Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood
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Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  168 ratings  ·  32 reviews
“This beguiling brew of fascinating scientific facts and illuminating, poignant anecdotes makes Five Quarts something like blood itself: vital and pulsing with energy.”
–Entertainment Weekly

From ancient Rome, where gladiators drank the blood of vanquished foes to gain strength and courage, to modern-day laboratories, where machines test blood for diseases and scientists sea...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 14th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2005)
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Steve Kettmann
My review published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005:

Digressions on blood, the fluid of life
Reviewed by Steve Kettmann

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Five Quarts

A Personal and Natural History of Blood

By Bill Hayes


San Francisco writer Bill Hayes is on his way to becoming one of those rare authors who can tackle just about any subject in book form, and make you glad he did.
Who would think that a contemplation of blood would result in such a feel-good book? I think, though, that any topic that Hayes were to contemplate is likely to turn into a feel-good book, as Hayes himself is so clearly (and unpretentiously) a loving, feel-good person. His compassion for his partner, his family, his larger community, and even for historical victims of disease and crime, are what make this book a sweet treat. On the other hand (a smaller hand, to be sure), while reading this book...more
My opinion wavered a lot while reading this. At first, I thought I would enjoy the combination of memoir and medical history, then I found it distracting, then in the end I was okay with it again. It's a strange approach to a subject. Hayes is a passionate, intelligent man, who has clearly does his research and has a lot to share about his life and experiences. As a fan of both memoir and medical non-fiction, I really can't quite put my finger on why I didn't love this. I've another of his books...more
This was a pretty cool book. Admittedly, I picked it up expecting to learn the historical, cultural, and contemporary ins-and-outs of blood. However, it turned out to be fairly personal and rather literary. As I read more and more, I gained an appreciation from Hayes's perspective and personal experience with blood. I will mention that an equally important topic in this book seemed to be HIV, which I found to be thoughtfully commented on throughout. All-in-all, for something I hadn't expected, I...more
Rachel Zidon
A seamless and fascinating combination of history, mythology, science, and personal reflections - would be a fantastic read for a creative non-fiction or craft of writing class.
Tom Darrow
I read the book "Stiffs" a while ago an it was so well written that it turned me on to the slightly gory, off beat, human body stories. This book does excel when he makes a solid connection between a personal or newsworthy event and history... but he does has his soap box. He spends a little too much time, in my opinion, focused on a small number of issues relating to blood. In particular, he focuses a lot on how blood and blood tests impact the gay community. I am a supporter of gay rights and...more
Five Quarts by Bill Hayes, a Kindle book I began reading, oof, in early February. The reason the start date is really hazy is that I usually read this book before the start of ASL class, so, yay, school is distracting.

The tone and mood of Five Quarts is what sparked and kept my attention throughout the entire book, particularily when it came to linking comic books and myth to biology and medical science. I completely have interest and concern for Bill and Steve and knowing their stories and thos...more
This was a fascinating book. I knew when I started it that it would be a detailed history of blood. It ended up talking about how different cultures have embraced, studied, and thought about blood throughout history. More interesting though, and what I didn't realize was that the author is a homosexual man whose partner is HIV positive. With this, he skillfully switched between discussing the past and discussing his personal experiences with blood and all that it means to him and his partner (as...more
I loved some bits of it, but much of it didn't interest me. The personal memoir wasn't compelling enough to involve me and Hayes' "I'm too dumb to understand this sciencey talk, so it's okay if you don't either, reader" act was a little annoying. I did love everything vampire-related, though. And a lot of the historical anecdotes were fun, if rehash of common knowledge. I would definitely recommend this as a motivational and educational read for anyone whose life is touched by HIV. A lot of bond...more
I saw this man speak at UCSF following the release of his most recent book, "The Anatomist", and immediately went in search of his books. This enthralling account of what we used to think blood was, how we discovered what it really does, and how we have come to fear it in the modern age really captured me. Also, the author writes about his personal history with such affect, I would be happy to just be reading his auto-biography. He is a touching writer and I cant wait to read more of his books.
Once again, a fascinating dovetailing of science, history, and Bill Hayes' own life. This book was written before "The Anatomist," but I read this second which made parts of the story more poignant because I knew what would happen later- in effect, I knew the author's future before he did, which was a peculiar situation. Anyhow, this book is scientifically and historically interesting, and Hayes' writing is fast-paced, honest and clean.
a memoir, with historical research. interesting, kind of.


This is also a personal voyage, in which Hayes recounts the impact of the vital fluid in his daily life, from growing up in a household of five sisters and their monthly cycles, to coming out as a gay man during the explosive early days of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, to his enduring partnership with an HIV-positive man.
This book was different than what I was expecting, but a fairly quick read. I got some of the social history stuff like origins of dracula, ancient Greek doctors, that type of thing. However, there was also a lot of memoir mixed in. Everything from the author's sister's dealings with her first period, to his partner's battles with AIDS. Overall it was an interesting read.
I liked this one about as much as his book on sleep. The writing is lively and the history and science of blood are interesting, but personally, I was less interested in the long stretches of the book (like the other book) that stem from his personal experiences as a gay man and the challenges of living with a partner who has HIV (not that these aren't worthy topics).
Pam Porter
An interesting mix of the history of blood and personal stories about the author's relationship with a man who is HIV positive. I found all of the personal information distracting in the beginning but the more I read the more I understood the author. The history of blood facts and stories were excellent.
Sarah Pierce
Five Quarts was a pleasure to read, going into the history of blood as well as Hayes' personal connection through his partner's illness. This book filled a void of non-fiction that very much needed to be addressed; I have not been able to find any other book like it, and continue to enjoy Hayes' titles.
Kristy Harding
I picked up this book for $1 at a flee market intending to use it for erasure poetry. (Sorry, Bill!) But I started reading it and fell into his light-hearted and yet poignant telling of his partner's battle with AIDS and the history of blood. I won't be erasing this book any time soon!
This was a really enjoyable read. Did it as sermon research for a series called Blood Work. Written in the first person by a gay man who is learning about blood through watching his HIV-infected lover struggle with the disease.

Really educational and entertaining.
Feels very broad for a 266-page book. Covers the feats of Roman physician Galen to the most current breakthroughs in AIDS research. Great balance of memoir and reportage. Nice humor in Hayes' voice that only once every three chapters or so sounds hokey.
Sequoia M
Nov 15, 2012 Sequoia M rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys histomemoirs
Recommended to Sequoia by: The Internet
I am a sucker for Bill Hayes' intertwining of biography, memory, and history. I love his other books and Five Quarts follows the familiar pattern - over arching subject, researching it's history, anecdotes about its personal effect.
absolutely fascinating! Informative and occasionally thought provoking. Writing style is engaging and entertaining, a mix of personal experience, history, myth, and current events, all in one. I highly recommend it!
I can't say I really liked it but it was well-written and informative. I would have liked it better if it were twice its current length or two books - one about blood and one of the author's memoirs.
A little too much on the personal side, not as much on this historical side. Really didn't feel that discussion of his sister's pregnancy/plans to become a nun/ect. added anything worthy to the book.
Maria (Ri)
I was really into this book for the first half, but then my interest waned and I found myself choosing any other book before this one. I finally did finish, but found it only so-so.
An amazing blend of science and personal history. Everything is explained in not only terms laymen can understand, but also in poetic language that sometimes is haunting.
May 30, 2011 Madi added it
This was one of the better books I've ever read. As a person in the health care field I have to say, the more I know about blood- the more I love it.
A decent blend of personal stories and science, but honestly I think it would have been better as two separate books.
His personal stories were a little rambling, but overall it was a cool collection of stories and facts.
Highly enjoyable and interesting. I think I will pick up his other books.
Both a memoir and a history of how Western science views blood.
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