The red fluid of life courses through history

Books

April 03, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood

By Bill Hayes. Ballantine Books. 304 pages. $23.95.

Blood. It seems a strange and rather sticky subject for a book of popular nonfiction, yet even the squeamish will find something to enjoy in Bill Hayes' Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood.

Hayes' offbeat, breezy narrative traverses history, science, religion, legend and popular culture in examining the stuff that pulses throughout our 60,000 miles of arteries, veins and capillaries.

It's a fascinating story that covers the origin of wearing wedding rings on the fourth finger of the left hand to why garlic was believed to ward of off vampires to the scourge of AIDS.

Hayes' hematological narrative begins with the Greeks, naturally enough, and a doctor named Galen (A.D. 129-200), whose promotion of bloodletting as a cure-all had a dubious impact on medical practice for more than 1,000 years.

In 1799, for example, George Washington's doctors bled the former president, who was suffering from a severe inflamed throat, of 2.5 quarts of blood over a 12-hour period - about half his blood volume.

Hayes brings a bold personal perspective to his story as the only brother in a family of five sisters and, most notably, through his relationship with an HIV-infected partner.

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