From Publishers Weekly
In 2001, African
made up 54% of all new AIDS cases in the United States
. Levenson, a journalist whose work has appeared in Mother Jones and the Oxford American, delivers a fascinating, largely anecdotal account of the lives of the people behind that little-known statistic, from the patients infected with the disease and their families to the medical researchers and AIDS workers who struggle with their own race- and health-related demons. The portraits include two HIV-positive teenage sisters living in a trailer park in rural Alabama and their plainspoken white social worker; an ambitious black psychiatrist who makes AIDS research her personal fight and concludes that the disease's spread stems from a much larger process of community destruction; and a torn middle-class couple who try to hide their son's diagnosis with AIDS from other family members. Levenson incorporates epidemiological statistics and the Clinton administration's political policy squabbles into the stories, but it is the book's personal elements that stand out: the psychiatrist's struggle to effectively convey her findings on AIDS and black America to colleagues and policy makers, the Mississippi-born social worker's guilt over the spread of the epidemic through forgotten Southern towns, an HIV-positive patient's transformation from crack-cocaine addict to born-again Christian and community activist. Levenson manages to get inside the heads of his subjects and never condescends or lets his own feelings interfere with their stories. Only in the epilogue does Levenson offer his own conclusions, arguing that the nature of the racial gap, more than the architecture of any particular social policy, lies at the root of the failure to stop the spread of AIDS in black America. Filled with highly readable prose and personal dialogue, this book has the potential to appeal to even the most casual reader.
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“Jacob Levenson’s The Secret Epidemic ought to be must-reading for anyone interested in the destruction AIDS has wrought on black America. This is an important book.”
“To say that Jacob Levenson’s The Secret Epidemic is a must-read is to say that it is a compelling, impassioned, and deeply humane work of writing and that it is an urgent, necessary alarm for anyone who thinks the AIDS epidemic in America has been tamed. Think of this book as the sequel to Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played O—the arrival of a major author with a hugely important story to tell.”
—Samuel G. Freedman
“The importance of this book at this critical juncture cannot be underestimated. It is too easy to overlook the fact that AIDS is still epidemic in our country, especially in impoverished rural and urban areas. The Secret Epidemic promises to open up the range of the public’s vision and also public discourse on this public and private health crisis facing the African American community and, indeed, the country as a whole.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.