...somehow manages to pack all the emotional power of that film with far more granular detail and narrative force. I doubt any book on this subject will be able to match its access to the men and women who lived and died through the trauma and the personal testimony that, at times, feels so real to someone who witnessed it that I had to put this volume down and catch my breath ... the merit of this book is that it shows how none of this was inevitable, how it took specific, flawed individuals, of vastly different backgrounds, to help bring this plague to an end in a decade and a half ... the first and best history of this courage.
...a remarkable book ... The book covers the same events [as the film] but goes deeper and takes a wider, more personal view ... It’s not easy to balance solid journalism with intimate understanding of a subject, and even harder to write eloquently about a disease that’s killing your friends and loved ones. France pulls it off.
There are two things you need to know about David France’s book How to Survive a Plague. First: It’s flawless. Masterfully written, impeccably researched, and full of feeling for the living and dead heroes of the AIDS movement...Second: It’s too much. Exhaustive, and also exhausting ... a complete and correct record of this terrible story and its heroes.
...riveting and comprehensive ... Its 640 pages are packed with scientific, medical and social history, offering the reader a simultaneously intimate and sweeping understanding of the crisis ... amid this wealth of sources and data, France never lets the reader forget the human scale of the crisis ... How to Survive a Plague stands as a remarkably written and highly relevant record of what angry, invested citizens can come together to achieve, and a moving and instructive testament to one community's refusal — in the face of ignorance, hatred and death — to be silenced or to give up.
France’s follow-up book of the same name provides a more nuanced take on the same events. Substantial and elegantly written, it is at once a deeply reported (if New York-centric) AIDS history and an intimate memoir that makes clear the author’s stake in the story.
...the cynosure of the story this book raises to the level of poet Siegfried Sassoon’s First World War and writer Primo Levi’s Holocaust is the access and influence a group of privileged white men demanded and got in the medical and pharmaceutical corridors of power ... The reporting and research that made this book are exquisite, the scenes and people painted test the limits of what’s bearable ... France tells a story that has lessons for us about the power of empathy over sympathy, and the degree to which unreasonable people can twist even the most powerful bureaucracies and governments into useful shapes.
...an important and powerfully written book ... Instead of diluting the emotional force of his narrative, France’s personal perspective on the story amplifies it, particularly because his meticulously chronicled version of events is never clouded by sentimentality or petty score-settling ... With a novelist’s eye for telling details and a poet’s gift for indelible images, France describes blind patients in Aids wards ... inspiring, uplifting and necessary reading.
It deserves an extraordinary book. How to Survive a Plague is such a book, a sweeping social history, a bracing act of in-depth journalism, and a searingly honest memoir all at once ... While France shows a journalist’s restraint in eschewing psychological speculation about his subjects, he is also a deeply opinionated witness to their triumphs and foibles, including his own ... the chaotic, contentious, painful form of hope offered in this book is vital even as the fight it chronicles remains unfinished.
...his book is as moving and involving as a Russian novel, with the added gravitas of shared memory from the not-distant past. It is both an intimate, searing memoir and a vivid, detailed history of ACT UP ... How to Survive a Plague argues eloquently and irrefutably that the people running government agencies — federal, state and local — were inclined to do far too little in response to a deadly disease.
...[a] subtle and searing history of this late-20th century plague and those who survived it ... It is a difficult balancing act, but France avoids hagiography. Instead, he uses his privileged access to put us in the heart of the action, or more usually, inaction ... As befits a Greek tragedy, France ends on a note of pathos, returning to the story with which he begins his book: the mysterious death of Spencer Cox, Harrington’s right-hand man who is widely credited with the trial innovations that helped bring new Aids drugs to market in record time.
An authoritative account of a bleak time in human history, the book spans both abject horror and radiant hope—regularly moving you to tears ... When science and society come together, France’s history transforms from gutting tragedy to human triumph. And with each false breakthrough, life shattered, and new day, How To Survive A Plague lives up to its name, providing a blueprint for our continued existence ... The lesson of How To Survive A Plague is this: Even in the face of one of the Four Horsemen, whipsawed by a particularly canny virus and our own prejudices, we can and will empathize, organize, fight, and live.