The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit – Michael Finkel
I don’t read a ton of mainstream content, mainly because I don’t like being told what to like. So if the book has an Oprah seal of approval or a New York Times stamp of greatness, I glance and move on. I prefer the Indie writers, the undiscovered authors that just haven’t been recognized by the bigwigs. I’m not saying that those stamps don’t mean anything because often these books are good quality. But many times, they don’t mean anything besides the fact a publisher’s pocket are deep and able to pay for attention. Call me a bigwig snob if you like, I don’t care. Give me the struggling artists over the oversold and over represented authors who have “made it.”
That being said, occasionally a bigwig book calls to me. I am drawn to books about the wilderness and living in isolation, so when I saw this title pop up at the local library I added my name to the que of eager readers. The Stranger in the Woods is a story about a real man named Christopher Knight, who one day decided to get lost for 27 years. Finkel spent a span of time interviewing Knight, while he was incarcerated for burglary for 7 months. This book is Finkel’s retelling of Knight’s time in isolation.
I found it to be a moving and an extraordinary tale. Knight is a real man with many flaws, but as someone who sometimes wishes to live a more isolated life, I felt I understood Knight’s motivations. I could never disappear like Knight did. And he never seemed to have a reason for his behavior, but he certainly knew how to enjoy the eccentric life he created. People are afraid of what they don’t understand and Knight is an anomaly that many feared only because he chose a life less ordinary. He is not a saint or a getting back to nature prophet. However, I truly found him to be a fascinating man and hearing what he had to say about his experience and choices was insightful.
I felt Finkel did an excellent job at giving the facts, as Knight would have wanted. He didn’t condemn nor condone Knight’s choices. Instead, he seemed fascinated by the man and only wished to understand and share what he learned about Knight with the world. It was a journalistic take of one man’s life.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story and only wish those who wish to get lost, could more easily do so in this society. Unfortunately, for Knight, finding isolation in this crowded world that values conformity is difficult to do.
Synopsis: Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality–not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.
In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life–why did he leave? what did he learn?–as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.