Bill Hayes is the author of numerous works of nonfiction, including Five Quarts: A Personal and Natural History of Blood (2005), The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy (2007), and Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me (2017); the latter is an account of moving to New York City in midlife and finding love with acclaimed neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, Hayes’ partner until Sacks’ death from cancer in 2015. His 2020 book, How We Live Now: Scenes From the Pandemic, features Hayes’ photographs of New York during the pandemic.
Hayes’ latest work is Sweat: A History of Exercise (Bloomsbury, Jan. 18). Here he weaves his own passion for exercise through the narrative—his father was a West Point graduate who taught him to swim, snow-ski, and play ball—and looks back through history to ascertain how human understandings of exercise, and its value, have evolved over the centuries.
From Kirkus’ review of Sweat: “A successful freelance author, journalist, photographer, and editor, the author is not shy about describing his lifetime preoccupation with running, gym workouts, and aerobics, with diversions into boxing, swimming, and biking.…This book is largely a record of the author’s travels across the world, where he visited libraries and interviewed scholars and scientists or simply people he encountered along the way. He recounts exercise history and how he continued his daily workouts despite often primitive local facilities, and he interjects episodes from his past that are more or less related to the active life. Fittingly, he ends at the Olympia site in Greece. An entertaining hodgepodge of autobiography, travelogue, and history.”
In this video interview, conducted over Zoom, Hayes discusses his original inspiration for Sweat, conceived—where else?—on a treadmill at the gym; the importance of libraries in his research; the crucial discovery of a 16th century book, The Art of Gymnastics; the attitudes of the ancient Greeks and Romans toward exercise and health; and his own ranking of the ideal forms of exercise.