The Fast

The History, Science, Philosophy, and Promise of Doing Without

Description

With fasting at an all-time high in popularity, here is an enlightening exploration into the history, science, and philosophy behind the practice—essential to many religions and wellness routines.

Whether for philosophical, political, or health-related reasons, fasting marks a departure from daily routine. Based on extensive historical, scientific, and cultural research and reporting, The Fast illuminates the numerous facets of this act of self-deprivation. John Oakes interviews doctors, spiritual leaders, activists, and others who guide him through this practice—and embarks on fasts of his own—to deliver a book that supplies anyone curious about fasting with profound new understanding, appreciation, and inspiration.

In recent years, fasting has become increasingly popular for a variety of reasons—from weight loss to detoxing, to the faithful who fast in prayer, to seekers pursuing mindfulness, to activists using hunger strikes as protest. Notable fasters include Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Cesar Chavez, and a long list of others who have drawn on its power over the ages and across borders and cultures.

The Fast looks at the complex science behind the jaw-dropping biological changes that occur inside the body when we fast. Metabolic switching can prompt repair and renewal down to the molecular level, providing benefits for those suffering from obesity and diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and more. Longer fasts can both reinvigorate the immune system and protect it against damage. Beyond the physical experience, fasting can be a great collective unifier, and it has been adopted by religions and political movements all over the world for millennia. Fasting is central to holy seasons and days such as Lent (Christianity), Ramadan (Islam), Yom Kippur (Judaism), Uposatha (Buddhism), and Ekadashi (Hinduism). On an individual level, devout ascetics who master self-deprivation to an extreme are believed to be closer to the divine, ascending to enlightenment or even sainthood.

Fasting reminds us of the virtues of holding back, of not consuming all that we can. “Broad in scope and rich in insight” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), this book shows us that fasting is about much more than food: it is about taking control of your life in new and empowering ways and reconsidering your place in the world.

About the author(s)

John Oakes is publisher of The Evergreen Review. He is editor-at-large for OR Books, which he cofounded in 2009. Oakes has written for a variety of publications, among them The Oxford Handbook of PublishingPublishers Weekly, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Associated Press, and The Journal of Electronic Publishing. Oakes is a cum laude graduate of Princeton University, where he earned the English Department undergraduate thesis prize for an essay on Samuel Beckett. He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives, and is the father of three adult children. While working on The Fast, he was awarded residencies at Yaddo (New York) and Jentel (Wyoming). The Fast is his first book.

Reviews

“Thought-provoking . . . Oakes presents an impressive cultural and historical survey of fasting. . . . Broad in scope and rich in insight, this provides plenty to ponder.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this well-informed, illuminating book, Oakes shows us the value of consuming less in order to know more. . . . A knowledgeable study of fasting, which has a long history and a layered present.”
Kirkus Reviews

“I couldn’t stop reading this book about not eating. And I often had food in my mouth as I read. Like any important book in my life, this one leaves me changed. And I don’t know what will happen next.”
—Eileen Myles, author of For Now (Why I Write) and Evolution

“John Oakes takes us on an elegant and irresistible journey, all the while engaging us with personal experiences, scientific enlightenment, and the historical context of fasting. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, The Fast will stay with you long after you’ve read every word.”
Gilbert King, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Devil in the Grove

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