A lucid, urgent updating of Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On (1987) and a fine work of social history.

HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE

THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW CITIZENS AND SCIENCE TAMED AIDS

How scientists and citizens banded together to lift the death sentence from AIDS.

It may be hard for anyone not alive at the time to comprehend how devastatingly the AIDS epidemic announced itself in the early 1980s and how resolute the Ronald Reagan government was in doing nothing about it. Emblematic was Jesse Helms, the North Carolina segregationist senator who argued in support of an amendment bearing his name to prohibit research and treatment funding, which he said would “promote, encourage, or condone homosexual activities.” Other bills introduced at the time included a suite that, among other things, “sought to bar people with AIDS from practicing in the health care industry, even as X-ray technicians.” Matters in the government did not begin to turn around, writes documentarian/journalist France (Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal, 2004), until the Democrats took the White House, following a testy exchange with activists in which candidate Bill Clinton “cast himself as a better friend to people with AIDS than people with AIDS themselves.” It was those activists and their unflagging efforts, France documents, that kept the matter of AIDS and funding for its treatment in the public eye and on the political table, and while the long battle exhausted many—as France writes, there was a second epidemic of drug use, attributable to the self-medication of the traumatized—it was also extraordinarily effective in rallying both public and scientific/medical support. The result was a transformation of the disease—not just a physical one, with medications developed and made available that could “regenerate a person’s immune system,” but also a social one, with much of the stigma lifted from the ill. All this, as the author notes in closing, was accomplished by angry, vocal people out in the streets—a very good lesson for activists engaged in other issues today.

A lucid, urgent updating of Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On (1987) and a fine work of social history.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-307-70063-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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