on February 26, 2012
I have been looking for a long time for a book outlining the history of AIDS, and this book is the scientific part of it.
It is written by Jacques Pepin, professor at Sherbrooke University in Quebec, Canada. One might expect an unreadable and boring extended scientific paper, but to my great pleasure, that is not the case. This book is easy to read, extremely interesting and yet scientifically rigorous.
However, this book is not talking about social debates associated with the emergence of AIDS after 1984 in North America, hence for a more sociological account, one might go and look for Engel's "The Epidemic".
Overall an excellent book, which I recommend to non-scientifics as well.
on January 5, 2012
Many scientists do not seem to have a grasp of any language, but the much-traveled and multilingual Pepin does a fabulous job of putting together the complex science behind the origins of AIDS, yet presenting it in a charming and comprehensible fashion that is free of most scientific jargon.
on March 10, 2014
I know AIDS has taken the lives of a lot of good people, millions in fact. I have contributed to charities raising funds for AIDS research, but I have never felt personally concerned about this disease more than about any other (an ancillary benefit of having been a one-woman man for the last 31 years, I suppose). I’ve never been particularly interested in medicine or biology for that matter. So what compelled me to read an extensive, detailed study of the history of the virus known as HIV?
I had read a lot of good reports about this book, how it was the truth about AIDS that nobody wanted to talk about. How many times had I heard that before? Although I’d never read a complete book on the subject, I had a hunch that this might be a book worth reading. Not because I was interested in AIDS per se, but because its spread had become such a cultural and educational phenomenon.
How many times have you heard it said that what we need is “AIDS education”? So after 30 years of AIDS education and an intense media blitz, how is it that someone like me, who can read and pay attention, is still so ignorant about this disease? AIDS, because it has been described as an epidemic beginning in 1981, is an example of how the population we are all part of is educated on a mass level. My conclusion is: very poorly.
Over the years, every time I encountered a discussion of AIDS it was invariably someone announcing that someone else was wrong about it’s etiology. The news media was only interested in an AIDS story if it involved a celebrity, a scandal or a surprising and dramatic turn of events. It was only news if someone was claiming an unexpected breakthrough or a cover-up. Almost as soon as I had learned that AIDs was caused by a Human Immunodeficiency Virus, I heard someone claiming that AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was not caused by HIV. I remember “learning” that the source of AIDS was homosexual men. In fact, in the early 80s a homosexual flight attendant from Quebec was identified as “patient zero.” This guy not only had AIDS, and spread it everywhere his airline company flew, but he was reported to have had 200 to 300 different sex partners per year. Great fodder for homophobic evangelicals.
So why should teachers in particular read this book? I have to invent a word to answer this question: because it’s teacherly. “Pedantic,” which literal means “like a male teacher,” has become a strictly derogatory term. “Educational” and “informative” are the kinds of descriptors that can be applied to any book. “Pedagogical” would be misleading in that the word would imply that the book is about education and teaching (and etymologically about children). By teacherly, I mean that the book is an obvious, careful and patient attempt to teach the reader. It worked for me. I learned a lot. In fact everything I know about AIDS and HIV--and by this I mean everything that isn’t muddled, foggy and contradictory in my brain--I learned from this book.
I’m not saying that the book answered every question about AIDS; in fact, the author Jacques Pepin (not to be confused with the chef) sounded almost apologetic that the book was about the early history and origins of the disease. Like the author, I agree that in order to understand AIDS we need to know where it came from and how it evolved. Pepin’s prose style isn’t literary or poetic, and he expects you to hang in there while he talks statistics, divisions and percentages and does the math, but every step of the way he tells you clearly and frankly what he is doing, and how certain and precise his conclusions are and aren’t. Every time a concept or procedure is introduced that a lay reader might not understand, he takes the time to clearly explain and lay out the groundwork of the methodologies used to reach his conclusions. So yes, dear reader you are going to learn about “iatrogenic” and “nosocomial” diseases (meaning those caused by doctors and treatment, and in a hospital), and “molecular clocks” used to tell us how long a virus has been around, and “phylogenetics” (the study of the evolutionary diversification of organisms). The book has a lot to say (I mean teach) about colonial and neo-colonial Africa and, in his admittedly most hypothetical and controversial claim, about how the spread of HIV from Africa to Haiti to North America was significantly enhanced by the establishment of plasma banks where poor people and prisoners could sell the plasma extracted from their blood.
on August 5, 2014
This book was an eye opener.
It made the epidemic a reality. It made the giant puzzle of HIV-Aids more understandable and easier to comprehend. I like how the author weaves the epidemic from the being from Africa to Haiti to the US. He goes through all the ways that HIV could have to transmitted the fastest to become the epidemic that it is today, and the least likely ways.
I thought that it was a little heavy on the medical/technical side sometimes, but you kind of need that for this topic.