A critically acclaimed 640-page book by David France belongs at the top of your reading list.
An acquaintance of mine years ago, France has created in How to Survive a Plague a vivid review of the battle to understand the pandemic, fight U.S. government indifference, create a unified activist front, overcome bureaucratic chaos and ultimately learn how to treat AIDS.
The author’s exhaustive review seems to have him everywhere all the time from the first diagnosis to essentially the latest pharmaceutical successes. In doing so, he spares nothing about his personal life, confessing how deeply he felt about the witness he bore and the relationships he treasured.
His Amazon bio outlines a distinguished career prior to having written this tour de force, noting that France. . .
. . . is the author of Our Fathers, a book about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, which Showtime adapted into a film. He coauthored The Confession with former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey. He is a contributing editor for New York and has written as well for The New York Times. His documentary film How to Survive a Plague was an Oscar finalist, won a Directors Guild Award and a Peabody Award, and was nominated for two Emmys, among other accolades.
Despite an Everest of detail, the author miraculously manages to keep the book from bogging down. It is a surprisingly gripping account, given the intricacies of AIDS politics and gay activism, which must be credited with ultimately forcing focus on the disease and its deadly opportunistic infections.
Yet so many — far too many young men and women of all colors and nationalities, too many drug abusers, too many parents, children, uncles and aunts — have died because treatment options came so late. Too many of them, more than I can count into the double digits, were my friends and my colleagues at work.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 70 million persons have been infected with the HIV virus and some 35 million of them have died of HIV. Globally, as many as 39.8 million individuals were living with HIV at the end of 2015.
How to Survive a Plague received wonderful reviews, among them the following one from Andrew Sullivan in the New York Times Book Review:
Remarkable… 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… This is the first and best history of [activists’] courage.
And this from Anderson Cooper in the Wall Street Journal:
My favorite book of the year is easily David France’s How to Survive a Plague, a powerful history of the HIV/AIDS crisis… 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.
The Economist offered this praise:
Masterful… Despite its grim subject, this is an inspiring book… How to Survive a Plague offers a salient reminder of what can be achieved by citizens who remain unbowed and unbroken.
Rick Whitaker in the Washington Post calls How to Survive a Plague a “punch in the gut. . .” Says he:
France delivers a monumental punch in the gut; his book is as moving and involving as a Russian novel, with the added gravitas of shared memory from the not-distant past. It is both an intimate, searing memoir and a vivid, detailed history of ACT UP.
Outdated, costly or unavailable treatment has failed to stop in its tracks the stubborn march of HIV to its inevitable conclusion, and the book provides an essential guide to mobilizing resistance and budging the seemingly intractable.
Whether AIDS does not touch or interest you, even in the face of persistent infection around the world, the outstanding How to Survive a Plague not only deserves your time. It demands your time, your attention and your certain appreciation.