Released on 01 December 2016.

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How to Survive a Plague

The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS

4.38 based on 850 ratings & 186 reviews on

2017 Winner

Baillie Gifford Prize

2017 Long-listed

The Wellcome Trust Book Prize

2017 Winner

Green Carnation Prize


Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

Winner of The Green Carnation Prize for LGBTQ literature

Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT non-fiction

Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017

'This superbly written chronicle will stand as a towering work in its field' Sunday Times

'Inspiring, uplifting and necessary reading' - Steve Silberman author of Neurotribes, Financial Times

How to Survive a Plague by David France is the riveting, powerful and profoundly moving story of the AIDS epidemic and the grass-roots movement of activists, many of them facing their own life-or-death struggles, who grabbed the reins of scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Around the globe, the 15.8 million people taking anti-AIDS drugs today are alive thanks to their efforts.

Not since the publication of Randy Shilts's now classic And the Band Played On in 1987 has a book sought to measure the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms.

Weaving together the stories of dozens of individuals, this is an insider's account of a pivotal moment in our history and one that changed the way that medical science is practised worldwide.

In the media

An extraordinary story: a medical mystery that becomes a chaotic, contentious, but most importantly successful movement for the rights and dignity of people despised by society. 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 . . . Another, perhaps better, way to think of How to Survive a Plague, however, is as a chronicle of the recent past that sheds light on the fights to come. Now as our president-elect is Donald Trump, and we enter another time in which we must fight together against insurmountable odds to shift an unfeeling political and cultural landscape for the better, France’s book is even more essential . . . Yet, while the book is inspiring, it is also unsparing in its depiction of the lasting ramifications of national trauma. France undercuts what could have been a simplistic, uplifting ending with a coda that brings us up to date with the survivors of the plague. Their accounts show us the ways they came to feel lost in the years following and the ways they are still haunted. Yet this honesty, just like France’s honesty about the failures, trials, and absurdities of the fight to tame AIDS, means the hope contained within the book feels real and earned.
My favorite book of the year is easily David France’s How to Survive a Plague, a powerful history of the HIV/AIDS crisis. So many people seem to have forgotten what happened just a few decades ago: the ignorance and apathy of those in power, and the gay men and women who fought to break the stigma surrounding the plague that wiped out a generation. This book is heartbreaking, but it is also inspiring. We owe so much to those brave activists and to Mr. France for writing this vital book.
Wall Street Journal
Masterful . . . riveting . . . inspiring . . . At a time when many Americans are worried once again about the wisdom and compassion of their elected leaders, How to Survive a Plague offers a salient reminder of what can be achieved by citizens who remain unbowed and unbroken.