The Viral Underclass

The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide

By Steven W. Thrasher
Author: Steven W. Thrasher
ISBN: 9781250796639
ON SALE: 08/02/2022

Buy Now

ISBN: 9781250796639

"An irresistibly readable and humane exploration of the barbarities of class...readers are gifted that most precious of things in these muddled times: a clear lens through which to see the world."
—Naomi Klein, New York Times bestselling author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine


From preeminent LGBTQ scholar, social critic, and journalist Steven W. Thrasher comes a powerful and crucial exploration of one of the most pressing issues of our times: how viruses expose the fault lines of society.

Having spent a ground-breaking career studying the racialization, policing, and criminalization of HIV, Dr. Thrasher has come to understand a deeper truth at the heart of our society: that there are vast inequalities in who is able to survive viruses and that the ways in which viruses spread, kill, and take their toll are much more dependent on social structures than they are on biology alone.

Told through the heart-rending stories of friends, activists, and teachers navigating the novel coronavirus, HIV, and other viruses, Dr. Thrasher brings the reader with him as he delves into the viral underclass and lays bare its inner workings. In the tradition of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim CrowThe Viral Underclass helps us understand the world more deeply by showing the fraught relationship between privilege and survival.

"An irresistibly readable and humane exploration of the barbarities of class...readers are gifted that most precious of things in these muddled times: a clear lens through which to see the world."
—Naomi Klein, New York Times bestselling author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine


From preeminent LGBTQ scholar, social critic, and journalist Steven W. Thrasher comes a powerful and crucial exploration of one of the most pressing issues of our times: how viruses expose the fault lines of society.

Having spent a ground-breaking career studying the racialization, policing, and criminalization of HIV, Dr. Thrasher has come to understand a deeper truth at the heart of our society: that there are vast inequalities in who is able to survive viruses and that the ways in which viruses spread, kill, and take their toll are much more dependent on social structures than they are on biology alone.

Told through the heart-rending stories of friends, activists, and teachers navigating the novel coronavirus, HIV, and other viruses, Dr. Thrasher brings the reader with him as he delves into the viral underclass and lays bare its inner workings. In the tradition of Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim CrowThe Viral Underclass helps us understand the world more deeply by showing the fraught relationship between privilege and survival.

Steven W. Thrasher in front of lion photo.
STEVEN W. THRASHER, PhD holds the inaugural Daniel H. Renberg chair at Northwestern University's Medill School, the first journalism professorship in the world created to focus on LGBTQ research. He is also a faculty member of Northwestern’s Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. His writing has been widely published by The New York Times, Guardian, Nation, Journal of American History, Esquire, BuzzFeed News and Scientific American. A recipient of grants from the Ford and Sloan foundations, Dr. Thrasher was named one of the 100 most influential and impactful people of 2019 by Out magazine. He holds a PhD in American Studies and divides his time between Chicago and New York. The Viral Underclass is his first book.

Praise for Steven W. Thrasher

"Steven Thrasher has written the book we urgently need. Putting a compelling and human face on the millions of people affected by the course viruses like HIV and Covid take in the human population, he shows us how race, class, gender, and sexuality combine to help some survive pandemics and even profit from them, while others experience pandemic through their bodies in the form of illness, death, death of loved ones, shame, stigma, and financial insecurity. His analysis of the viral underclass should be required reading for everyone concerned with transforming unequal access to health care in a world where pandemic heightens the brutality of inequality."

Michael Eric Dyson
New York Times bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop and What Truth Sounds Like

"At once precise and sweeping, rigorous and inviting, The Viral Underclass fearlessly crosses the policed borders of academic disciplines and literary forms, creating an irresistibly readable and humane exploration of the barbarities of class. Through the sheer force of his story telling, Thrasher challenges us to abandon our fatal illusions of separateness in favor of an embrace of our place in a collective entanglement of bodies. Readers are gifted that most precious of things in these muddled times: a clear lens through which to see the world."

Naomi Klein
New York Times bestselling author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine

"I fully expected to encounter rigorous research and a full accounting of the relevant history in Dr. Steven W. Thrasher's The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide. But what excited me and kept me rapt the entire time was the astonishing level of craft and depth of compassion with which the book was written. More than just sets of facts, Dr. Thrasher illuminates truths, all of which implore us to live by the grandest, most liberating of all principles: love. The Viral Underclass is journalism and journey, science and sermon, astute articulation of grievance and pathway to healing. It is vital reading."

Robert Jones, Jr.
New York Times bestselling author of The Prophets

"The Viral Underclass marks the beginning of a new epoch in cultural work. Steven Thrasher has utilized and finely crafted theory, memoir and reportage to show us what we've been doing the first few years of this century."

Kiese Laymon
Bestselling author of Heavy and winner of an Andrew Carnegie Medal

"In The Viral Underclass, through a combination of broad and deep reporting and narrative storytelling, Steven Thrasher examines the ways HIV/AIDS and other viruses strike people and communities with deliberate intention. His book is essential reading for our current moment—and a signpost for understanding epidemics to come."

Linda Villarosa
author of Under the Skin and contributor to the New York Times bestselling The 1619 Project

"A page turner. An intimate view of how stigma and class inequality produce suffering at the hands of our two emblematic viruses: Covid and HIV. Thrasher tells a complex story of social stratification and injustice through very well drawn portraits of individuals in his life and in the world. Moving and compelling."

Sarah Schulman
Author of Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987–1993

Connect with

Celadon

Sign up for our newsletter to see book giveaways, news, and more!