The Short Story
I’m a freelance writer living in Boulder, Colorado, and the author of The Oldest Cure in the World: Adventures in the Art and Science of Fasting, which was published by Abrams Press this fall. It’s about the history and science of fasting and my own experiences with the practice. I’ve also written two other books: The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country, which made several best-of-the-year lists, and A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial. I’ve written articles on fasting for Harper’s, on aphrodisiac hunting for Outside, on soccer for Slate, and on the devastation of our climate for Salon. The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle have published my book reviews.
The Longer Story
I was born in Arkansas, raised in Texas, and educated (more or less) at Yale. After college, I spent several years in Seattle and Montana, where I divided my time between writing about politics and doing politics. I twice ran for local office in Helena, Montana, and twice lost. (The first time was close; the second, not so.) Since then, I’ve stuck to writing, which has suited me and voters just fine.
I wrote The Unquiet Grave because I was disturbed by the grim neglect that prevails in much of Indian Country. After reading Peter Matthiessen’s monumental In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983), I wondered what had been uncovered about the struggle between the FBI and the American Indian Movement in the years since. The short answer: not much. I intended The Unquiet Grave to fill part of the void.
I began work on A Kidnapping in Milan in 2007 because the barbarisms of America’s “War on Terror” appalled me, as did the many reporters who abetted them. I was particularly taken aback by the Bush and (later) Obama claims that torture-by-proxy makes us stronger. A Kidnapping in Milan is about the CIA’s abduction of a radical imam, his torture by America’s Egyptian surrogates, and the struggle of a bold Italian magistrate to bring the kidnappers to trial. I hope my account gives a clear-eyed look into the horror that is America’s policy of extraordinary rendition.
My book on fasting, The Oldest Cure in the World, had its genesis in an article I wrote for Harper’s in 2012. That article took a light stroll through the history and science of fasting and recounted a fast of twenty days that I undertook partly out of curiosity but mostly to control my expanding waistline. Afterward, although I fasted now and then, I had a lot of other habits that were less than nourishing to body and mind, and my health declined. But a few years ago, to my immense astonishment and enduring delight, another long fast helped me regain my physical and mental health, and I decided to look more deeply into this remarkable and remarkably simple—also remarkably overlooked—therapy. I found no books that explored the science or history of fasting in satisfying detail, and most of what had been published made for a dry slog through humorless and often uninspired prose. I’ve tried in The Oldest Cure in the World to write a book at once comprehensive, amusing, and filled with wonder for this extraordinary therapy—but without suspending my judgment about the many bogus claims that have been made on fasting’s behalf. You can let me know how well I succeeded.
I’m married to Jennifer Hendricks, a professor of family law at the University of Colorado. I took her name when we married, and she paid the bills. Still does. It’s an awfully good deal for a freelance writer. (I was born Stephen Bicknell and published under that name prenuptially.) Jennifer represented me in successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the FBI and other agencies to win the documents that underpinned The Unquiet Grave. We live with our dog Coconut in what was once the poet Allen Ginsberg’s house in Boulder.
Steve and his dog Cubby after Steve’s fast of twenty days in 2009