Randy Shilts Criticism - Essay

Patricia Holt (essay date 19 March 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Randy Shilts," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 221, No. 12, March 19, 1982, pp. 6-7.

[In the following excerpt, Holt provides Shilts's comments on The Mayor of Castro Street and on events that preceded the book's publication.]

The day after San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered in their offices at City Hall, reporter Randy Shilts received a long-distance telephone call from Michael Denneny, editor at St. Martin's Press and an editor of the gay magazine, Christopher Street.

Still in his 20s, Shilts had already contributed articles to Christopher Street, the Washington Post, New West,...

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Richard Goldstein (review date 23 March 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "What He Did for Love," in The Village Voice, Vol. 27, March 23, 1982, p. 40.

[Goldstein is an American editor and critic. In the following review of The Mayor of Castro Street, he commends Shilts's objectivity and directness in presenting the events of Harvey Milk's life and career.]

In one of those amply underwritten discussions public television is famous for, Earnest Van den Haag and William F. Buckley held forth recently on the subject of gay rights. Secure in his conviction that homosexuality is "a defect," Van den Haag extended an olive branch by referring to "the gay leadership"—and that caused Buckley's brows to rise so high you'd have thought...

(The entire section is 1550 words.)

Daniel S. Greenberg (review date 7 November 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Unhealthy Resistance," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 245, No. 15, November 7, 1987, pp. 526-28.

[Greenberg is an American journalist, critic, and editor and publisher of Science and Government Report, a newsletter that analyzes American politics, particularly as related to science and health issues. In the following review, he offers praise for And the Band Played On.]

When the files and memoirs become available, all long wars are revealed to have been badly fought. It could not be otherwise with the AIDS epidemic, given the disease's stealthy spread, the outcast populations it initially struck and its scientific intractability. Most important, however,...

(The entire section is 1651 words.)

H. Jack Geiger (review date 8 November 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of And the Band Played On, in The New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1987, p. 9.

[In the following mixed review, Geiger lauds Shilts's reportage of various elements of the AIDS epidemic in And The Band Played On, but notes that the study contains an excessive amount of detail, focuses almost entirely on the homosexual population, and lacks information on such individuals as intravenous drug users, who have also been widely infected with HIV and AIDS.]

We are now in the seventh year of the AIDS pandemic, the worldwide epidemic nightmarishly linking sex and death and drugs and blood. There is, I believe, much more and much worse to...

(The entire section is 1337 words.)

William A. Blattner (review date October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Novelistic History of the AIDS Epidemic Demeans Both Investigators and Patients," in Scientific American, Vol. 259, No. 4, October, 1988, pp. 148-51.

[In the following review of And the Band Played On, Blattner contends that Shilts's presentation of facts surrounding the scientific response to AIDS in the United States is unsound, asserting: "In addressing the scientific response to AIDS, [Shilts's] discussion is simplistic and his antiestablishment biases lead to a distorted perception of reality."]

Major events in human history tend to spawn their chroniclers: the Trojan War inspired Homer, the decadence of the Roman Empire was chronicled in the...

(The entire section is 3207 words.)

A. S. Cohan (review date August 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of And the Band Played On, in Journal of American Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2, August, 1989, p. 339.

[In the following review, Cohan offers a positive assessment of And the Band Played On.]

Although a number of books and articles have appeared dealing with all aspects of the AIDS epidemic, Mr. Shilts has produced the most comprehensive and moving account of the spread of the condition and its implications thus far written. His work as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle placed him in one of the two American cities hardest hit by AIDS and allowed him to follow the story from the beginning. Also he has accumulated a human interest content which social scientists would probably have avoided but which ultimately makes [And the Band Played On] such compelling reading. Public officials in the United States congratulate themselves for the speed with which they confronted the problem; Shilts condemns them for the slowness with which they responded in spite of multiple warnings, and attacks the system which has given rise to empire-building and exclusivity rather than cooperation to confront a common foe. He attacks also those within the gay communities in the United States who confused questions of public health and common sense with those of civil rights in the Bath House controversies. His praise is reserved for assorted politicians, straight [and] gay, some of whom are now dead; medical researchers, particularly individuals in the Centre for Disease Control; and the French team which first isolated HIV, the cause of AIDS. Although some may object to the technique of inventing thoughts and dialogue for people now dead, I found the staccato writing technique riveting. In short, this is a sensational book, in all senses of the word. One regrets only that the condition existed which created the opportunity for Mr. Shilts to write such a compelling and important work.

Herbert Mitgang (review date 21 April 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Gay Life in the Military: A Record of Success," in The New York Times, Section C, April 21, 1993, p. 20.

[Mitgang is a noted American novelist, playwright, biographer, historian, and critic. In the following review, he asserts that Conduct Unbecoming "makes a strong contribution to our knowledge" of the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue of homosexuals serving in the United States military.]

Nearly everybody who has ever served in uniform knows the facts. But secrecy and hypocrisy are often in command and sometimes even wear stars. The official position is that homosexuals and lesbians are barred from the United States armed forces. No...

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Robert Dawldoff (review date 2 May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "An American Inquisition," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 2, 1993, pp. 4, 11.

[In the following review, Dawldoff lauds Shilts's blending of fact and human interest in Conduct Unbecoming, noting that "Shilts's gay-soldier's-eye-view of the Vietnam War is one of the book's most moving and revisionist sections."]

In 1978, several gay crew members of the Nathaniel Greene lived, as did their fellow sailors, in an apartment complex the Navy had rented for them. The gay roommates had fixed up their house in "high House & Garden style, and took turns preparing gourmet meals for one another." They got used to unannounced visits around mealtime...

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John Lehman (review date 18 May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sad Story of Gays in Military," in The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 1993, p. A16.

[Lehman served as secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. In the following review, he responds negatively to Conduct Unbecoming, maintaining that many of Shilts's facts and personal accounts are inflated, slanted, and often erroneous.]

On March 14, 1778, George Washington personally ordered Lt. G. F. Enslin drummed out of Valley Forge "with abhorrence and detestation" after he was found guilty of sodomy. From that day on such activity has never been tolerated in the military. While the severity of enforcement and punishment has varied, the emphasis was...

(The entire section is 871 words.)

Sam Todes (review date 30 May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Injustice for Some: Randy Shilts Indicts the U.S. Military's Treatment of Gays and Lesbians," in Chicago Tribune—Books, May 30, 1993, pp. 5, 10.

[In the following review, Todes offers a positive assessment of Conduct Unbecoming.]

This book is water torture. Drop by drop, vignette after vignette, the reader is moved by one unconscionable story after another about the treatment of homosexuals in American military service. The narrative starts from the beginning at Valley Forge, with the debt owed to the gay general Von Steuben for training the Revolutionary Army in the modern ways originated by a gay king, Frederick the Great of Prussia. This debt is...

(The entire section is 1915 words.)

John D'Emilio (review date 7 June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "All That You Can Be," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 256, No. 22, June 7, 1993, pp. 806, 810, 812.

[An American educator, historian, and critic, D'Emilio is author of Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University (1992). In the following mixed review, he praises Shilts for placing his facts within an historical context, but faults the "lack of balance" in Conduct Unbecoming, which D'Emilio believes results in a limited perspective on gay life in the U.S. military.]

Social movements, in order to succeed, require hard work, perseverance, solid organization and a healthy does of mysterious good fortune. In November 1990, when...

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Robert Stone (essay date 23 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Uncle Sam Doesn't Want You," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XL, No. 15, September 23, 1993, pp. 18-23.

[Stone is an acclaimed American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and critic who served in the United States Navy from 1955 to 1958. In the following excerpt, he examines the issues raised in Conduct Unbecoming.]

[The United States armed forces' approach to homosexuality throughout history] is the subject of Randy Shilts's long book, Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the Military, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. Shilts's business here is advocacy, and he writes in favor of the right of gays and lesbians to serve in the US armed...

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Randy Shilts with Garry Wills (interview date 30 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in Rolling Stone, Issue 666, September 30, 1993, pp. 46-9, 122-23.

[A well-known American novelist, historian, and critic, Wills is author of Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (1970), a study of Richard Nixon's political career. In the following interview, Shilts discusses his writing, personal life, and career.]

[Shilts]: I thought, going into it, there were two problems I was going to have with [Conduct Unbecoming]—one, that nobody cared about the issue, that people would view it as a subissue of a subissue, not something important enough to read a whole book about, and my second fear was getting people to talk to...

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Fredric Paul Smoler (review date 7 November 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Americans Fighting for the Right to Serve," in The Observer, November 7, 1993, p. 21.

[Below, Smoler offers a positive review of Conduct Unbecoming.]

Randy Shilts, the most prominent American reporter to have identified himself as a gay journalist, has written two previous books on American politics, one on HIV and the other on Harvey Milk. (And the Band Played On and The Mayor of Castro Street). Both were compounded of admirable reporting and liberal interpretation.

Conduct Unbecoming has Shilts's customary virtues and occasional limitations—the strengths and weaknesses of liberal American reportage. It is splendid on...

(The entire section is 849 words.)

Paul Berman (essay date 20 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Democracy and Homosexuality," in The New Republic, Vol. 209, No. 25, December 20, 1993, pp. 17-35.

[Berman is an American educator, historian, and critic. In the following excerpt, he praises Shilts's presentation of evidence in Conduct Unbecoming, but suggests that some of the facts and anecdotes are repetitious and perhaps exaggerated.]

Randy Shilts's study …, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military, conforms to the same inspiration for history-by-interview and collective biography that you see in Martin Duberman's book Stonewall, 1993 and in some other histories of the gay movement—though Shilts goes at these...

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