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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

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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

"An important new book... we are all more vulnerable and intertwined than we realize."

The Washington Post

“It’s hard to imagine that one single book could truly speak to the moment that we’re in. But that’s exactly what Steven Thrasher has achieved in The Viral Underclass...It’s truly a riveting book. I almost had to devour it in one sitting. I just did not want to put it down....One of the most beautiful kind of pieces of craft I’ve encountered in a long time."

SLATE MAGAZINE

“The pandemic brought America’s health inequities into stark relief, but The Viral Underclass illustrates that the problem isn’t new, and that it is embedded more deeply than many of us realize… Thrasher, a gay Black man, brings figures from the viral underclass to life in this engaging, enraging read.”

The Boston Globe

“Thrasher is an excellent investigator. The reader sees how and why the narratives develop in particular ways, and feels fury and despair, as well as occasional glimmers of hope.”

Nature Magazine

"A compelling and compassionate analysis of health disparities that delivers both wake-up call and gut-punch."

BOOKLIST, Starred Review

"Rigorous scholarship and intimate portraits of life and death on the margins make this a must-read."

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

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