And The Band Played On Book Summary, by Randy Shilts

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Overall Summary

And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic is a book about investigative reporting by Randy Shilts. He was able to cover the AIDS epidemic for his newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle.

The author begins by examining the roots of AIDS in 1976. Two events are analyzed in detail: a mysterious illness of a Danish physician working in Africa, Dr. Grethe Rask, and the first known case of AIDS being reported to U.S. health officials as gay men died from strange illnesses and pneumonia-like symptoms.

Shilts criticizes the Reagan Administration for cutting funding to AIDS research programs, which delayed the progress of finding a cure. He also blames scientists who were at odds with each other and failed to work together to find answers. Businesses that kept their blood banks unregulated helped spread the disease, as did bathhouses in New York City that were not accountable for their patrons’ sexual activities. The media was reluctant to cover AIDS because it wasn’t seen as an important issue at first. Politicians, public health officials, and community leaders weren’t proactive enough in fighting against AIDS when they could have been helping people live longer lives with dignity instead of stealing those years away from them by ignoring this terrible epidemic until too late.”

The author of this book, however, shows that there were people who came together to help solve the AIDS crisis. They included doctors and scientists who sought the truth behind it all as well as political leaders and activists dedicated to finding solutions for their government’s failure.

AIDS was considered a gay disease, and when Rock Hudson died from it in 1985, the nation realized that AIDS could affect anyone. The focus shifted to cooperation between people with different beliefs and backgrounds.

This book tells the history behind the AIDS crisis and how it started. The author also pays tribute to those who fought against it by honoring them for their efforts in fighting this disease.


Rock Hudson’s death gave the Western world insight into AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. He helped to draw attention to it for the first time and his diagnosis became a demarcation that would separate the history of America before AIDS from the history after. However, by the time people were aware of this deadly disease, many lives had been lost and there were thousands who had already died or were dying because of it.

The perception that AIDS was a “homosexual affliction” resulted in the Reagan Administration, political leaders, public health officials and scientists not taking action. The media also failed to act as well. However, those few who persisted were heroes and fought for change. They tried to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS so it wouldn’t happen again to anyone else.

Chapter 1: “The Feast of the Hearts”

In 1976, New York City hosted a grand celebration of America’s 200th birthday party. The fireworks were displayed throughout the night and ships from 55 nations poured sailors into Manhattan to join the throngs counted in millions.

In the same year (1988), on Christmas Eve, Dr. Grethe Rask and Dr. Ib Bygbjerg were working in Kinshasa, Zaire (current-day Democratic Republic of Congo). Despite being exhausted from a long day at work and homesick for their native Denmark, they tried to make dinner together for each other since neither one wanted to be alone. However, both doctors knew that conditions in rural areas were difficult:

Dr. Rask realizes that his friend, who has been healthy for years, is losing weight and has mysterious diarrhea. She also had swollen lymph nodes for almost two years before her condition worsened in November of the following year. Dr. Rask knows she’s going to die soon.

And The Band Played On Book Summary, by Randy Shilts

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