The Fast

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

by John Oakes
2023, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster.

Purchase: Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

The Fast

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

by John Oakes
2023, Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster.

Purchase: Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

About the book

An engaging exploration of the unique history and biology of fasting—an essential component of many traditional health practices, religions, and philosophies, resurging in popularity today—perfect for readers of Breath by James Nestor and Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

We fast all the time, even when we’re not conscious of doing so. A fast manifests the idea of holding back, resisting the animal impulse to charge ahead. Its flip side is similarly everywhere: call it splurging, self-indulgence, or a variant of “self-care.” 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 readers curious about fasting with profound new understanding, appreciation, and inspiration.

Fasting has become increasingly popular for a variety of reasons—from health advocates who see fasting as a method to lose weight or to detox, to the faithful who fast in prayer, to seekers pursuing mindfulness, to activists using hunger strikes as an effective means of peaceful protest. Fasting is central to holy seasons and days such as Lent in Christianity, Ramadan in Islam, and Yom Kippur in Judaism. Advocates for justice who have waged hunger strikes include Gandhi in India, Bobby Sands in Ireland, and the Taxi Workers Alliance in New York City. Whether for philosophical, political, or health-related reasons, fasting marks a departure from daily routine.

Fasting involves doing less but doing less in a radical way, reminding us that a slower, more intentional contemplative experience can be more fulfilling. Ultimately, this book shows us that fasting is about much more than food: it is about reconsidering our place in the world.

Praise for The Fast

"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)

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

“This book offers a careful look at the historical and religious practices of fasting, beautifully punctuated by daily anecdotes of the author’s experiences and emotions while fasting himself. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in better understanding fasting and its historical echoes.” —Dr. Britt Marie Hermes, microbiome scientist

“John Oakes has written an expansive, encyclopedic book that imparts its lessons with unpretentious conviction. The Fast is as much an appraisal of fasting as a guide for enlarging an inner consciousness. In this consumptive era, we would do well to turn to the generous intellect of Oakes—to learn the wonders of doing without, and like other venerable humans across millennia, to seek an enrichment of spirit.” —Emmanuel Iduma, author of I Am Still With You

“In this age of ever more, John Oakes dares to seek less in a fascinating, wonderfully researched, and beautifully written examination of the historical, philosophical, medical, and political implications of fasting—as he himself fasts and enjoys and endures the experience of ‘the presence of an absence.’ ” —Jeff Jarvis, author of The Gutenberg Parenthesis

“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

“Caloric restriction is one of the scientifically best-established ways to enhance longevity. A fascinating deep dive into the science and history of fasting.” —Steven M. Lipkin, MD, PhD; director, Adult and Cancer Genetics Clinic; Weill Cornell Medicine

“In The Fast, John Oakes, with his vast knowledge base and deep insight, helps us understand how doing without can offer a glimpse of the luminous wisdom within each of us.” —Cuong Lu, author of The Buddha in Jail and Happiness Is Overrated

“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

“This simple yet far-reaching account of a one-week fast shows how any of us can dissolve the constructed boundary between self and universe, experience the awe of undifferentiated existence, and make ourselves available to the greater dance of life. By all means take this inspiring journey with an instantly trustworthy guide.” —Douglas Rushkoff, author of Team Human

About the book

An engaging exploration of the unique history and biology of fasting—an essential component of many traditional health practices, religions, and philosophies, resurging in popularity today—perfect for readers of Breath by James Nestor and Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

We fast all the time, even when we’re not conscious of doing so. A fast manifests the idea of holding back, resisting the animal impulse to charge ahead. Its flip side is similarly everywhere: call it splurging, self-indulgence, or a variant of “self-care.” 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 readers curious about fasting with profound new understanding, appreciation, and inspiration.

Fasting has become increasingly popular for a variety of reasons—from health advocates who see fasting as a method to lose weight or to detox, to the faithful who fast in prayer, to seekers pursuing mindfulness, to activists using hunger strikes as an effective means of peaceful protest. Fasting is central to holy seasons and days such as Lent in Christianity, Ramadan in Islam, and Yom Kippur in Judaism. Advocates for justice who have waged hunger strikes include Gandhi in India, Bobby Sands in Ireland, and the Taxi Workers Alliance in New York City. Whether for philosophical, political, or health-related reasons, fasting marks a departure from daily routine.

Fasting involves doing less but doing less in a radical way, reminding us that a slower, more intentional contemplative experience can be more fulfilling. Ultimately, this book shows us that fasting is about much more than food: it is about reconsidering our place in the world.

Praise for The Fast

"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)

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

“This book offers a careful look at the historical and religious practices of fasting, beautifully punctuated by daily anecdotes of the author’s experiences and emotions while fasting himself. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in better understanding fasting and its historical echoes.” —Dr. Britt Marie Hermes, microbiome scientist

“John Oakes has written an expansive, encyclopedic book that imparts its lessons with unpretentious conviction. The Fast is as much an appraisal of fasting as a guide for enlarging an inner consciousness. In this consumptive era, we would do well to turn to the generous intellect of Oakes—to learn the wonders of doing without, and like other venerable humans across millennia, to seek an enrichment of spirit.” —Emmanuel Iduma, author of I Am Still With You

“In this age of ever more, John Oakes dares to seek less in a fascinating, wonderfully researched, and beautifully written examination of the historical, philosophical, medical, and political implications of fasting—as he himself fasts and enjoys and endures the experience of ‘the presence of an absence.’ ” —Jeff Jarvis, author of The Gutenberg Parenthesis

“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

“Caloric restriction is one of the scientifically best-established ways to enhance longevity. A fascinating deep dive into the science and history of fasting.” —Steven M. Lipkin, MD, PhD; director, Adult and Cancer Genetics Clinic; Weill Cornell Medicine

“In The Fast, John Oakes, with his vast knowledge base and deep insight, helps us understand how doing without can offer a glimpse of the luminous wisdom within each of us.” —Cuong Lu, author of The Buddha in Jail and Happiness Is Overrated

“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

“This simple yet far-reaching account of a one-week fast shows how any of us can dissolve the constructed boundary between self and universe, experience the awe of undifferentiated existence, and make ourselves available to the greater dance of life. By all means take this inspiring journey with an instantly trustworthy guide.” —Douglas Rushkoff, author of Team Human