From the author of The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life & Times of Harvey Milk (1983), a massive, ominous, compelling book that tells the most definitive story of the AIDS crisis in America to date. As his subtitle implies. Shilts concentrates on two different stories, alternating between them with novelistic ease. The first details the sad politics played by the government, the media, the medical establishment, and the gay community since gay men in America started having immune problems in 1980, and dying of what was then known as ""gay pneumonia."" The government has been slow in funding; the media slow (and inexact and squeamish) in reporting; American and French medical researchers are at each other's throats, fighting over who should get credit for discovery of the virus (the French, according to Shilts); and the gay community, particularly in dries like San Francisco and New York, took a long time to get over the fear of repressive homophobia and unite to shut the bathhouses and educate against the disease. The personal story is as horrifying as that of any war, because it's the tale of young men cut down in their prime, dying of rare diseases or turning into old men practically overnight. Shilts follows the lives of gay activists like Bill Kraus and Cleve Jones of S.F., men who had seen their dreams of political power realized, men whose potential was unlimited until the disease struck and both were felled. There is also the incredible story of a handsome French-Canadian airline steward named Gaetan Dugas (but known as ""Patient Zero"" in government studies). Dugas--who once estimated he'd slept with 2,500 men--quite possibly brought the first AIDS infection to America; researchers discovered that, of the first 240 men to die of the disease, Dugas had slept with 40 of them. In all: knowledgeable, painful, compulsively readable. Shilts has written the book on the AIDS epidemic.