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Summary

By the time Rock Hudson's death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously?

In answering these questions, Shilts weaves the disparate threads into a coherent story, pinning down every evasion and contradiction at the highest levels of the medical, political, and media establishments. Shilts shows that the epidemic spread wildly because the federal government put budget ahead of the nation's welfare; health authorities placed political expediency before the public health; and scientists were often more concerned with international prestige than saving lives.

Against this backdrop, Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced. And the Band Played On is both a tribute to these heroic people and a stinging indictment of the institutions that failed the nation so badly.

As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Randy Shilts' book, you'll also receive an exclusive Jim Atlas interview. This interview – where James Atlas interviews Larry Kramer about the life and work of Randy Shilts – begins as soon as the audiobook ends.

This production is part of our Audible Modern Vanguard line, a collection of important works from groundbreaking authors.
©1987 Randy Shilts (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

Critic reviews

"The most thorough, comprehensive exploration of the AIDS epidemic to date....It is fascinating, frightening, and essential reading." ( San Francisco Chronicle)
" And the Band Played On is about the kind of people we have been for the past seven years. That is its terror, and its strength." ( The New York Times Book Review)
"A heroic work of journalism." ( The New York Times)

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What members say

Average customer ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Comprehensive and interesting

Good social history using real life stories as a narrative structure. I was interested in the epidemiology of the disease as it emerged but also learned alot about gay rights in 1980s USA. Astonished at how late blood transfusion was recognised as transmitting virus, found this shocking and a lessen to UK on verge of privatising blood banks. The narrator is fine, no silly voices or over-acting. Highly recomended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jim
  • London
  • 17-06-14

A real time capsule

Shilts offers a first hand report of AIDS hitting the newly liberated gay communities of San Francisco and New York at the start of the 80s and goes on to provide a masterpiece of journalism encompassing the reaction of community leaders, the community itself, scientists, politicians, journalists and the US healthcare industry in the shape of hospitals and blood banks. It works as a tragedy, an epidemiological who-done-it, history and drama. Most of the players don't come out of it with unblemished reputations, Ronald Reagan, the blood banks and Dr Robert Gallo being disreputable stand-outs amongst stiff competition. It's gripping, infuriating and touching in equal measure and a great listen but you'll need to be ready to listen to a lot of material about fisting, rimming and the extremely lively bath-house scene. Not my bag particularly but for all sorts of reasons it's entirely appropriate that the book deals with them frankly.

I had some personal questions about the way Shilts flips from reporting verifiable facts to offering us the thoughts of some of the protagonists which I'm struggling to see how he'd know. I was also occasionally irked by the narrator's very dramatic style which seemed to be trying offer Shilts' reporting an additional emotional umph that it didn't really require. These are all small things though. It's no plot spoiler to say (because it doesn't appear in the book) that Shilts opted not to be tested for AIDS until the book was complete in order to avoid biasing his reporting. He was diagnosed shortly after its completion and died in 1994. So this is a real monument to his talent.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Superb piece of journalism

Where does And the Band Played On rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Full insight into american AIDS history.

Any additional comments?

Book is not 79 hours long, its about 32 hours long, wish Audible would correct that. I fell for the trick as I'm a sucker for a very long listens. However, the book was well worth it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mr
  • 05-02-18

Wonderful & Heartbreaking

I loved every second if this book. It was fascinating and Heartbreaking in equal measures. A must read!

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  • p
  • 17-03-17

Very Good.

Very well performed, produced and edited.
The book is informative and often shocking. Revealing the flaws in early HIV/AIDS policy in the US from the first diagnosis to Reagan's first official speech on the subject.

the audiobook although detailed moves swiftly around the different organisations and people as the epidemic unfolds.

Sympathetic without being mawkish the book brings home the tragedy of the disease.

Not just a LGBT, a book for anyone interested.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant

A real eye opener funny in places heart breaking in others. I had no idea how awful AIDS really was this gives some idea of the suffering but the real tragedy was the response of different groups,; government, health care, the gay community everyone.
Well worth a read

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

slightly long...

Fascinating background to the origin of aids in the US. Slightly ranty, and overlooking on some detail, but generally very good stab at an important topic

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Patient zero

Radiolabs patient zero podcast was the reason for listening to this and I'm so glad it spiked my curiosity. Patient zero isn't really the story here. Political indifference and negligence along with public apathy is staggering. Times have changed thank goodness. Randy Shilts is a hero

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    5 out of 5 stars

The Story of AIDS in America

What did you like most about And the Band Played On?

This story will make you cry and be furious mostly at the same time. In telling the story of the spread of AIDS in America, Randy Shilts exposes the denial at the heart of the AIDS epidemic. It's a complicated story but worth sticking with even though it doesn't lead to a happy ending. It's a book you can't forget in a hurry.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Shilts uses the personal stories of those who were affected by AIDS, not just gay men, but Doctors and Scientists and people infected via blood projects. This makes sure that the wider story of indifference and denial is always gounded in personal stories.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Thought provoking, fascinating listen

Loved this, listened to it twice and may listen again. Fabulously written which kept your interest the entire time. The narration was also fabulous. Highly recommend.

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  • Jan Mitchell Johnson
  • 19-03-13

The subtitle says it all!

If you could sum up And the Band Played On in three words, what would they be?

Shocking, well-told story

What was one of the most memorable moments of And the Band Played On?

The constant conflicts between truth and politics (and money) are just unbelievable--what people did to "protect" their interests while scores of people died is unthinkable, yet it happened.

Which scene was your favorite?

It's all my favorite.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I was constantly astounded by the infighting of the various factions that put their own interests in front of public health--and that at times the public's health was completely ignored. The very fact that the blood banks denied there could possibly be a threat was the ultimate triumph of "looking good" over public health and common sense.

Any additional comments?

I tried to read this book many years ago and never made it through even the first few chapters. Listening to it instead made it so much more accessible. Unputdownable!

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Lisa
  • 30-06-14

I, too, had forgotten

This book is meticulously researched by a reporter who followed the entire story from beginning to end. And he pulls no punches - there is plenty of blame to go around. Politicians, gay leadership, scientists, journalists, business people, they all contributed to the crisis that was AIDS in the 1980s.

Shilts unravels the story piece by piece. What keeps you listening is the "And what happened next?" pacing. He brings to life the heroes and humans. It's truly a masterpiece and I thank Audible for producing this work. Without Audible the Audible Modern Vanguard publishing house, this work would not exist in this format.

Rarely has an 80 hour book so completely captured me. I swallowed this book in large chunks over a couple of weeks. I'm in the process of re-listening at a slower pace. If you are old enough to remember the Reagan administration, I believe this book will capture you as well.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Patricia
  • 06-10-13

Important book performed well.

What did you love best about And the Band Played On?

This book is a highly informative and deeply moving. Its relevance extends beyond the AIDS crisis to public health (and other political) issues generally.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ron L. Caldwell
  • 23-07-11

A-plus journalism

Shilts managed to write three of the most important works of nonfiction touching on gay people in the twentieth century. This book is one that is so carefully researched and intelligently presented that it really brings one into the complex mindsets that pervaded the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

It's broad in its geographical scope, yet stunningly personal, too. It shows us that the people who fought for the rights of people with aids often fought bitterly among themselves. It reveals the horrendous complacency and silence of the Reagan administration that might well be characterized as criminally negligent.

Shilts himself would succumb to AIDS not so many years after the events chronicled in this book. It stands as a living monument to his intelligence and humanity. It's a book everyone should read.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • James Gordon
  • 19-08-09

Sadness Redux

The definitive book mirroring the early days of the AIDS crisis. The late Randy Shilts details the disease from the points of view of the medical investigators, the press, the public and most painfully those who lived with the ravages of the virus. Looking back on the crisis from the vantage of medical advancements and the deaths that came too soon, one can only wonder what might have been. Sad and enlightening, I highly recommend this classic. It's history we must learn from.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Autodidact
  • 09-11-17

required reading

a human story told with grace and brilliance. a tragedy of the first degree, still unfolding bolstered by Reagan stalling and general bigotry of the USA Stunning, moving and a must read

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Tom Dawkins
  • 18-05-18

An incredible piece of journalism and history,

This is an epic, extraordinary, infuriating and hard-to-put-down work of journalism. Very highly recommended for anyone interested in not only the history of AIDS and gay America but on how individuals and systems respond to a crisis, and the battle between memory and forgetting, dignity and denial, community rights and individual egos. A truly monumental and essential book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kenny Cook
  • 19-04-18

A must read

So we never forget, this book is a must read. This epidemic didn't have to be as bad as it is, politicians and power hungry scientists made it worse.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • zein
  • 08-03-15

Fabulous, what a brilliant piece.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely; brilliant look at the world at that time, the outbreak and who and how it affected people.

What did you like best about this story?

I loved how it showed the lives of people but my favorite part was hearing about how the virus moved, what symptoms and subsequent illnesses it caused. I love hearing about HOW viruses work.

Which character – as performed by Victor Bevine – was your favorite?

They were all really well done.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Moving, unforgettable, a look into the world at a painful time that forever changed the world.

Any additional comments?

Really worth the read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • ricketsj
  • 04-11-13

Stunning, informative, well-written, but biased.

This book was one of the most interesting non-fiction stories I've encountered in a long time. I was shocked by how little of this story I knew considering that I was alive during the time it was being shaped- it really reinforces the point that is made repeatedly that the media simply ignored what should have been a HUGE story because it affected mainly the gay community. In hindsight, it is simply incredible to hear about stupid, short-sighted decisions made by scientists, journalists, politicians, and even members of the most affected communities. Decisions made because of simple denial, which lead to many avoidable deaths. This includes 2) the shocking decision of blood banks to simply ignore evidence that HIV was a blood-born viral agent, leading to infection of people receiving blood transfusions, 3) the absurdly counter-intuitive decision of scientists and policymakers in the U.S. to ignore or dispute cases of infection in hemophiliacs, IV drug users, children of infected mothers, and those receiving blood transfusions, 4) the intentional under-funding of AIDS research by the Reagan administration despite efforts by Congress to provide additional funding, and 5) decisions by some gay leaders and public health officials to focus almost entirely on civil liberties issues and ignore attempts to curb the rate of infection.

It was also pretty embarrassing as an American to read about the underhanded and dishonest efforts by scientist Robert Gallo to take credit for the work of French scientists, even including fraud- all while ignoring the fact that these shenanigans affected a real epidemic that was claiming real lives.

Shilts is not an objective journalist, often using language that is conclusory and inflammatory. He doesn't just present facts that clearly illustrate that politicians and scientists didn't care about AIDS (then called GRID) because they believed it only affected homosexuals- he says it. And he says it repeatedly. I realize that this rubs a lot of people (particularly journalists) the wrong way because journalists are supposed to be objective in a "just the facts, ma'am" kind of way. Everyone once in a while this grated on me a bit too, but honestly I couldn't get too upset about it because it was pretty hard to draw any conclusion OTHER than Shilts's from the conduct of those described. As a result, the indignation and anger over the recklessness of scientists, public officials, and community leaders felt justified and it didn't bother me as much as it would have in another journalistic context.

The one thing I disagreed with was the continual implication that Gaetan Dugas was the reason the epidemic spread so fast. While I'm sure that Dugas did spread the disease to many, many people, the focus on him in the book unfairly presents him as a sort of villain for the story when he was hardly alone in his continuing to have sex long after he should have considering his diagnosis. I thought Dugas's story was fascinating, and representative of HOW the virus spread so fast within the gay community and masked the obvious truth that no virus targets one sexual orientation over another; however, that was a set of dots that Shilts didn't really focus on. He clearly felt compelled by anger to find fault with various figures (including Dugas) rather than to note and elaborate on the fact that the disease being identified with the gay community was due only to the tragic coincidence that the lethal virus got introduced into the gay community at the exact time that promiscuity was widespread in reaction to the new-found freedom gay men were experiencing at the same exact time. I was ok with Shilts crossing the line of journalistic objectivity when the conclusions he was voicing were fairly obvious, but what he implied regarding Dugas seemed more personal and less fact-driven.

The narrator was perfect for the material- he tone really matches the tone of the text, bias and all.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful