Review: The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

30687200Title: The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

Author: Michael Finkel

Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 9781101875681

Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.


This is the fascinating story of Christopher Knight, a man who one day walked away from everything in his life without so much as a goodbye and disappeared into the woods for over a quarter century. The story is told from the perspective of journalist Michael Finkel who finds a kinship with Knight based on his own enjoyment of isolation in nature. The book unfolds over time, as Knight is arrested, jailed and released. Tales of his experiences are told through Finkel based on conversations between the two men. Finkel writes of his own interactions with Knight and of his own experiences visiting the hermits settlement out in the woods.

It’s an incredibly interesting story. Knight lives only a few minutes from a grouping of cabins, stealing only the essential items from them as he needs. He survives summers and winters, strategically stocking his camp to be prepared for anything. He speaks only one word out loud in his entire time in the forest–a “hi” to a passing hiker.

I think readers might feel a bit of disconnect with Knight’s story, as one sometimes experiences when reading a biography. There is much hesitation on Knight’s part to sharing his story, so we cannot know if what he has told with the author is entirely true–although the author cannot find any reason as to why Knight would lie. But we can only hear his story as it is interpreted and rewritten. Finkel does quote Knight often, and he does his research by speaking to many of those involved, to law enforcement, and to psychologists. He builds as full a picture of Knight as he can, his past and his current experiences, but there is still that sense of distance from the subject of intrigue. Overall though, it’s still a really cool story and is very informative. It goes into great detail about the last true hermit’s life and his methods of survival. Definitely one to check out if you’re feeling curious. 🙂

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