Some brief notes about books on AIDS

It's useful to enumerate the literature that was written about the epidemic, as it helped shape the political, social and scientific climate. Here is a sample.

Anne Giudici Fettner and William A. Check, Ph. D., foreward by Benjamin Safai, MD The Truth About AIDS: Evolution of an Epidemic (1984, 1985, Hold Rinehart and Winston. hardcover and paper revised). is a detailed history of the scientific hunt for the virus in the early days. Much of her research involved travel to Africa and less common places like Belle Glade, FL, which I visited in 1986. The writing is sometimes colorful -- sawgrass, battleship tropical clouds.  She takes on the awful truth that the mathematics and geometric spread of the early epidemic among gay men implied. I corresponded with her by mail, writing letters on my dot-matrix Okidata printer and Radio Shack computer from my Oak Lawn (Dallas) apartment in the mid 1980s. She also wrote for Charles Ortleb, The New York Native, the brash paper that covered the epidemic them. I corresponded with him, too--he was too much into the conspiracy theories. (I recall that Dr. John Beldakas, who had written for the Native, came to Dallas to address gay men at the Dallas Gay Alliance.)  About this time there was a paperback simply called AIDS, pub 1983 -- I have lost track of the book -- that documented detailed case histories, such as a church organist named Kurt, and another man named Pip ("Great Expectations') who developed KS and underwent the humiliations of chemotherapy.

Robert Gallo, MD, Virus Hunting: AIDS, Cancer & The Human Retrovirus: A Story of Scientific Discovery (1991, New Republic/Basic) is a detailed history of the hunt for HTLV-III/HIV. Gallo, of course, was considered controversial by some people because of his "conduct" -- and I have no real other details here. At one point in this book there is a speculative discussion about whether HIV could mutate into something casually transmissible (a speculation that once had been accidentally raised by Fauci in 1983), and he cannot dismiss it out of hand, although if the virus did, it would probably become much less lethal and behave differently as it adapted to the human host. Given decades of experience with this virus, it has not happened, but the idea comes back today when we think about a biochemically very different kind of virus (avian influenza), H5N1, which is not a retrovirus. As far back as 1984, though, medical speakers would sometimes worry that the AIDS virus was mutating.

Alan R. Cantwell: AIDS: The Mystery and the Solution (1984, Aries Rising) was a medically controversial book that suggested that AIDS could be caused by gram negative bacteria. This theory is discredited. (What gram negatives do cause is serious periodontal infections -- I had one.) He spends some space on the Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions and claims to find the bacteria in them. Possibly that could happen, although now KS is thought to be associated with a herpes virus, HH6.  Cantwell has some other radical books like "AIDS and the Doctors of Death."

Barbara Peabody. The Screaming Room: A Mother's Journal of Her Son's Struggle with AIDS--A True Story of Love, Dedication and Courage. New York, Avon 1986. ISBN 0-380-70345-9 is a graphic account by a mother of her gay son's medical battle with AIDS and of her dealing with  her own feelings about his life.

Paul Reed. Facing It: A Novel of AIDS (1984, Gay Sunshine Press, San Francisco) is a graphic fictional account of a typical victim, a vigorous young man who still goes back to his childhood pediatrician when he starts having night sweats and then oral purple lesions. There is little of the typical suspense that one normally expects in fiction.

C. F. Farthing, S. E. Brown, R. C. D. Staughton, J. J. Cream, M. Muhlemmann. A Colour Atlas of AIDS (1986, Medical Publishers, UK, 80 pp) has a collection of graphic photographs of PWAs with all of the various opportunistic diseases. The KS photos are particularly shocking and humiliating. For example, a patient is shown in before and after pictures involving radiation therapy to the legs and pubic regions, with resolution of swelling and lesions but with apparently permanent depilation. 

Two "religious right" books about AIDS were Gene Antonio's The AIDS Cover-Up (1986, Ignatius Press, San Francisco), which claimed that the Reagan government was covering up the blame that gay men should take for the epidemic,  and James McKeever  The AIDS Plague (1986, Medford) which claimed that AIDS was a plague sent from God to punish sin and homosexuality.

TV Doctor Art Ulene wrote Safe Sex in a Dangerous World (1987, Knopf) and it was not very reassuring that male gay sex could be safe, although the author was considered moderate. A similar book was The Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, Safe Sex in the Age of AIDS for Men and Women (Secacus NJ, Citadel Press, 1986).

Gabriel Rotello: Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men (1997, New York: Dutton, reprinted Plume, ISBN 0452277191). This book is well known for its criticisms of the sexual behavior of gay men and how, "collectively" they seem to have spurred the great AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. In some ways it collapses the narratives of Randy Shilts in And the Band Played On, but it pays particular heed to the epidemiology and sociology. The "fairy culture" or earlier decades would have prevented the feedback loop of unprotected anal sex and help amplify the epidemic, first within "core groups".  I have an earlier piece on this at this footnote link, to my own discussion in my DADT Chapter 3, when I discuss the notorious "Dallas Doctors Against AIDS" and the draconian proposals in Texas in the 1980s.


Randy Shilts: And the Band Played On (1986)

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