…) It’s just… It could vie for a spot on the list of “Books that changed my life”. I really wish I had read this in college, not for my sake, but for others.
In college, we read this book on TB in Haiti and how Paul Farmer is working to bring health care to impoverished locals. I was not a fan of the book: mainly, I did not like the writing style. I was slaughtered for not being moved by the book. Halfway through And the Band Played on, I read about how they discriminated against “…the ‘Four H’s’ of the disease risk groups– homosexuals, heroin addicts, hemophiliacs, and Haitians” (Shilts 197). My friend promptly got a text:
“Paul Farmer wrote a book on AIDS in Haiti and how Haitians weren’t to blame. Why didn’t we read that one instead?”
I really really didn’t like the book we had to read.
Going back to Randy Shilts: You have to respect him. He was living with AIDS while working on this book, but refused to get diagnosed until he was done. This is the AIDS epidemic not from scientists, but from someone who lived it, someone who was at risk. And it’s not a memoir; it’s full on facts.
I cannot emphasize enough how I think people should read this book. I can tell you about it until I am heaving from lack of breath, but it will not be enough.
You need to read it.