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David France wins the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction for How to Survive a Plague

David France has been awarded the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction! The announcement was made on the evening of 16 November.

As per the press release, composed by Picador publisher Ravi Mirchandani:

I am delighted to share the news, to those of you who don’t yet know, that last night our author David France won the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize).

The prize is the UK’s leading award for non-fiction, but it is open to books published in the UK by writers from all over the world, including in translation.

David’s book tells the story of AIDS from the first cases in the US in the late 70s to the emergence of the combination drug therapies that mean that an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence in the 90s. It is in part his own story, as a gay man in New York at the time and as a journalist who covered AIDS, at a time when the mainstream press very largely did not, but it is also a significant work of history.

Thanks to the fact that the virus very disproportionately targeted members of stigmatised groups – gay men, heroin addicts and Haitian immigrants – the American establishment, from President Reagan to the pharmaceutical industry, the medical authorities, the churches and the media, for years turned a blind eye to the increasing number of deaths, usually terrible, drawn-out and agonizingly painful deaths, and to the health crisis that was emerging in plain sight.

Thanks to this willful neglect, 40 million people around the world have died. Many of them need not have.

But the book is also the story of how groups of HIV-positive people across America and the world, many of them literally fighting for their lives, fought one of the most effective protest campaigns in history. And how they eventually won.

Thanks to these activists and to a crucial group of scientists and drug developers, many millions have not died and are ‘living with HIV’, thanks to the combination therapies.Their achievement has changed not only HIV, but also the ways in which medical research is done and made a major contribution to the emergence of the ‘patients’ rights’ movement.

For all these reasons the book is an important one; it is also hugely readable, not only at times almost unbearably moving, but also gripping and inspiring, a story of heroism and victory as well as of sadness and bereavement.

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