Tinderbox by Craig Timberg
How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It

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...Timberg and Halperin are urging Westerners to truly understand the cultures they are seeking to assist, they are well worth heeding.
-NY Times


In this groundbreaking narrative, longtime Washington Post reporter Craig Timberg and award-winning AIDS researcher Daniel Halperin tell the surprising story of how Western colonial powers unwittingly sparked the AIDS epidemic and then fanned its rise. Drawing on remarkable new science, Tinderbox overturns the conventional wisdom on the origins of this deadly pandemic and the best ways to fight it today.

Recent genetic studies have traced the birth of HIV to the forbidding equatorial forests of Cameroon, where chimpanzees carried the virus for millennia without causing a major outbreak in humans. During the Scramble for Africa, colonial companies blazed new routes through the jungle in search of rubber and other riches, sending African porters into remote regions rarely traveled before. It was here that humans first contracted the strain of HIV that would eventually cause 99 percent of AIDS deaths around the world.

Western powers were key actors in turning a localized outbreak into a sprawling epidemic as bustling new trade routes, modern colonial cities, and the rise of prostitution sped the virus across Africa. Christian missionaries campaigned to suppress polygamy, but left in its place fractured sexual cultures that proved uncommonly vulnerable to HIV.  Equally devastating was the gradual loss of the African ritual of male circumcision, which recent studies have shown offers significant protection against infection.

Timberg and Halperin argue that the same Western hubris that marked the colonial era has hamstrung the effort to fight HIV. From the United Nations AIDS program to the Bush administration's historic relief campaign, global health officials have favored well-meaning Western approaches--abstinence campaigns, condom promotion, HIV testing--that have proven ineffective in slowing the epidemic in Africa. Meanwhile they have overlooked homegrown African initiatives aimed squarely at the behaviors spreading the virus. 

In a riveting narrative that stretches from colonial Leopoldville to 1980s San Francisco to South Africa today, Tinderbox reveals how human hands unleashed this epidemic and can now overcome it, if only we learn the lessons of the past.


About Craig Timberg

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CRAIG TIMBERG is the former Johannesburg bureau chief for The Washington Post. From his position, he visited twenty-three nations reporting on the HIV epidemic and penned dozens of major stories about AIDS. He is now The Washington Post's deputy national security editor. DANIEL HALPERIN, PHD, is an award-winning researcher, lecturer, and epidemiologist/medical anthropologist at Harvard and a former top technical adviser in the Bush administration's efforts to tackle AIDS.
Published March 1, 2012 by Penguin Books. 431 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, History, Professional & Technical, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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NY Times

Reviewed by Dennis Rosen on Apr 27 2012

...Timberg and Halperin are urging Westerners to truly understand the cultures they are seeking to assist, they are well worth heeding.

Read Full Review of Tinderbox: How the West Spark... | See more reviews from NY Times

LA Times

Above average
Reviewed by Thomas H. Maugh II on Mar 18 2012

...the overall tenor of the book reflects the personal views of Halperin, a medical anthropologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health's AIDS Prevention Research Project.

Read Full Review of Tinderbox: How the West Spark... | See more reviews from LA Times

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