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Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival Hardcover – January 14, 2014

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Guest Review of Body Counts

By John Berendt author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil ( /dp/0679751521 )

Sean Strub John Berendt When the anti-viral drug AZT was approved for use against HIV/AIDS back in 1987, Sean Strub's
doctor urged him to take it. Strub was HIV-positive, and early tests of the new drug had produced dramatic results. He
followed his doctor's advice, but reluctantly. After two weeks of agonizing over the pros and cons, he stopped taking
AZT. It was a gutsy move, since no other drug was on the horizon, but it turned out the best thing he could have done:
AZT's benefits proved to be short-term, and the drug itself was toxic at the dosages prescribed. "[H]ad I continued to
take it," Strub writes in Body Counts, his engrossing and immensely readable memoir, "I very likely would have died, as
thousands of others did."

A small library of books by people with AIDS has sprung up in the thirty years since the start of the epidemic. They
constitute a remarkable sub-genre of historic importance, and Body Counts shares qualities common to the best of them
(Paul Monette's Borrowed Time, Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On, David B. Feinberg's Queer and Loathing, and Shawn
Decker's My Pet Virus). Strub writes from the perspective of an activist-insider. He sheds new light on the nature of
the disease, the struggle against it, and the politics that pervade every aspect of what has come to be known as AIDS
Inc.

At an early age, as one of six children in a conservative, church-going Iowa family, Strub demonstrated an
entrepreneurial flair and an obsession with politics. He sold subscriptions door-to-door and hawked soda and popcorn at
University of Iowa football games. In high school he was a page in the Iowa legislature. In college he ran the "Senators
Only" elevator in the U.S. Capitol and expected that this would put him on a "political fast track." Life took
unexpected turns, however, and by the time he entered politics in 1990, it was as the first openly HIV-positive
candidate for Congress.

When he became sick with AIDS, Strub focused his energies as an activist and entrepreneur on AIDS itself. In 1994--just
as purple lesions of Kaposi sarcoma began to show on his face--he drew up plans to launch POZ, a consumer magazine for
people with HIV. POZ would serve as a source of up-to-date medical, scientific, legal and financial information about
the epidemic. It would create a sense of community for its readers by featuring stories about people just like them who
were managing to live fruitful lives while surviving with HIV.

Strub raised most of the money for POZ from a company with the ghoulish specialty of buying life-insurance policies
from terminally ill people who were near death. He cashed in his policy for $450,000, sold his country house, maxed out
his credit cards, withdrew his savings, and put all of it into the successful startup of POZ.

Through POZ, Strub gained (and shared) sobering insights into Big Pharma, which was both his biggest source of
advertising revenue and at the same time the most frequent subject of investigative reports in POZ. He avoided conflicts
of interest by publishing the uncensored truth about the strengths and weaknesses of every drug targeted at AIDS. More
than one drug company pulled its advertising in anger over a negative mention, nearly sinking the magazine while
ironically confirming its credibility.

As Body Counts describes in memorable detail, Strub frequently backed up the magazine's stand on issues with acts of
boots-on-the-ground civil disobedience. One such episode, to publicize the campaign for safer-sex education, involved
placing a giant condom over the suburban home of Senator Jesse Helms, the Senate's most implacable homophobe and foe of
AIDS funding. Another far less light-hearted action took place at St. Patrick's Cathedral in protest over the church's
deceptive and potentially harmful "Condoms Don't Work" campaign.

Two years after the launch of POZ, the introduction of combination therapy drastically reduced the death rate from AIDS
so that when the twentieth anniversary of POZ occurred in 2014, both Strub and the magazine were around to celebrate it.

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Review
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A Lambda Literary Award Finalist

“Inspiring... A vital history of ordinary people rising up and demonstrating the potential inherent in this
extraordinary country... Although at times it is agonizing to remember and relive our past, Sean’s articulate, and
humane memoir transforms this pain into a hope for a better future. This is the most personally powerful and authentic
portrayal of our collective history that I have read since Paul Monette's On Borrowed Time." (Judith Light)

“What a life! From the Senate elevator to Studio 54 to Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal and John Lennon to
the famous demonstration inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral--who is this guy, Forest Gump? This is the compelling life and
near-death story of Sean Strub, of thousands lost to HIV-AIDS, and thousands more living with it whom his activism
helped save. Wow.” (Andrew Tobias, author of The Best Little Boy in the World)

"Read Body Counts by Sean Strub and share one American's story of growing up with an instinct for justice, then finding
oneself in an epidemic whose tragedy is multiplied by bias. As a man who survived sexual abuse, rape and an HIV
diagnosis, Strub embodies the shared interest of women and men who fight for human rights, and against any government or
person intruding on our bodies. By taking us with him on his journey from a conservative family in Iowa to the heart of
a global movement for human rights, Sean Strub gives us ideas, strength and heart in our own journey." (Gloria Steinem)

"Body Counts is an absorbing read. It not only vividly recounts the personal odyssey of one man's struggle with AIDS,
but places it--with remarkable objectivity--within the larger story of those years. Strub is a dispassionate, reliable
guide whose directness and honesty create considerable impact. Anyone would profit from reading this book." (Martin
Duberman, author of Stonewall and Professor of History Emeritus at the Graduate School of the City University of New
York)

“Searingly honest about himself and others, Strub shows how the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s brought out the
best and the worst in people. His heroes are the ordinary men and women who fought to save lives. His villains – and
deservedly so – are the cowardly public officials, from Reagan through Clinton, whose opportunism proved deadly to
others. This take-no-prisoners memoir has the quality of a suspenseful page-turner, and will keep you reading until the
final sentence.” (John D'Emilio, author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America)

“From early struggles against AIDS to later collective acting up, Sean Strub's lively, gossipy memoir is also deeply
moving history.” (Jonathan Ned Katz, author Gay American History)

“Sean Strub has written more than just a memoir. Body Counts pulls back the curtain on a hidden half-century of American
history, from closeted Washington politicos of the 1970s and 1980s to his interactions with a parade of American icons;
Tennessee Williams, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Gore Vidal all make cameos. AIDS looms large, but the story
never feels like a tragedy. It is the tale of a life lived in high-resolution, high-intensity, saturated technicolor.”
(Ari Shapiro, NPR White House Correspondent)

“Sean Strub has been a columnist, editor, publisher, theatrical producer, congressional candidate, conservationist,
hotelier, and for most of that time an outspoken advocate in the fight against AIDS as well. His Body Counts is a
stunning memoir--candid (at times startlingly so), courageous and humane. Much like the author himself.” (John Berendt,
New York Times-bestselling author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The City of Falling Angels)

“On June 5, 1981, the day the AIDS epidemic was first recognized by the Centers for Disease Control, Sean Strub was with
my close friend, gay activist Vito Russo, in Denver, Colorado. Body Counts is a powerful account of the epidemic's early
years and the subsequent three decades. It encompasses the tragedy of lives lost young, as we lost Vito, as well as the
triumph of empowerment, activism and survival. Body Counts is a page-turner with moving insight and fresh analysis told
in a compelling and highly personal style.” (Lily Tomlin)

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