Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Book review: The Origins of AIDS

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, United Kingdom


Cover of The Origins of AIDS with red ribbon on white background

Cover of The Origins of AIDS by Jacques Pépin.

This is a revised and updated edition of a book first published in 2011. This edition is timely, as this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the first descriptions of the disease today known as AIDS. In 1981 Gottlieb and co-workers in the US reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the first five cases of Pneumocystis carinii chest infection and compromised immune system in five gay male patients from Los Angeles. This new syndrome was eventually named the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS for short. In the forty years since then, around 40 million patients have died of this condition. Another thirty million are alive and living with HIV owing to advances in treatment. In these four decades, much has been written about the social, cultural, and political aspects of this disease, notably by journalist Randy Shilts in the 1987 book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic and Laurie Garrett’s 1994 The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance.

The author of this work is a distinguished Canadian microbiologist and infectious disease researcher with extensive professional experience in African countries, who has now produced a work of scientific scholarship and a vivid description of the origins of AIDS. The book is a work of scientific history but reads like a detective novel. Links to Africa and the role of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus are described, as well as the microbiological and virological evidence, evolutionary genetics, and the social and historical aspects of the disease. A major cause of mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, the history of AIDS there is explored in great depth, including an analysis of the scientific and medical legacy of Belgian and French colonial involvement.

Although the text is detailed and scientific, it remains accessible to the non-specialist reader and an important reference for those interested in the history of this devastating disease. It is a fine work of historical and scientific scholarship by a doctor who has had extensive global experience with the subject matter.


The Origins of AIDS
Jacques Pépin
Cambridge University Press, Revised Edition, 2021
ISBN 9781108720397



ARPAN K. BANERJEEMBBS (LOND), FRCP, FRCR, FBIR, qualified in medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham from 1995–2019. He served on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012–2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology from 2012–2017. He is Treasurer of ISHRAD and adviser to Radiopaedia. He is the author/co-author of numerous papers and articles on a variety of clinical medical, radiological, and medical historical topics and seven books including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology (2005) and The History of Radiology (OUP 2013).


Winter 2021  |  Sections  |  Books & Reviews

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