Fasting Might Save Your Life

Recently I went on a 14-day health retreat in California.  The following is what that was about, why I went and what I learned.  Thinking an additional perspective might be useful, following the report I’ve provided a brief summary of how my thinking about fasting and health has changed since I was much younger.

From August 17th to 31st of this year (2021) I stayed at the Santa Rosa, CA TrueNorth Health Center. Operating for over 35 years, it focuses on fasting and eating healthy foods with no salt, oil, or sugar to improve health. The center is staffed by medical doctors, interns, and other health practitioners, including chiropractic specialists and, nutritionists. The facility hosts between 50 and 75 patients at any given time.

Fasting is something I’ve practiced on my own, off and on, since my late twenties.  My longest fast was twenty days, but more typically, it was 5-7.  Recently, four days was the maximum. In my 30s and 40s, my goal was to improve health, to gain control of my life, and reduce stress.  Losing a bunch of weight was a significant side benefit.

After two open-heart surgeries (in 2016 and 2018) and faced with taking Eliquis (apixaban), Losartan (or something like it), and Amoxicillin for the rest of my life, I wanted to take another look at fasting.  Given my issues, it made no sense to try this on my own.  A medically supervised fast would, I hoped, help answers two questions:

  1. Is it safe for me to continue fasting on my own given I take Eliquis (apixaban) every day? If yes, for how long?
  2. Given a careful analysis of regular labs and my vitals during a water-only fast, what is going on in my body?

I chose the TrueNorth Health Center. The staff is deeply experienced with people coming to them with a variety of maladies such as heart disease, diabetes, COPD, brain injuries, and more. They do vigorous blood and urine testing and monitor patients vital signs closely. They’ve published highly respected and compelling research studies on fasting and its impact on health.

After my fourteen days there, the result was not what I wanted to hear. However, I feel confident about the new knowledge I have.  Given the lack of extensive studies of Eliquis and fasting, my future water-only fasts must now be limited to no more than 48 hours.  My body enters ketosis on the second day of fasting and by the third, ketones begin to spike in my blood, which could make Eliquis/apixaban unstable and, perhaps, fail to do what it is supposed to do to protect the artificial parts I have in my heart. There’s not a lot known about Eliquis and ketosis interactions, but I have good reason to be cautious.  I have firsthand experience fasting when on Warfarin, which I did, and it led to disastrous results. I lost 7 pints of blood, almost died, and spent a week in the hospital.  Consequently, not that Eliquis has replaced Warfarin in my prescription tray; I did not want to be my own, unmonitored lab rat.

Although eliminating any of my meds was not one of my objectives, my TrueNorth doctor decided to discontinue my blood pressure drug, Losartan (25mg 2X day), on the fourth day.  If my BP readings stay consistent with those recorded at the center, I may no longer need to take this medication — a very big deal.  So, in short, this visit was a huge win for me and I can’t be more pleased.

My Health Quest

Today I believe we all need to take control of our health.  While I have nothing but the greatest respect for medical doctors, after all, they’ve saved my life on several occasions, there is some misalignment in the way they are trained, incented, and operate.  To oversimplify, they are remarkably good at figuring out what is wrong and prescribing a solution: medication, surgery, or some other intervention.  They do not focus on figuring out and addressing the root causes of problems and working with you to resolve those underlying issues. It’s not their job.  We as patients must take responsibility for our health.  It is OUR JOB, and no one will care as much as we do.  But often, we prefer to turn that responsibility over to “the experts,” and welcome short and easy fixes in the form of a prescription to make the pain or issue go away. The results are horrible, with a US population struggling with obesity, leading to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, joint failures, and much more.

My discovery of fasting as a potential lifesaver was similar to Henry S. Tanner in the 1800s. Tanner was a doctor in Duluth, Minnesota, who’d struggled for years with rheumatism.  He also suffered from asthma, which chronically disrupted his sleep. When awake, he was in near-constant pain.  His medical training told him humans could only live for ten days without food.  Not believing in suicide, he determined to simply starve himself to death, saying later: “I had found a shortcut and had made up my mind to rest from physical suffering in the arms of death.” But something else happened. On the fifth day of his fast, he was able to sleep peacefully.  By the eleventh day, he reported feeling “as well as in my youthful days.”  Fully expecting to be nearly dead, he asked a fellow physician, Dr. Moyer, to examine him. Moyer exclaimed, “You ought to be at death’s door, but you look better than I’ve ever seen you.”  He continued his fast for 31 more days. After his fast, Tanner had no symptoms of asthma, rheumatism, or chronic pain and lived to ninety years of age. (Note: I’ve validated this story in a variety of ways, including reading about it New York Times stories from the 1800s.)

Over the past ten years, I’ve watched about at least fifty video documentaries about food and its impact on our health, from 2004s Super Size Me in 2014s That Sugar Film.  Perhaps most impactful was the 55 minute 2012 documentary film Science of Fasting, summarizing the idea of fasting in medical settings.   I’ve also read at least two dozen books on the topic along with reports of scientific studies of the impact of fasting and diet on health.  Links to those after the videos.

VIDEOS

Here are a few trailers for documentary movies and Interviews with doctors which you may find interesting if you wish to know more about fasting in modern times:

Alan Goldhamer is the director of the TrueNorth Health Center where I went. Here is an interview where he outlines some of his experiences in conducting tens of thousands of water-only fasts over the 35-year history of his Center (2021).
Here is the documentary I mentioned above and the one that started it all for me (2011)
Another pretty good summary (2018)
This one, Food Matters, attempts to bring in every angle on fasting you can imagine (2018)

BOOKS

Perhaps the most useful book about fasting is the one authored by Douglas Lisle and Alan Goldhamer called The Pleasure Trap. It does a highly effective job of explaining how the triumvirate of evolutionary human needs — avoiding danger, eating the highest calorie foods, and procreating — trick us into today’s unhealthy lifestyle. Our bodies evolved to support a feast and famine existence and were never designed for 3 meals a day plus snacks.  As a result, conditions which kill us today or ruin our lives like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis — did not exist a thousand years ago.  I highly recommend this book.

One of the most renowned books on the topic is Cornell’s Professor T. Colin Campbell’s book, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health. It was first published in 2005, but it’s been revised and updated several times.  It’s been translated into German, Polish, Slovenian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Romanian, Swedish, and Urdu. It’s a bit scholarly, but what do you expect, he’s a big brain guy from Cornell University, for God’s sake.

The first book I ever read on fasting which gave me a blueprint for my first fasts was by Paul Bragg called The Miracle of Fasting.  It came out in 1972 but has been updated and is now co-authored with Patricia Bragg.

Since these pioneers, many highly respected doctors and research institutions have started to recognize and support the incredible impact fasting can have in fighting heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, cancer, infections, aging issues like dementia, as well as stimulating stem cell-based regeneration of new white blood cells and much more.  Here is a summary of one study showing some of this.

This is not boring stuff.  It’s eye-opening.  There are many paths to good health.  Maybe you’ll find one for yourself among these sources.

Book: That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life, by Garrison Keillor

Me reading Garrison Keillor book

My earliest memory of Garrison Keillor is a Minnesota Public Radio morning radio show that he created and hosted. It was a mash-up of music, stories, poems, and news, unlike anything else.  It kept me company as I showered, brushed my teeth, and then drove the long ride to work in the morning. I always felt Keillor was making things up as he went along, talking to me as if we were friends, albeit a one-sided friendship. This feeling has never gone away.  When his morning show ended, it reappeared sometime later as a live Saturday night radio show called “A Prairie Home Companion,” which became more formulaic, professional and better-sounding over the years. A favorite feature of mine was Keillor’s longish monologue referred to as the “News from Lake Wobegon.”

My very good friend, Kevin Brown, retiring after 40 years as a minister with the United Church of Christ,  once told me that when asked by seminarians how to deliver a good sermon, he told them to “listen to Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon, and do that.”  I remained a faithful listener and after I got married, managed to get Maggie to listen, too. We even attended a couple of live shows.  When we moved to Los Angeles and later to New York, I found the show on national public radio affiliates.  It was like staying in touch with my Minnesota roots. Keillor’s new book is a memoir, “That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life,” and tells the story of his life in remarkable detail and insight and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Keillor is an eloquent craftsman of the English language, with a highly distinctive voice. In the way music fans instantly identify after only a few bars of music a guitar being played by Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, or Eddie Van Halen, Keillor’s prose can only be his. I’ve no idea how or why this works, only that it does. The first few lines from the poem beginning his book are so clearly him.  I tested this on my wife, reading the poem out loud to her and then asking, “Any idea who wrote that,” and with hardly any hesitation, she replied, “Garrison Keillor?”

Young Steve with a kitten hiding a mini-new testament in his shirt pocket

This won’t be an objective review. Listening to his shows, having bought and read several of his books, I almost feel I know Mr. Keillor, that we are friends. I suspect tens of thousands of his listeners feel the same way.  We grew up sharing many of the same experiences. I knew he was brought up in a strict, fundamentalist sect of conservative Lutherans called the Plymouth Brethren.  I was raised in a similar Minnesota church group called the “Lutheran Brethren” who preached the concept of remaining separate from “the world,” and where the road to heaven forbade drinking, dancing, smoking, going to movies or hanging out with those who did.  Sundays began with Sunday school, followed by a church service that seemed to go for hours and sometimes an evening service and potluck supper.  Tuesday nights were Bible study, Wednesday choir practice, Fridays were youth night and Saturdays often had events dedicated to missions. No time for bowling, movies, dancing or, God forbid, hanging around the pool hall.  Keillor and I both tried playing sandlot baseball. For me, it was never more than 6-8 kids making up both teams and never organized by parents into little leagues with uniforms and coaches. He wasn’t very good and neither was I.  Keillor suffered at the hands of the Darwin brother bullies; for me it was the feared Johnson kids, who tortured my brother and me as we walked to and from school, unable to avoid passing their house.

In the book, I learned we shared other experiences.  Like me, Keillor had a congenital heart ailment that kept him out of organized sports and resulted in major open-heart surgery (OHS) later in life.  Doctors found both of our anomalies during routine football physicals.  Like me, Keillor listened to radio shows as a kid.  You should read his book to find his favorites, but for me it was the Long Ranger, Gunsmoke, and The Shadow as well as quiz shows with WCCO announcers like Jergen Nash, Charlie Boone, Randy Merriman, and Joyce Lamont, in a family whose first television set came many years after everyone else owned one. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, Fairmont, which seemed to have a lot in common with Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon.  I was surprised to learn Keillor’s town wasn’t all that small, Anoka, Minnesota, on the outskirts of Minneapolis. He’d experienced the “big city,” on his own when young.  No surprise was we share political views, a suspicion of the hypocrisy and selfishness of republicans, and more comfortable with the foibles and naive hope of democrats.  His show introduced me to musicians such as Leo Kottke, Butch Thompson, and Greg Brown of whom I became a lifetime fan. Albums and CDs from them line my shelves and fill the air with music in my home to this day.  When musical heroes like Mark Knopfler or the Notting Hillbillies appeared on his show, it was like he was discovering people I already knew.

Schaak Electronics transferred me to the Ridgedale Shopping Center in Minnetonka, where I competed every month with the highest producing Schaak store of all in the Southdale Shopping Center of Edina, Minnesota.  Of course, Schaak had a store in the Rosedale shopping center, too. When one of Keillor’s “sponsors,” Bertha’s Kitty Boutiques, had fictional locations in shopping centers named “Clydesdale, Chippendale, Mondale, Airedale and Teasdale,” I felt it was a nod to me as well as to my favorite Aunt Bertha, my mother’s older sister, who founded and ran her own department store in Billings, Montana.

Keillor and I also shared not being particularly good students. He was indifferent to school when my early response was outright rebellion, although I eventually migrated to indifference, the same as him. We both found a love of books early on and spent our school years reading.  My dismal school experience and discovery of books are chronicled here.  Keillor came across an early call to be a writer, covering local sports teams.  Although a couple of teachers took an interest in me and encouraged me when no one else did, I had no clue or idea of any skills I might possess that would allow me to make a living.  I loved and admired writers, but what they did seemed far beyond anything I could aspire to.  I could no more imagine writing as a career than being a professional baseball or football player.  When I began writing articles for trade publications to further my business career it was only possible because I’d married a professional writer, who took my early attempts and fashioned them into something editors would publish.  Years later I wrote for a variety of motorcycle magazines. By then I’d learned the rudimentary steps of figuring out the audience for a piece and getting words into print that would satisfy an editor.  Keillor and I share admiration for The New Yorker magazine.  As the number of my published stories increased, I began reading the New Yorker every week and thinking, “Wow, this is where real writers work.” Soon after becoming a subscriber, I noticed Keillor’s stories in the magazine and was thrilled.  It was as if someone in my family had cracked the big time. I was proud of him.

Like me, Keillor graduated college with no marketable skills and thus had to create his own job.  The book describes how the Prairie Home Companion came to be, a remarkable feat of a man creating a media conglomerate made up entirely of his own ideas.  It is an amazing story. Like Keillor, I left college with no skills and not a clue how to get enough money to pay for an apartment.  My college studies had gravitated to classes on religion and philosophy because those classes gave points for participation and oral debate. I was terrible at tests but never shy or afraid to speak up. Theater, too, was fun and I thrived on being in plays.  I loved radio and worked at our college station and later the local FM station as an engineer, but my voice was never good enough to get a show.  I drove a school bus to pay for my college studies and kept that up afterward.   Eventually, I found my niche in sales, getting trained in the art of helping someone spend money on the items my company wished them to buy. Unlike Keillor, no one had told me I had green teeth and I smiled willingly and often.  Finally I’d found a game that allowed me to compete and even win, exciting my competitive juices for the first time.  I won every sales contest Schaak Electronics conducted, made Rookie of the Year, assistant manager and finally got my own store, learning the basics of how to run a business while motivating others in a common objective. When a big company came along wishing to get into the computer retail business and hired me, they put me on a management track that required formal training. I’d missed in college but now was paid to attend.  It was in this new setting that I met my wife and had our first child and found something I could do well, although it wasn’t fun. While rewarding financially, it left me stressed, frustrated, and empty, feelings I suspect Keillor never felt in his career.

In writing his memoir Keillor discovered a clear structure to his life.  Where it had felt random at the time, merely reacting to seemingly insignificant and random situations, there was indeed a strong set of pivotal events, adjunct failures in certain areas which closed those paths off, and other accidental events that became crucial.  Avoiding sudden death through stupidity, Keillor looks back on key moments as being essential in making us who we are.

Keillor is 78 years old and in this book looks back on the seeming random events making him who he has become.  If he didn’t have the optical disorder that causes him to lose focus when looking up in the air, he might have caught the baseball launched high into the air toward his position at first base, gained popularity, and spent his life as a clothing salesman. Instead, he dropped the ball, leading further to his social ostracism which helped make all the difference.   If his heart valve issues had not occurred, perhaps he’d now be sore with a body damaged by early sports injuries.

Similar to Keillor, my uncles were carpenters and craftsmen, no doubt looking down on my inability to use tools without the risk of damage to myself or others. My cousins, perhaps observing the heavy toll a life of physical labor had taken on their fathers, also eschewed those careers, choosing banking, medicine, and desk jobs, and to this day I get along better with them than I ever did my uncles.

Keillor and I have both quit smoking and drinking and did it on our own.  I stopped smoking a year or so before meeting my wife in the late ’70s and quit drinking in 2016 before my second major open heart surgery. No counseling or therapy, just quit.

I loved reading A Minnesota Life.  It told me so much about the life of a man, a celebrity, out of reach but yet, someone with whom I felt close.   The point Keillor so eloquently makes in this wonderful memoir is that each of our lives has these seemingly insignificant occurrences, but without them, we’d have become very different people.  Those we touch and who touch us, make all the difference.  So perhaps, there is a memoir in all of us, and we should get to writing it.

Perhaps what I admire most about Keillor isn’t his writing of which he is justifiably proud.  Perfecting words on the page is one thing. Being eloquent and succinct while speaking is something else entirely.  Keillor is a master with the spoken word. Conveying stories in a way that makes you think he’s saying something spontaneous, just to you, as if sitting next to him on a train or plane or over a glass of lemonade in the shade of a porch on a hot day, the first time it’s ever been said.  This is exceptionally difficult to master and requires a great deal of practice and few understand the difficulty involved.  No one else who performs this task does so at the level of Keillor.

Steve on the board at KNXR in Rochester, MN

When I was working as an engineer at KNXR Radio in Rochester, Minnesota, one of our announcers devoted a portion of his show to interviewing people from the city on projects they were promoting. He would ask them into one of our studios, I’d motion from behind the glass we were rolling, and the interview would begin.  Ten to fifteen minutes later, the interview ended and my engineering work started. The first step was deleting the boring and superficial. Then came eliminating all the ums, ahs, hesitations, nervous coughs, and unintelligible sentences from the guest’s speech. Non-professionals sound horribly bad on tape when compared to professional announcers. This left 2-3 minutes of the original interview.  The host would then listen to the tape and eliminate another 30-50 percent, and we’d end up with a 60 – 90-second tight, informative interview. I recall being at an event where the president of the local Lion’s club had been interviewed on our station earlier in the week.  His friends were telling him how good he sounded.  He said something like, “Yeah, I didn’t do too badly.”  I recall wishing he could have heard the original tape before we’d fixed him. Keillor mentions in his book his aversion to rehearsal and practice of editing and fine-tuning to the last minute.  But the shows were all live, creating a magic that can occur in no other way. Some of Keillor’s most treasured memories are the shows that went on in the face of massive technical or weather-related catastrophes.

I don’t know anyone else with the ability to do this.  Joel Gray made a business of doing one-man shows sounding like spontaneous dialog. But in fact, the spontaneous appearing stories were lines in a play, performed almost identically each night. I’ve heard Keillor’s Lutheran-pastors-on-a-pontoon bit several times and each time, I’m halfway through it before I realize “Oh, I’ve “heard this story before.” Even master comedians like Jerry Seinfeld are criticized for doing the same show with the same jokes, year in and year out.  Keillor always sounds fresh and new, because it is.

As I read Keillor’s book I could hear him saying the words in my head.  No one else can write like that.  If you grew up in the Midwest, read this book.  If you’ve ever listened to the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” and liked it, you’ll love this book.  If you’ve ever thought, “I should write the story of my life,” you won’t find a better blue print or example on how to do so. Here is where to buy it.

END

Additional notes:  I’ve written about the energy and practice required to do something well and it relates to the thousands of hours Keillor no doubt put into being good at speaking live on the radio. You can find a bit of that here if you’re interested.

Damn science stuff

In today’s Arizona Republic newspaper one of our local columnists alluded to a certain political attack on science. Reports that “science got X or Y wrong” on topics from global warming to Covid-19 are frequent, leading me to conclude many people have a deep misunderstanding of what science is, actually.  Hopefully, I can shed some light.

Science isn’t a thing, it is a process.  It is a model consisting of specific steps designed to lead to the truth.  The scientific method dictates how experiments must be done. It specifies double-blind testing and other processes to eliminate the influence of bias or prejudice.  That is science, an objective, standardized approach to conducting experiments and, in doing so, improving the accuracy, consistency and reliability of the results.

No matter the field, from biology to physics and engineering, the process of making observations, testing, and continuing to revise a theory based on the results remains the same.  My friend Frank was involved in software testing in his business career.  He knows firsthand how the process works and why it was so important, even when his superiors at the time pushed to bypass testing or minimize its importance. A scientific theory is an explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can be repeatedly tested and verified, using accepted protocols of observation, measurement, and evaluation.  Theories are tested in experiments under controlled conditions.  Established scientific theories have withstood hundreds and even thousands of rigorous tests and close scrutiny to become what now embodies “scientific knowledge.” Sometimes people attempt to denigrate certain aspects of scientific progress by saying “it’s just a theory.”  Technically, in scientific terms, that is correct.  But gravity is also a “theory,” although I’m not sure how many people would wish to throw themselves off a cliff with the idea that “falling is just a theory.”

As additional scientific evidence is gathered, theories are frequently modified. On occasion, it can be rejected entirely if it cannot fit the new findings.  That does not mean all theories can be fundamentally changed.  Foundational scientific theories such as gravity, evolution, heliocentric theory, cell theory, plate tectonics, germ theory of disease, and many others aren’t going to change.  Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould explained it like this “…facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts.”

The scientific method consists of the basic steps below and what led to the breakthrough in medicine responsible for my being here today. I’ve included a diagram of the scientific process at the end of this article from Wikipedia.

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Do background research.
  3. Develop a hypothesis, a proposed explanation for the question.
  4. Test the hypothesis in a manner that allows for proof or disproof of the hypothesis.
  5. Analyze the results of the testing.
  6. Formulate a conclusion.
  7. Refine and Repeat (back to #1).

This past year I read two history books on how open heart surgery began and how we got to where we are today.  One is “The Sublime Engine” by Stephen and Thomas Amidon.  The other is “King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery” by G. Wayne Miller.  The topic interests me, of course, as I had my first open-heart surgery when I was 15 years old in 1966. While far enough along back in 1966 to confidently predict good results, the dangers in this surgery have been reduced a hundredfold since then by repeated experiments which these books chronicle. My family and I were relieved that although I had two additional heart surgeries in 2016 and 2018, much of the medical mysteries surrounding my particular heart issues have been uncovered.  You can read more about those surgeries here.

What I like most about the scientific process is that once you’ve crafted the hypothesis you wish to test, you set up your experiment to not only find data to help prove your theory but also identify what factors, outcomes and data may potentially arise which could disprove or raise doubts about your hypothesis. You must try your damnedest to prove your hypothesis is wrong because in so doing, you test that it’s right. You can’t focus only on the affirmative – you must construct the negative arguments as well.  When setting up an experiment, there is a human tendency to want it to be true and to prove it is so.  The scientific process anticipates this human bias and compensates with how tests must be set up, such as double-blind testing, but also in requiring strict and exhaustive peer reviews.  Many scientists make it their cause to repeat experiments with greater thoroughness than the original work to cast doubt on conclusions.  In science, this is not bad manners but a highly-respected and important part of the process leading to the truth.  During my debate competitions in high school, my partner and I often did not know on which side of a proposition we would be arguing until just minutes before the competition began.  Learning to be equally persuasive and able to support both sides of the debate resolution greatly sharpened and deepened our understanding of the issues we debated.

While my parents were very religious, I am eternally grateful when the life of their child was on the line, they chose science and the medical establishment to find a solution to a defect in my heart that would have ended my life at a relatively young age.  Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse, it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions on hard evidence — evidence that is continually updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along.

It is unclear to me what process those who claim science is “wrong” would have us use in its place. Should we adopt a “might makes right,” approach, where whoever’s bigger, stronger or richer gets to dictate what is true? Perhaps we should allow truth to be determined by whatever political party accumulates the most votes in a particular voting season? Frankly, the idea of accepting the opinions of actors, musicians, politicians or religious leaders over the findings of a group of established scientists just seems wrong.  Is it rational to decide the truth for your life based on slogans, wishful-thinking and superstition?

I’m grateful to be in the final third of my life.  I doubt I’ll ever see the results of a society of parents who choose to ignore science and not vaccinate their children against polio, smallpox, measles and Covid-19 and whatever else we vaccinate against.  Vaccines save lives.  Science saves lives.  I believe in saving lives through knowledge.  Science is the right path to gain that knowledge.

The scientific method is an ongoing process

Disproportionate High Value – Episode 2

After retiring, I stopped renewing subscriptions to 5-6 monthly business magazines, daily delivery of the WSJ, NYT and half a dozen trade publications. Electronic versions have not caught on with me, so call me a journalistic dinosaur.  I don’t care. I missed BusinessWeek and the WSJ Weekend Edition the most. Then a friend gave me a copy of THE WEEK Magazine. It grabbed me.  It seemed expensive ($74 for six months, $129 for a year), but I subscribed anyway. This weekly magazine is now on my very short list of things delivering massively more value than what they cost.  Let me explain.

First, the magazine is all about content – not advertising.  With revenue so dependent on subscribers, this publication really focuses on making things great for readers. The next peculiarity is not investing in reporters or original news gathering. They don’t spend a dime trying to be the first one to report anything. Instead, they deeply research what happens every week in the areas they cover, examine everything known about a topic and summarize the key points, giving full attribution to their sources. This has several benefits:

  • First, good writers and editors are paramount, and they have the very best. After twenty five years of having my articles published in a host of different magazines, I learned good editors were priceless.
  • Next, every article and topic covered is done with the fewest words possible. Again, it takes excellent editors to cut extraneous text. Since they reference sources for every article, if you want to go deeper, it’s easy to find the full story on which their summary is based.
  • They don’t tell you how to think and I love this. They report the facts of what happened.  As most stories generate opinions, they quote meaningful views from both sides.  My liberal-leaning friends have told me while they like The Week, they feel it leans a bit to the right. My conservative friends like it too, but say they detect a slight left-leaning view.  Threading the non-partisan needle is near impossible, but my sense is they get it right far more often than not.
  • Like Goldilocks, they’ve managed to find nearly the exact right number of pages to cover the week’s news. Not too many, not too few. Just the perfect number of topics and the mountain of information chiseled down to the elements for each. The magazine can easily be read, cover to cover, in one sitting.
  • And like Goldilocks with her perfect porridge, they include enough critical subjects to make me feel I’m (sort of) keeping up with the news. In just 40 pages, they cover the following: the week’s main stories, how they were covered, the controversy of the week (and who thought what about it), the USA at a glance, the world at a glance, people news, summary of the three best opinion columns in the US, three best from Europe and two international during the week and who agreed/disagreed and why. Then it’s on to the week’s best editorial cartoons, one page each on Technology, Health & Science, Arts & Music, best books, top film & home media, Food & Drink, Consumer section (best values), Real Estate (best properties on the market), Business Page, Personal Finance page, Best Business Columns and Obituaries, followed by the last word, a two-page summary on a topic the editors feel will appeal to readers. The subject areas never change and always stay in the same place. I love that.

If you’re interested, I found a page that shows all of their covers and appears to let you look inside any of them.

Lastly, I’ve heard you can try The Week Magazine for free, for six weeks, and cancel afterwards and not owe them anything.  I’ve no idea if that works or not, but if you want to try it for yourself, here is a link to their subscribe page.

P.S.  Maggie occasionally makes the recipe-of-the-week and we have always enjoyed them.