How to Survive a Plague by David France

Wellcome Book Prize 2017 shortlist: How to Survive a Plague by David France

Review published on March 15, 2017.

AIDS was supposed to be the next pandemic, A disease that would take out 1 in 4 of the population. So far this virus has claimed around 40 million victims and it is thought that there are around 37 million still carrying the HIV or full blown AIDS virus at present. These are huge numbers. When it surfaced in the early 1980’s in America no one knew anything about it. It was passed from individual to individual through sexual contact and once it had entered into the gay community it spread rapidly. No one knew how to treat the symptoms or even if it was curable. Most people in America, in particular, those of a right-wing persuasion could not be described as ‘sympathetic’ of the New York or any other gay community. This was even before men started to start to succumb to this unknown illness, initially thought to be some form of cancer, which was fast becoming an epidemic. It was a huge struggle for the gay community to even gain acceptance a lot of the time, this unknown virus was seen by some to be some sort of punishment. The problem was that this virus was decimating people.

David France brings us this insider’s view from the gay community on the characters that fought for recognition of their rights through the group ACT UP and for the fight that they had for resources for finding out just what this illness was and if it could be cured. This book is not the easiest to read, it is very dense, long and incredibly detailed. However, because of France’s perspective from within the community that suffered the most by reading this, you will gain an insider’s perspective on the devastation that was wreaked on the gay community in the early 1980s. He lost partners and many close friends and associates to the virus and this made him do what he could do best, write. He describes the pretty despicable action by the American team of scientists undertaking research after the French team at the Institut Pasteur discovered the HIV-1 virus, and how Burroughs Wellcome developed AZT; supposedly the drug that would help those suffering. Problem was, it didn’t work. They made a fortune and still, people died. In their thousands.

Thankfully modern drugs mean that the disease is manageable, but this book is a reminder of a time that should not be forgotten.

Paul Cheney 3*

 

How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France, published on 1 December, 2016 by Picador in hardback

Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017

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