How To Survive A Plague Book Summary, by David France

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Overall Summary

A journalist and filmmaker wrote a book about AIDS. He explores the history of the disease, along with the people who worked tirelessly to raise awareness about it. They also advocated for more aggressive medical research so that they could help those already suffering from this illness. The author interviewed many people involved in this movement and expanded on their stories featured in his 2012 documentary film How to Survive a Plague.

The book centers on two activist groups, ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (the Treatment Action Group). It opens with a reunion of ACT UP members in 2013. The group was brought together by their shared experience of death during the AIDS crisis. They were also reunited because one longtime member had died recently. In this large crowd, most people are gay men who have been affected by the disease at some point in their lives. While looking around the room, France reflects on how they’ve changed history and literally saved millions of lives through their activism efforts.

The disease first emerged in the gay population of San Francisco and New York. However, it eventually spread to every corner of the world because everyone was affected by it. The rich were as vulnerable as poor people, and while there is a lot that we don’t know about this disease, one thing is for sure: It’s not going away anytime soon.

Some people ignore the suffering that some gay men are experiencing, but others try to help them. Dr. Joe Sonnabend is one of those people who tries to figure out what’s causing this disease and how it can be treated. The gay community rallies together to fight for funding and acknowledgment of their pain, which gives birth to ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group).

At first, activists target the few social services that are equipped to help AIDS patients. They also work on raising awareness about safer sex practices in order to stop the spread of AIDS. However, they encounter a lot of hostility and discrimination from an uncaring public. Hospitals refuse to admit or treat people with AIDS and quarantine them in locked wards where no nurses or doctors visit them. The response from the general population is not much better as people demand quarantines for anyone with AIDS and even for all gay men. Religious leaders further enflame this situation by proclaiming that it’s God’s punishment for homosexuality

Activists remain focused on their goal of finding a cure for AIDS, and more researchers come on board. They develop the drug AZT, which is effective in treating HIV/AIDS patients. However, half of all AIDS patients cannot tolerate its extreme side effects—which include blindness—and it’s prohibitively expensive.

After AIDS is discovered, people start protesting the government agencies that are not responding to it. Eventually, they form ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group). These groups protest against the National Institutes of Health and Food & Drug Administration because these two organizations aren’t helping with the crisis. It takes years of unrelenting activism before life-saving medications become available for HIV/AIDS patients. The documentary How to Survive a Plague is a tribute to all those activists who fought for their lives until effective medications were developed.

How To Survive A Plague Book Summary, by David France