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by Sharman Apt Russell

Think fast!

In June of 1965, a 27-year-old man, known as Mr. A. B., presented himself to physicians at the University Department of Medicine in Dundee, Scotland. He weighted 456 pounds. "Initially," reads the resulting paper in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, "there was no intention of making his fast a protracted one." But the young man adapted so well and was so "eager to reach his ideal weight," and the days passed, and his medical signs were normal, and more days passed, and still he persisted — drinking only as much water as he wanted, along with a daily vitamin pill — and more days passed, and then somehow a year had gone by, and then more than a year. 

At first Mr. A. B. stayed in the university hospital. Rather soon, he was allowed to go home and return every day to have his urine collected and vital signs checked. The researchers took blood samples every two weeks. From Day 93 to Day 162, Mr. A. B. got potassium supplements. From Day 345 to Day 355, he was given sodium. His blood sugar, or glucose level, dropped quite low, yet Mr. A. B. "felt well and walked about normally" without any symptoms of hypoglycemia. His weight loss averaged 0.72 pounds a day. That sustained loss, the low level of blood sugar, and the results of other tests convinced the scientists that their patient was not secretly eating. Eventually, during the course of 382 days without food, he lost 276 pounds. Five years after the fast, he had only gained back 16. 

He must, at times, have felt like a god. He lived like a tree, a rowan or oak, on air and sunshine.  He lived more like spirit than matter. Did he try and walk through walls? Did he think of himself as a ghost?

We do not, of course, know what this young man felt or thought during those 13 months. The Postgraduate Medical Journal says only, at the end, "We wish to express our gratitude to Mr. A. B. for his cheerful cooperation and steadfast application to the task of achieving a normal physique." The citation in the 1971 Guinness Book of Records briefly gives his name and poundage. Soon afterward, Guinness stopped recording long fasts because of the dangers involved. 

Reprinted from Hunger:  An Unnatural History, by Sharman Apt Russell © Sharman Apt Russell. Published by arrangement with Perseus Books Group.

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Articles in this Issue

Disappeared Detroit, by Jeff Byles
Flotsam and Jetsam, by Sarah Maria Gonzales
Their Mud and Bones, by Bill Lambrecht
We Were Here, by Donna L. Clovis
Library Privileges, by Andrew Phillips
Computer Science, by Michael Bywater
Anatomy, by Fritz Holznagel and Paul Hehn
Child Psychology, by Tim W. Jackson
Sportsmanship, by Grant McCrea
Nutrition, by Sharman Apt Russell


Sharman Apt Russell is the author of Hunger:  An Unnatural History; Anatomy of a Rose; When the Land Was Young; Kill the Cowboy; and Songs of the Fluteplayer, winner of the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award. She has also been featured in American Nature Writers, Writing Nature, and other anthologies. She teaches writing at Western New Mexico University and at Antioch University in Los Angeles, California.

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