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Scientific editors: Robin A Weiss, Michael W Adler, Sarah L Rowland-Jones. British Medical Bulletin 2001, Vol 58. Pp 223; 40. Published for the British Council by Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199224862.
Not many books nowadays try to summarise the broad field of HIV and AIDS. This British Medical Bulletin does attempt to do that, in line with its usual approach to providing substantial coverage of health subjects, but with suitable depth as well as breadth. The last (and first) British Medical Bulletin on this subject was published in 1988. It covered quite similar topics, but the main change is the depth of knowledge.
Although the title of this volume reflects the general sense that the face of the pandemic has indeed changed in many ways—not least the global spread, and the impact of antiretroviral therapies where they are available—the overwhelming impression I had was how similar are the issues and perspectives it covers. This is partly a reflection of the extraordinary hothouse atmosphere of the early pioneering years, when we climbed the steep part of the learning curve with unparalleled speed. The subsequent years have been ones of consolidation, during which the detail has been explored and the basic ideas refined. This book reflects that, where the change in the face is in part the shift from an impressionistic image to a more fully representational portrait, evidently from the same original.
The chapters provide a balanced and compact, yet thorough, assessment of the main issues. The authors are active in the field; they have an appropriately British background for this series, yet their perspective is unequivocally global. The accounts are worthy, reliable, and authoritative. If this conveys the impression that they are rather dull to read, that was indeed my feeling. There was generally and disappointingly little sparkle or originality in the concepts or the writing. Where there was, it derived from a narrow focus on a small part of the canvas rather than any broader insight.
Who will use this volume? I would recommend it as a reliable and thorough review for a new entrant to the field. Those who work adjacent to it and who would like a compact, up to date summary would also be well served. Some of the chapters are an excellent springboard for detailed exploration of their topic. But those who already work on HIV/AIDS will find little to engage or excite them. They would probably feel, as I did, that the fascinating wider changes in the actual face of HIV/AIDS, which are palpable in their work, have scarcely been touched upon.
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