CLOSE

The 25 Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years: And the Band Played On

The latest issue of mental_floss just hit newsstands. Rosemary Ahern's cover story chronicles 'The 25 Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years.' This week, we'll be revealing five of those influential books here on the blog. And if this puts you in a subscribing mood, here are the details.

And the Band Played On

by Randy Shilts (1987)

The Book That Forced Us to Acknowledge AIDS

Randy Shilts is almost single-handedly responsible for getting the world to pay attention to AIDS. The first openly gay reporter for a major American newspaper, Shilts wrote And the Band Played On to trace the history of AIDS and the failure of both the medical community and society at large to respond to the crisis. As Shilts makes clear in his work, the timing of the epidemic could not have been worse. In the conservative environment of the 1980s, AIDS was dismissed as the "gay plague." The Reagan administration publicly opposed policies "promoting or encouraging, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities," and they blocked the efforts of Congress and public health officials to educate the American people about the disease. In his book, Shilts got many of these frustrated lawmakers and scientists to speak on record for the first time.

And the Band Played On changed people's perception of AIDS and its sufferers.

In assessing the work's importance, historian Garry Wills wrote, "This book will be to gay liberation what Betty Friedan was to early feminism and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was to environmentalism."

Although there is no question that And the Band Played On helped fuel advocacy, Shilts did not want to be perceived as an advocate for gay rights. He considered himself an objective reporter at all times. In the early 1980s, for instance, he wrote a series of stories about the danger of gay bathhouses for The San Francisco Chronicle, which prompted the city to shut them down. The incident caused an uproar in the gay community, and gay men spat on Shilts as he walked through town.

But Shilts understood the power of objective reporting, and he intended And the Band Played On to have the strongest impact possible.

Although he was tested for AIDS while writing his book, he refused to hear the results because he didn't want them to influence his reporting.

Indeed, the public perceived the book as an objective work of investigative journalism, which made it more effective. In March of 1987, after the book was complete, Shilts discovered he was HIV-positive. Even at his sickest, he retained the ability to give outsiders a fresh perspective on the illness. A few months before he died in 1994, he told a reporter for The New York Times, "HIV is certainly character-building. It's made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I'd rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character."

If you order here, you'll get a full year subscription AND a mental_floss t-shirt for a very low price. So, go ahead and support your favorite little magazine. Your expanding mind (and wardrobe) will thank you.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
arrow
architecture
Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
iStock
iStock

Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios