John Oakes at Harvard Book Store


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

in conversation with LUKE O'NEIL


February 23, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes JOHN OAKES—publisher of The Evergreen Review—for a discussion of his new book The Fast: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Promise of Doing Without. He will be joined in conversation by LUKE O'NEIL—author of Welcome to Hell World: Dispatches from the American Dystopia.

About The Fast

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

“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

“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

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

John Oakes
John Oakes

John Oakes

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 Publishing, Publishers 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.

Photo Credit: Miriam Berkley

Luke O’Neil
Luke O’Neil

Luke O’Neil

Luke O’Neil is the author of the popular political and literary newsletter Welcome to Hell World and the book of the same name. He’s a former writer-at-large for Esquire and longtime contributor to the Boston Globe, The Guardian, and many other newspapers and magazines.

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1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

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