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  • Writer's pictureMax Sinsheimer

SOLD! Fast: The Counterintuitive Story of the World's Oldest Cure (by Steve Hendricks)

I am pleased to announce that Fast: The Counterintuitive Story of the World's Oldest Cure, by journalist Steve Hendricks, has been acquired by Jamison Stoltz, Executive Editor of Abrams Press.

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Fast tells the story of the people who are reviving the long-lost remedy of fasting, unpacks the groundbreaking new science underpinning it, and chronicles what Steve’s own forays into fasting have to say about it. Much as Michael Pollan does in How to Change Your Mind or as Mary Roach does in Stiff, Steve weaves extraordinary science and history with lively participatory journalism to offer readers a fascinating account of this controversial, but increasingly popular practice.

On a note of personal pride, this is my first sale of a book that I pitched to the author, rather than the other way around. I did so after reading Steve's excellent Harper's cover article, "Starving Your Way to Vigor." Here were the first few paragraphs that had me hooked:

Two weeks after a Fourth of July at the end of Reconstruction, a doctor in Minneapolis named Henry S. Tanner resolved to end his life. His wife had left him some years earlier in favor of Duluth, which may have spoken to the quality of his husbandship, and his efforts to reacquire her had failed. He had been a lecturer on temperance but not a rousing one, he had owned a Turkish bathhouse but not a successful one, and his health was poor in a manner not specified. The usual methods of self-destruction being too painful or too messy or too likely to succeed, Tanner decided to starve himself. At the time, the consensus among men of science was that a human could not survive more than ten days without food. Christ may have fasted forty, but his was thought a special case.
On July 17, 1877, Tanner drank a pint of milk and repaired to bed. He passed some days, hungrily. His physician, one Dr. Moyer, urged him to eat, but Tanner was firm. Only water crossed his lips. Presently odd things happened. His hunger vanished, and he ceased to think of food. With each new day his ailments, whatever their origin, diminished, and by the tenth day—which should, by the wisdom of the moment, have been his last—the ills that had plagued him were completely gone. Far from nearing death, he was possessed of a renewed strength. It had been his custom to walk one to three miles twice daily, and after the tenth day he resumed these constitutionals. If his step was shaky at first, it quickly grew steady. He judged his recovery complete and bade Dr. Moyer, who had kept a nervous vigil, bring him food.
But while the food was being prepared, Tanner turned to a thought that had lately come to him: If a man might not only survive but indeed thrive after ten foodless days, what would be the limit of his unfed endurance? Twenty days? Thirty? More? And what would the answer say about us? Did it imply, for example, that we were meant to go without food for long periods? If so, why? Was fasting perhaps a healing mechanism, like sleep? It was the sort of pons asinorum that will gnaw at a person of a certain turn of mind until he must have an answer. By the time Moyer brought his meal, Tanner had come to a resolution. He would forgo gratification of the stomach for gratification of the mind.
Ten fasted days became fifteen, then twenty, then twenty-five. He noted no great changes in his person save loss of weight. (Reconstruction was an era of proud midriffs, and doctors did not regard slimming as a benefit per se.) Tanner did acknowledge a slight slowness in cogitation, chiefly on complicated subjects, but otherwise his mental powers were undiminished. On reaching four foodless weeks, he celebrated by walking ten miles of riverbank to Minnehaha Falls and back. He later walked Lakes Calhoun and Cedar, but after drinking from those bodies, he contracted gastritis, and Moyer again urged him to end his fast. On the forty-first day Tanner relented, taking a small glass of milk. He had bested Christ.

I love Steve's wry, sophisticated humor and the way the story zips along. Over the next year I intend to read widely and pitch authors freely where I think they might have a book waiting, as Steve so clearly did.

Tanner's unbelievable story helps revive a treatment that had been known inantiquity as a palliative for some illnesses and a cure for others—seemingly far-fetched claims that modern science is now backing up. Fast will have much more to say about the new research into fasting and how it is leading to a rethinking of illness and aging.

Here is the Publisher's Marketplace deal memo:

Congratulations to Steve and Jamison!

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