The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit by Michael FinkelThe Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit by Michael Finkelsticker-burst

The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit

byMichael Finkel

Hardcover | March 7, 2017

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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. 

New York Times bestseller

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.

Heather's Review

This book is nothing short of extraordinary, in the vein of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. It is exquisitely written by journalist Michael Finkel. The story of Christopher Knight, who decided to live alone in the woods without human contact for 28 years, is at once poignantly intimate and entirely existential. It made me think. It...

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MICHAEL FINKEL is the author of True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, which was adapted into a 2015 major motion picture. He has written for National Geographic, GQ, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in western Montana.
Title:The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True HermitFormat:HardcoverDimensions:224 pages, 8.56 × 5.94 × 0.97 inPublished:March 7, 2017Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1101875682

ISBN - 13:9781101875681

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from A very interesting book This story easily held my interest as I turned each page. The most amazing part is it’s based on a true story and events. You won’t be disappointed, it’s a very easy read and even better, a very well written story.
Date published: 2018-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intriguing story Very intriguing story. Great read. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great book Very interesting to read how the hermit survived, out in the wilderness for so many years with no contact with his family. Kept me hooked until the end.
Date published: 2018-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great for a book club Interested and thought provocative. This was offered as an option for a book club reading and I can see the potential for lots of interesting discussion.
Date published: 2018-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good book! I thought this was an amazing book! The author has such a way with words. The overall story is amazing and nothing like I've ever read before. This changed my perspective on the woods and how the hustle and bustle of everyday life can really affect someone. However, I thought the ending was a little bit of a let down and felt a little rushed.
Date published: 2018-05-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I loved this book! I heard about this book from a friend and thought I would give it a try. I was not disappointed!
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Incredible story, I wish it was less about the narrator and his relationship with the hermit and more focused on the story
Date published: 2018-04-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Decent read, fascinating story At times felt the author went into a tangent of quoting other works and studies, was more interested in the story of the actual hermit which felt light but when it does focus on Chris this story is a must read!
Date published: 2018-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read. Really enjoyed this book and appreciated the amount of research and work that went into it.
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from the stranger in the woods Would have liked more content , but it was well written by Finkel with the amount of information he was given. Good read, the story itself pulls at your heart strings.
Date published: 2018-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good Read! I remember hearing/seeing this guy on tv when he was found, was a little skeptical about the book but it was sooo good!! Finkel did an amazing job and would definitely read more of his work.
Date published: 2018-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating read Was looking forward to this read and was not disappointed. The author weaves a short amount of content gathered from research and interviews creating a fascinating story. He keeps you captivated with his language and leaves you wanting to turn the page and learn more about this introvert character .
Date published: 2018-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gets you from the start this could have been very boring or slow, but the author did an amazing job catches you right from the start - making it impossible to put down!
Date published: 2018-03-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating I found this story fascinating. I looked forward to reading it. The problem I have is, if you plan to live as a hermit then you need to be able to sustain yourself not steal from others.
Date published: 2018-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great! I read into the wild first and i wasn't satisfied. i then turned to this and this is what i was searching for. Lots of details i was able to picture it all in my head as i kept reading the detail. I would recommend reading this. Written very well and an all around good story that's true that i can relate too.
Date published: 2018-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing What an insightful and heartfelt read. A definite keeper and one that I've shared with others!
Date published: 2018-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from an interesting read This book will definitely capture your interest if you are interested in the survival genre. A fascinating read that is well written and inspiring
Date published: 2018-02-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Incredible story - But should not have been a written After reading, I perceived that the protagonist was truly unhappy in his story being shared.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best book I read in 2017 Like many of the people who reviewed this book,I simply could not put it down. Very well written and fascinating true story.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from interesting So this guy goes into the woods to live alone and mostly off the land for 27 years. He's now trying to reintegrate into society. Hopefully he will come to understand how damaging it is to break into someone's home and steal from them, even if all he took is what he needed. He still made those people feel unsafe in their own homes
Date published: 2018-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! I received this book for Christmas and couldn't put it down. Fascinating, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Christopher Knight, why he did what he did and the relationship he had with the author.
Date published: 2018-01-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Page Turner Still Many Unanswered Questions! Great book, but many loose ends abound. Maybe the author will come back to it (I haven't read any of the other books in this series yet), but then again maybe she won't.
Date published: 2017-12-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Wasn't what I was expecting A good chunk of the book is the author talking about facts about others who were considered hermits. Stats and random facts are included. I was hoping to hear a little more from Christopher himself but I guess since he truly is a hermit it makes sense that he wouldn't want to talk too much. Interesting relationship between the author and Christopher though. I wonder what he's up to these days.
Date published: 2017-12-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great story and interesting background info Thought this was excellent. Read original article several years ago and loved the additional research in the full novel.
Date published: 2017-12-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from amazing! A very interesting read, I'm glad I happened upon this book, it's not one of my usual subjects, but I enjoyed every second.
Date published: 2017-12-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from couldnt put this down Such a wonderful look into a completely different kind of lifestyle.
Date published: 2017-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Story! Loved it, amazing story of an amazing man, very interesting, easy to read
Date published: 2017-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am left speachless This book is nothing short of extraordinary. So much end of your seat excitement. This will be a re-read for sure!
Date published: 2017-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! Such an intriguing and fascinating story. I flew through this read as I could not put it down. I will likely pick this up to read again!
Date published: 2017-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Polarizing in the Best Way I debated whether this was a four or a five star read for me and I've obviously settled for the higher rating. This exceeded my expectations and I enjoyed the author's choice to delve into topics that related to Christopher Knight's story. I continually had to pause and momentarily digest what was being discussed or debated. After finishing, I'm still not sure how I feel about Knight and what he did and I like that I feel that way. It speaks to how interesting and polarizing this story is.
Date published: 2017-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Would defiantly ready again Great story that lets you see the world from a different perspective. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating read on an interesting person. First saw the GQ piece on this gentleman and was intrigued - reading the full story provided even more insight. Always been curious about people who completely detach themselves from society and civilization. To learn some of the thought process behind the decision, at least for this particular man, was interesting. Very well done.
Date published: 2017-10-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting read It was an interesting read. Didn't know what to expect, but enjoyed the story.
Date published: 2017-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Different Kind of Life I enjoyed this immensely. Very interesting to see how one can live a life their way in oneness and minimalism.
Date published: 2017-10-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from ok caught my attention almost immediately and I could not put it down. Great read
Date published: 2017-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible Insight This is a very insightful look into the mind of a modern-day "hermit". The novel is extremely well written and captivating from the very first page. Would recommend to anyone.
Date published: 2017-10-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed it Didn't know what to expect, enjoyed it very much.
Date published: 2017-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book I purchased this book for my husband and thought I would give it a whirl as this was out of my genre. Could not put it down it was read in 2 sittings. Very insightful and it really lets you see what lengths a person goes to when they decide to disappear for a while. Loved this book
Date published: 2017-10-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from "Whatever floats your boat" featured in GQ magazine, and was the most downloaded story they ever featured. Essentially this man was a true hermit, living in the woods for 27 years without uttering a word to another person. Very intriguing on how he was eventually found out. Won’t spoil the end, but as our world changed after Sept 11th and spy technology improved, his world became smaller. Incredible story of survival. Interesting how the cottagers respond to the mystery of the missing items at their homes. Quick read. Just an interesting story really emphasizing the point that some people truly love to be all alone.
Date published: 2017-09-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A very interesting story The hermit in this story wasn't a traditional hermit, but you can read that for yourself. While the life of the man who has decided to seclude himself from the rest of the world is interesting, ultimately this story has no ending, so while you're waiting for some grand finale and resolution to come about, it never does. But the story of how this man lived is interesting enough, even if you're let down at the end.
Date published: 2017-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super interesting! I didn't know I'd enjoy it this much.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVE THIS one of my favorite author.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! What an intriguing story. I couldn't put the book down.
Date published: 2017-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Not quite what I was expecting but a good read anyway.
Date published: 2017-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So interesting This book was amazing, it was really easy and interesting to read. I could not put it down I was so fascinated.
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A really interesting book! A very touching story about a man needing nature more than anything else. Mickeal Finkel covers every aspect of the life Christopher Knight had in the woods and gives the readers a chance to understand the person he was and how he is coping with life in the modern world.
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Easy & Enjoyable Read Enjoyed the book mostly because it is based on a true story which made his story more intriguing. I would recommend it but wouldn't say this is one of my favorite books. Perhaps borrow it from someone versus buying it ;)
Date published: 2017-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy read, but leaves an impression I don't read a lot of fiction, so when I come across an author who can retell a story well, it leaves an impression and doesn't have a biased approach. Read this in a day, really fascinating and educational.
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Meh Bit of a dry read, didn't end up finishing this story about a hermit that was sent to jail for stealing. I love memoirs and interesting stories and although this was a short book it felt too long, the story was dragged out.
Date published: 2017-08-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Easy, quick read with a lot of info My review is based solely on the book itself. I enjoyed the book from cover to cover, it was a quick read but contained a lot of interesting history about hermits, and the most in depth look at Christopher Knight that we're probably going to get. There was a few unanswered questions at the end and it left me torn over how I felt about the whole thing. Kept me thinking long after I was finished reading. I like the author's approach and style of keeping it light but fascinating. I don't think we have enough to time to discuss my opinion on Mr. Knight, I will only say he's not a true hermit and certainly doesn't deserve a lot of praise for his 20+ years of solitude.
Date published: 2017-08-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating This life story is so fascinating that I often shared tidbits with my husband & dad. I liked how the author included the history and facts of hermits. It doesn't conclude with all questions answered, and that's's the mystery of Mr. Knight.
Date published: 2017-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great, easy read. I bought this after reading an excerpt online and was not disappointed. I get that Mr. Knight may have been difficult to talk to after so many years as a recluse but Mr. Finkel is able to tell his story about Mr. Knight’s life as a hermit and get all of the fine details. For example, how does someone go undetected for 27 years while breaking into cabins for food and supplies? It’s all in the book. Good read. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Definite Re-Read! What an amazing, different read. I had never quite come across anything like it before - intriguing and a little inspiring.
Date published: 2017-07-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting, quick read. Very intriguing story...can't believe Mr. Knight was able to survive undiscovered in such harsh conditions! But I suspect being back in society will be more of a challenge. Even though I wished there was more to the story I guess interviewing a extremely private person like Mr. Knight was a challenge in itself. The relationship between author and "main character" was touching.
Date published: 2017-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In awe This mans story is truly intriguing. its something I've though about but to have the balls to do it and do it for so long and not go completely mad is a look into a world few of us will ever know or understand.
Date published: 2017-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I didn't want to put this book down I'm generally not the type of person who can fly through a book in a single weekend. This book is the exception. I couldn't/didn't want to put this book down. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. I've read nothing like it. It was bitter-sweet when I finished it, as I no longer had it to look forward to. I have already recommended this book to several people. This is a must read. No doubt about it.
Date published: 2017-07-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from could not get into this! maybe it was the format of the book but i just didn't get into this.
Date published: 2017-07-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from 3.5 Stars It wasn't what I expected, I wanted to know more detail about the camp and how he actually survived and the physical hardships he endured, but I suppose it was unrealistic to expect those details, since he is a very private person who didn't really want his story told in the first place. This book tied in very well with the reading I have been doing on meditation lately. Definitely worth a read.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from loved it I was worried I wouldn't like it, but I loved it.
Date published: 2017-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from True Life Story Very intriguing true life story. I enjoyed learning how Knight survived on his own and what he considered essential.
Date published: 2017-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heather's Pick This book is nothing short of extraordinary, in the vein of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. It is exquisitely written by journalist Michael Finkel. The story of Christopher Knight, who decided to live alone in the woods without human contact for 28 years, is at once poignantly intimate and entirely existential. It made me think. It touched my heart. In the end it brought me to tears.
Date published: 2017-06-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good read! Great story and what a way to live for so long!
Date published: 2017-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intriguing read Great story about one man's isolation from the rest of the world made even more special by the fact that it was a true story.
Date published: 2017-06-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting read Didn't have me obsessing over, however was an interesting book to pick up where I left off. It's a well written novel and will recommend to anyone who is looking for a light read.
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read Couldn't put this book down
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Five Stars!! This was a fascinating book. Why does someone drop out of life at the age of 20 and decide to live in the woods for 27 years? And how do you feel about such a person if you find that he has lived these 27 years by stealing from others? Great book. Well written. Raises a lot of issues to think about.
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating! I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to get an inside look at what made Christopher Knight withdraw from society and remain alone for such a long period of time.
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great read Buzzed through the book in just a few days - reading aloud to my wife. We both enjoyed uncovering more and more about Chris Knight chapter after chapter.
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engaging Good story with nice character development.
Date published: 2017-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done! I thought this book was really well written and fantastically researched by Michael Finkel. The author provided such depth into this man's isolated lifestyle and really opened up the debate on how our judicial system deals with cases like these and how easily medical professionals label someone, sometimes without ever sitting down with the person and solely on speculation. In addition to Knight's moving story, I appreciated the tid-bits of history and research that Finkel provided from a global perspective on the topic of hermits. There was a lot to be learned... and bottom line, when I read, I like to learn :)
Date published: 2017-05-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Slow Going I bought this book about a month ago and I don't think I can even push myself to finish reading it. Found it really boring and slow moving. It's about a man who lived alone in the woods for over 25 years. Doesn't really pick up at any point.
Date published: 2017-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engaging This was an engaging story told with compassion. I found the story of Christopher Knight so fascinating that I could not put it down. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engaging This was an engaging story told with compassion. I found the story of Christopher Knight so fascinating that I couldn\t put it down. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I bought this book as light reading to give me a break from school work. It sure was hard to put down!
Date published: 2017-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favourites!!!! Instant classic. A must own, beautiful addition to your library.
Date published: 2017-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating This was selected for our book club this month and I really wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It's relatively short, coming in at about 200 pages, but it was a quick and insightful read. I initially found myself quite skeptical as to how a man could survive so close to society yet remain hidden for 27 years, with absolutely no contact to anyone. Yet we are provided with exactly how he does so. It really was a fascinating take on how one man simply could not cope with the fast-paced world we live in (and this was in the 80s) and simply walked away from it all! It's not the life most of us would choose but it was amazing that this man did so!
Date published: 2017-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun Times This was so fascinating right from the get-go that I stayed glued to the pages until the end. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-04-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from So Interesting! What an interesting read! I loved that this was part Knight's story and part study of living in solitude. Finkel's genuine interest in all aspects of Knight's journey made this a fascinating narrative to follow. This made me think, and made me understand to a degree I didn't before. Recommend!
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable Enjoyed the book, was a page turner. Would recommend
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well written The questions I was asking myself is exactly how the book starts. I don't like that he stole from people in order to survive as he knew how to hunt and fish. It is a really great read as long as you have an open mind.
Date published: 2017-03-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Amazing Story "It’s possible that Knight believed he was one of the few sane people left. He was confounded by the idea that passing the prime of of your life in a cubicle, spending hours a day at a computer in exchange for money was considered acceptable, but relaxing in a tent in the woods was disturbed…What did Knight to for a living? He lived for a living." This is a story that will speak to the introverts out there (hi, that’s me); the people that need quiet in their days and thrive when alone. If you’ve read the news stories about Christopher Knight, you know the facts around his mysterious disappearance. Knight vanished when he was 20 years old, leaving his family to think him dead. Maine residents knew someone was living in the woods, experiencing frequent, but minor, burglaries. After 27 years, Knight is finally captured and arrested – the hermit had been taken down. After Knight’s arrest, journalist Michael Finkel couldn’t get the story of the illusive “North Pond Hermit” out of his mind. How did he survive for so long, completely alone, in the woods? What did he do to stay warm in the bitter Main winters? What was his mental state? Is he autistic? Schizophrenic? Finkel eventually reached out to Christopher in prison, and weaseled his way in to a face to face meeting, determined to discover the man behind the facade of the North Pond Hermit. This book goes deeper than the news articles, and Finkel draws his thoughts and conclusions from about nine hours of conversation with Knight, as well as conversations with Knight’s family and the police officers who captured him. Christopher Knight, in a split second decision, chose to live differently. He set off into the Maine woods with no plan, determined to to things his way. He survived by stealing from local cabins and camp sites, feeling terrible about it every time. For anyone who struggles with the mundanity of day to day life, Knight’s decision won’t feel so incredible. In fact, this book illustrates so clearly why it may have been the exact right path for him to choose (maybe minus the burglaries!). Not everyone fits perfectly into modern society, and not everyone desires the social interactions and abundance that many thrive on. I particularly enjoyed the sections about the importance of quiet in one’s day. I’m very sound sensitive, and this spoke right to me: "Noise harms your body and boils your brain. The word noise is derived from the Latin word nausea." If Christopher Knight’s story piqued your interest, you will enjoy this book. He’s a strange man, but the reasons behind his choices are surprisingly relatable. It’s a shame that my city is in the middle of a deep freeze, I’m craving a walk in the woods.
Date published: 2017-03-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good writer - didn't like the subject of the book This person was not surviving on his own - he stole from others to survive!
Date published: 2017-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Amazing Received this for a gift. Out of this world fantastic. Never know what one person is capable of doing
Date published: 2017-03-09

Read from the Book

Chapter 16Knight lived in the dirt but was cleaner than you. Way cleaner. Pine needles and mud don’t make you dirty, except superficially. The muck that matters, the bad bacteria, the evil virus, is typically passed through coughs and sneezes and handshakes and kisses. The price of sociability is sometimes our health. Knight quarantined himself from the human race and thus avoided our biohazards. He stayed phenomenally healthy. Though he suffered deeply at times, he insists he never once had a medical emergency, or a serious illness, or a bad accident, or even a cold.During the summers, especially in the early years, he was strong, fit, and spry. “You should have seen me in my twenties—I ruled the land I walked upon, it was mine,” Knight said, exposing the prideful streak that runs below his surface of contrition. “Why shouldn’t I claim it as my own? No one else was there. I was in control. I controlled it as much as I wanted. I was lord of the woods.”Poison ivy grows throughout the area; its prevalence prevented some people from searching for his site. Knight kept a little jingle in his head—“leaves of three, let it be”—and so ably memorized where each patch grew that even at night he didn’t brush against it. He says he was never once afflicted.Lyme disease, a bacterial illness transmitted through tick bites that can cause partial paralysis, is endemic to central Maine, but Knight was spared that as well. He brooded about Lyme for a while, then came to a realization: “I couldn’t do anything about it, so I stopped thinking about it.”Living in the woods, subject to the whims of nature, offers a great deal of autonomy but not much control. At first, Knight worried about everything: snowstorms might bury him, hikers could find him, the police would capture him. Gradually, methodically, he shed most of his anxiety.But not all. Being too relaxed, he felt, was also a danger. In appropriate doses, worry was useful, possibly lifesaving. “I used worry to encourage thought,” he said. “Worry can give you an extra prod to survive and plan. And I had to plan.”At the conclusion of each thieving mission, he was absolved temporarily of worry. The order in which he ate his food was governed by the pace of spoilage, ground beef to Twinkies. When he was down to little more than flour and shortening, he’d mix those together with water and make biscuits. He never stole homemade meals or unwrapped items, for fear someone might poison him, so everything he took came sealed in a carton or can. He ate every morsel, scraping the containers clean. Then he deposited the wrappers and cartons in his camp’s dump, stuffed between boulders at the boundary of his site.The dump was scattered over an area of about a hundred square feet. One section was devoted to items like propane tanks and old mattresses and sleeping bags and books, another to food containers. Even in the food area, there was no odor. Knight added layers of dirt and leaves to aid with composting, which eliminated any smell, but most of the packaging was waxed cardboard or plastic, slow to disintegrate. Upon excavation, the colors on many boxes remained garish, superlatives and exclamation points and rococo typography popping from the soil while robins chirped in the branches above.The archeological record contained in his dump revealed why Knight’s only significant health issue was his teeth. He brushed regularly, he stole toothpaste, but did not see a dentist and his teeth began to rot. It didn’t help that his culinary preferences never progressed beyond the sugar-and-processedfood palate of a teenager. “ ‘Cooking’ is too kind a word for what I did,” he said.A staple meal was macaroni and cheese. Dozens of macand-cheese boxes were buried between the rocks, along with several empty spice bottles—black pepper, garlic powder, hot sauce, blackened seasoning. Often, when Knight was inside a cabin with a good spice rack, he would grab a new bottle and try it out on his macaroni and cheese.Also in his dump was a flattened thirty-ounce container from cheddar-flavored Goldfish crackers, a five-pound tub from Marshmallow Fluff, and a box that had held sixteen Drake’s Devil Dogs. There were packages from graham crackers, tater tots, baked beans, shredded cheese, hot dogs, maple syrup, chocolate bars, cookie dough. Betty Crocker scalloped potatoes and Tyson chicken strips. Country Time lemonade and Mountain Dew. El Monterey spicy jalapeño and cheese chimichangas.All of this came from a single kitchen-sink-sized hole, dug out by hand. Knight had fled the modern world only to live off the fat of it. The food, Knight pointed out, wasn’t exactly his choice. It was first selected by the cabin owners of North Pond, then snatched by him. He did steal a little money, an average of fifteen dollars a year—“a backup system,” he called it—and lived an hour’s walk from the Sweet Dreams convenience store and deli, but never went there. The last time he ate at a restaurant, or even sat at a table, was at some fast-food place during his final road trip.He stole frozen lasagna, canned ravioli, and Thousand Island dressing. You can dig in the dump until you’re lying on your side, arm buried to the shoulder, and more keeps emerging. Cheetos and bratwurst and pudding and pickles. Quarry a trench deep enough to fight a war from—Crystal Light, Cool Whip, Chock full o’Nuts, Coke—and you still won’t reach bottom.So he wasn’t a gourmet. He didn’t care what he ate. “The discipline I practiced in order to survive did away with cravings for specific food. As long as it was food, it was good enough.” He spent no more than a few minutes preparing meals, yet he often passed the fortnight between raids without leaving camp, filling much of the time with chores, camp maintenance, hygiene, and entertainment.His chief form of entertainment was reading. The last moments he was in a cabin were usually spent scanning bookshelves and nightstands. The life inside a book always felt welcoming to Knight. It pressed no demands on him, while the world of actual human interactions was so complex. Conversations between people can move like tennis games, swift and unpredictable. There are constant subtle visual and verbal cues, there’s innuendo, sarcasm, body language, tone. Everyone occasionally fumbles an encounter, a victim of social clumsiness. It’s part of being human.To Knight, it all felt impossible. His engagement with the written word might have been the closest he could come to genuine human encounters. The stretch of days between thieving raids allowed him to tumble into the pages, and if he felt transported he could float in bookworld, undisturbed, for as long as he pleased.The reading selection offered by the cabins was often dispiriting. With books, Knight did have specific desires and cravings—in some ways, reading material was more important to him than food—though when he was famished for words, he’d subsist on whatever the nightstands bestowed, highbrow or low.He liked Shakespeare, Julius Caesar especially, that litany of betrayal and violence. He marveled at the poetry of Emily Dickinson, sensing her kindred spirit. For the last seventeen years of her life, Dickinson rarely left her home in Massachusetts and spoke to visitors only through a partly closed door. “Saying nothing,” she wrote, “sometimes says the most.”Knight wished he’d been able to procure more poetry written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, a fellow native of Maine, born in the coastal village of Rockland in 1892. He quoted her bestknown lines—“My candle burns at both ends / It will not last the night”—and then added, “I tried candles in my camp for a number of years. Not worth it to steal them.”If he were forced to select a favorite book, it might be The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer. “It’s concise,” Knight said, a quick twelve hundred pages, “and impressive as any novel.” He stole every book on military history he sawHe pilfered a copy of Ulysses, but it was possibly the one book he did not finish. “What’s the point of it? I suspect it was a bit of a joke by Joyce. He just kept his mouth shut as people read into it more than there was. Pseudo-intellectuals love to drop the name Ulysses as their favorite book. I refused to be intellectually bullied into finishing it.”Knight’s disdain for Thoreau was bottomless—“he had no deep insight into nature”—but Ralph Waldo Emerson was acceptable. “People are to be taken in very small doses,” wrote Emerson. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” Knight read the Tao Te Ching and felt a deep-rooted connection to the verses. “Good walking,” says the Tao, “leaves no tracks.”Robert Frost received a thumbs-down—“I’m glad his reputation is starting to fade”—and Knight said that when he ran out of toilet paper, he sometimes tore pages from John Grisham novels. He mentioned that he didn’t like Jack Kerouac either, but this wasn’t quite true. “I don’t like people who like Jack Kerouac,” he clarified.Knight stole portable radios and earbuds and tuned in daily, voices through the waves another kind of human presence. For a while he was fascinated by talk radio. He listened to a lot of Rush Limbaugh. “I didn’t say I liked him. I said I listened to him.” Knight’s own politics were “conservative but not Republican.” He added, perhaps unnecessarily, “I’m kind of an isolationist.”Later he got hooked on classical music—Brahms and Tchaikovsky, yes; Bach, no. “Bach is too pristine,” he said. Bliss for him was Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. But his undying passion was classic rock: the Who, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and, above all, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Nothing in all the world received higher praise from Knight than Lynyrd Skynyrd. “They will be playing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs in a thousand years,” he proclaimed.On one raid he stole a Panasonic black-and-white fiveinch-diagonal television. This was why he needed so many car and boat batteries—to power the TV. Knight was adept at wiring batteries together, in series and parallel. He also carried off an antenna and hid it high in his treetops.He said that everything shown on PBS was “carefully crafted for liberal baby boomers with college degrees,” but the best thing he watched while in the woods was a PBS program, Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War. He was able to recite parts of the show verbatim. “I still remember Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife,” said Knight. “It brought tears to my eyes.” Ballou, a major in the Union army, wrote to Sarah on July 14, 1861, and was killed at the First Battle of Bull Run before the letter was delivered. The note spoke of “unbounded love” for his children, and Ballou said his heart was attached to his wife’s “with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break”—an expression of human connection that made Knight weep, even if he wasn’t compelled to seek it himself.Knight was aware of world events and politics, but he seldom had any reaction. Everything seemed to be happening far away. He burned through all his batteries after September 11, 2001, and never watched television again. “Car batteries were so heavy and difficult to steal anyway,” he said. He repurposed the ones he had as anchor weights for guylines, and after he stole a radio that received television audio signals, he switched to listening to TV stations on the radio; “theater of the mind,” he called it. Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond were his television-on-the-radio favorites.“I do have a sense of humor,” Knight said. “I just don’t like jokes. Freud said there’s no such thing as a joke—a joke is an expression of veiled hostility.” His favorite comedians were the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and George Carlin. The last movie he saw in a theater was the 1984 comedy Ghostbusters.He never bothered listening to sports; they bored him, every one of them. For news, there were five-minute updates at the top of the hour on WTOS, the Mountain of Pure Rock, out of Augusta. Also, he said, he sometimes listened to French news stations out of Quebec. He didn’t speak French, but he understood most of it.He liked handheld video games. His rule for stealing them was that they had to appear outdated; he didn’t want to take a kid’s new one. He’d be stealing those in a couple years anyway. He enjoyed Pokémon, Tetris, and Dig Dug. “I like games that require thought and strategy. No shoot-’em-ups. No mindless repetitive motion.” Electronic Sudoku was great, and crossword puzzles in magazines were welcome challenges, but he never took a deck of cards to play solitaire, and he doesn’t like chess. “Chess is too two-dimensional, too finite of a game.”He didn’t create any sort of art—“I’m not that type of person”—nor did he spend any nights away from his camp. “I have no desire to travel. I read. That’s my form of travel.” He never even glimpsed Maine’s celebrated coastline. He claimed that he did not speak to himself aloud, not a word. “Oh, you mean like typical hermit behavior, huh? No, never.”Not for a moment did he consider keeping a journal. He would never allow anyone to read his private thoughts; therefore, he did not risk writing them down. “I’d rather take it to my grave,” he said. And anyway, when was a journal ever honest? “It either tells a lot of truths to cover a single lie,” he said, “or a lot of lies to cover a single truth.”Knight’s ability to hold a grudge was impressive. Though many National Geographic magazines were buried beneath his tent, he despised the publication. “I didn’t even like stealing them,” he said. “I only looked at them when I was desperate. They’re really only good for burying in the dirt. That glossy paper lasts a long time.”His aversion to National Geographic extends back to his youth. When Knight was in high school, he was reading a copy and came across a photo of a young Peruvian shepherd standing beside a road, crying. Behind him were several dead sheep, struck by a car as the boy had been trying to guide them. The photograph was later reprinted in a book of National Geographic’s all-time greatest portraits.It incensed Knight. “They published a photo of the boy’s humiliation. He had failed his family, who had entrusted him with the herd. It’s disgusting that everybody can see a little boy’s failure.” Knight, still furious about the image thirty years later, was a man acutely attuned to the ravages of shame. Had he done something shameful before he’d fled to the forest? He insisted that he had not.Knight had a strong distaste for big cities, filled with helpless intellectuals, people with multiple degrees who couldn’t change a car’s oil. But, he added, it wasn’t as if rural areas were Valhalla. “Don’t glorify the country,” he said, then tossed off a line from the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto about escaping “the idiocy of rural life.”He acknowledged, forthrightly, that a couple of cabins were enticing because of their subscriptions to Playboy. He was curious. He was only twenty years old when he disappeared, and had never been out on a date. He imagined that finding love was something like fishing. “Once I was in the woods, I had no contact, so there was no baited hook for me to bite upon. I’m a big fish uncaught.”One book that Knight never buried in his dump or packed away in a plastic tote—he kept it with him in his tent—was Very Special People, a collection of brief biographies of human oddities: the Elephant Man, General Tom Thumb, the DogFaced Boy, the Siamese twins Chang and Eng, and hundreds of sideshow performers. Knight himself often felt that he was something of circus freak, at least on the inside.“If you’re born a human oddity,” says the introductory chapter of Very Special People, “every day of your life, starting in infancy, you are made aware that you are not as others are.” When you get older, it continues, things are likely to get worse. “You may hide from the world,” advises the book, “to avoid the punishment it inflicts on those who differ from the rest in mind or body.”There was one novel above all others, Knight said, that sparked in him the rare and unnerving sensation that the writer was reaching through time and speaking directly to him: Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. “I recognize myself in the main character,” he said, referring to the angry and misanthropic narrator, who has lived apart from all others for about twenty years. The book’s opening lines are: “I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man.”Knight also expressed no shortage of self-loathing, but it was offset by a fierce pride, as well as an occasional trace of superiority. So, too, with the unnamed narrator of Underground. On the final page of the book, the narrator drops all humbleness and says what he feels: “I have only in my life carried to an extreme what you have not dared to carry halfway, and what’s more, you have taken your cowardice for good sense, and have found comfort in deceiving yourselves. So that perhaps, after all, there is more life in me than in you.”

Bookclub Guide

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. A New York Times bestsellerIn 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.1. Discuss the significance of the Socrates epigraph that opens The Stranger in the Woods. How does this set the tone for the book? How does it relate to the book’s larger discussion of needs versus wants? 2. In the early pages of the book, Finkel states that Knight has “stripped the world to his essentials.” Consider the lifestyle that Knight leads in North Pond. What are his essentials? How many of these essentials are material versus immaterial? What does he value the most?  3. On page 5, Finkel states that Knight has a “moral code” that he lives by, which determines what he will and will not steal. How would you describe his moral code? How does his moral code relate to larger ideas about capitalism and materialism in the United States?4. In the first few chapters of the book, Knight is referred to solely as “the hermit,” before his name and identity are revealed to the reader. Why do you think Finkel chose to employ this narrative device? Explore the significance of the lore around Knight as “the hermit,” and how the mythos of “the hermit” is complicated once his identity is made publicly known.5. How would you describe the locals’ attitudes toward the hermit over time? Discuss the varied experiences of those who were victimized by his crimes and how these incidents affected their perceptions of their hometown, their domicile, and their safety. After his arrest, how does the narrative of the hermit change, if at all? 6. How do you feel about Knight? On the North Pond camp owners’ scale of “Lock Knight up forever” to “Let him go immediately,” where do you reside?7. In chapter six, Finkel describes the fanfare surrounding Knight’s arrest, pronounced “a circus” by some local officials. Consider the irony of Knight’s fame in relation to his desire for solitude. How does Knight play into the public’s idea of what a hermit “should” be? 8. In chapter seven, the narrative lens of The Stranger in the Woods shifts to allow for the author’s point of view to emerge. What spurs Finkel to reach out to Knight, initially? Discuss their early exchanges, as well as Finkel’s first visit. How does their relationship evolve? 9. Early in their relationship, Finkel reveals to Knight that he is a “flawed journalist,” based on past actions during his reportage. Why does he choose to do this? Discuss the “lofty ideals” that both men strive for in their lives. How are they both committed to seeking truth?10. Discuss Knight’s time in jail. How does the movement from complete solitude to imprisonment affect his morale? What tactics from his time in the woods does he use to pass the time?  11. Throughout The Stranger in the Woods, Knight is defined by many labels: He is a hermit, a thief, a prisoner, a purist, a son, a brother. Which of these labels does he associate himself with, if any? How much of a person’s identity is shaped by socialization, and how much is self-determined?12. On page 50, Finkel states that Knight “seemed to say exactly what he was thinking, raw and true, unfiltered by the safety net of social niceties.” Discuss this statement. How does Knight’s time in the woods affect his understanding of human interactions? What is his general standpoint toward humanity? How does his exposure to media (books, radio) keep him connected to society at large? 13. When reading Notes from the Underground, Knight felt that Dostoyevsky was reaching through time and speaking directly to him. What books have made you feel that way?14. Discuss Knight’s childhood and family. How does the idea of rugged individualism and self-reliance color his upbringing? The value of privacy? Consider his absence in the lives of his family members, and his sudden return to them. Does he feel any guilt about his decision to disappear? How does his family interpret his return? 15. On page 78, Finkel notes that Knight’s decision to retreat to the woods “had elements of a suicide, except he didn’t kill himself.” Unpack this statement. Considering Knight’s promise to go back into the woods at the end of the book, how does he view death in relation to the natural world? 16. Consider Finkel’s discussion of various hermits or secluded individuals in societies around the world. What does Knight share with these other historical examples of hermits? Is there a mutual moral commitment that underpins their solitude?  How much of Knight’s decision to isolate himself seems to come from a place of idealism versus personal preference? How does his existence in Little North defy the typical categorization of what a hermit is? 17. Discuss the discipline inherent to Knight’s existence in the woods. How is his life reliant on patterns and consistency? How does he use fear as motivation?18. On page 112, Knight wonders if “modern society, with its flood of information and tempest of noise, was only making us dumber.” Reflect on this statement. What are the pitfalls of technology in relation to modern living? How does our reliance on technology undercut some of the most essential human functions? 19. Stranger in the Woods asks complicated, fundamental questions about solitude, self-reliance, and humans’ relationship with nature, with an extraordinary, singularly unique human at the center. Consider your own life as it relates to these concepts. How often are you completely alone? Do you ever seek out solitude, particularly in nature? How is nature both restorative and challenging for the human spirit? By the end of the book, how did your feelings toward Knight evolve? 

Editorial Reviews

"A story that takes the two primary human relationships—to nature and to one another—and deftly upends our assumptions about both. This was a breathtaking book to read and many weeks later I am still thinking about the implications for our society and—by extension—for my own life." —Sebastian Junger  "An absorbing exploration of solitude and man’s eroding relationship with the natural world. Though the ‘stranger’ in the title is Knight, one closes the book with the sense that Knight, like all seers, is the only sane person in a world gone insane—that modern civilization has made us strangers to ourselves." —Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic  "Campfire-friendly and thermos-ready, easily drained in one warm, rummy slug… Raises a variety of profound questions—about the role of solitude, about the value of suffering, about the diversity of human needs." —Jennifer Senior, The New York Times  "Michael Finkel has done something magical with this profound book… [His] investigation runs deep, summoning…the human history of our own attempts to find meaning in a noisy world." —Michael Paterniti   "Chris Knight is an American original... I burned through this haunting tale in one rapt sitting." —John Vaillant