Gravest Show on Earth; America in the age of Aids'
Houghton Mifflin Co. USA 1995, 400 pages,
Not since And
the Band Played On has any journalist taken readers behind the
scenes in the war against Aids to reveal how avarice, ignorance,
and egotism are subverting the nation's struggle against the epidemic.
But Elinor Burkett goes well beyond Randy Shilts. She not only reports
on the decade of plague he did not cover, but addresses the wider
questions about what Aids reveals about America on the brink of
the new millennium.
the major players - from activist/ playwright Larry Kramer to scientist
Robert Gallo and MTV star Pedro Zamora - and watch them in action
at home, in their laboratories, and at demonstrations. We see Jonas
Salk manipulating his company's stock prices by carefully parcelling
out research information, Henry Heimlich peddling malaria as the
magic bullet that will kill HIV, and federally funded scientists
making "advertorials" for the drug companies whose products
they test. We are taken into the streets at political funerals and
behind the scenes of negotiations at which leaders of the Aids service
industry divide up government funding for the dying. We read detailed
accounts of the tensions that Aids has caused in the African American
community and of the fight staged by women to end the nation's decades-long
policy of approving drugs tested only on men.
In this hard-hitting
work of investigative journalism, Burkett takes no sides, She trains
the same critical eye on scientists and activists, on Jesse Helms
and gay America. She offers an alarming view of public health officials
squeezed between the conflicting jihads of gay men and conservative
Republicans. Wether Burkett is writing about the skewing of research
data or bureaucratic ineptitude, her prose is lively, her characters
are vibrant, and the controversies are vivid. The Gravest
Show on Earth is certain to become a landmark volume of
has a doctorate in history and was a university professor for thirteen
years before switching to journalism. She garnered numerous national
and state awards for her work with the Miami Herald, which nominated
her reporting on AIDS for a 1991 Pulitzer Prize. She lives in upstate
you can find a book review.
- An article
on HIV written by Burkett can be found here.
one about antiviral drug research here.