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

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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.

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.

5 pages, Audio CD

First published March 7, 2017

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About the author

Michael Finkel

10 books928 followers
Michael Finkel is the author of "The Art Thief," "The Stranger in the Woods" and "True Story," which was adapted into a 2015 motion picture. He has reported from more than 50 countries and written for National Geographic, GQ, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives with his family in northern Utah and southern France.

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5 stars
18,745 (26%)
4 stars
31,177 (43%)
3 stars
16,984 (23%)
2 stars
3,137 (4%)
1 star
1,098 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,034 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Finkel.
Author 10 books928 followers
August 3, 2023
I greatly appreciate all of the reviews here - even the bad ones! (Though, I confess, it's sometimes a bit painful to read them.) There are so many books out there, I am honored that you've chosen to take a peek at "The Stranger in the Woods."

It took me three years of full-time work to write a 191-page book; that is a ridiculously slow pace. I can't, of course, say whether or not the book is any good - that's for you readers to decide - but I can promise that I weighed every paragraph, every word, to make the story as accurate and compelling as possible.

I want to emphasize that this is a true story, and has been thoroughly fact-checked. There are so many elements of this story that seem to defy belief (no fire for 27 years? never saw a doctor?) but I can assure you that, to the very best of my abilities, and the abilities of professional fact-checkers, this tale is completely true. Thank you, Goodreads community, for the support!
Profile Image for Ashley Cruzen.
342 reviews536 followers
March 31, 2017
This book has left me with intensely conflicted feelings. For a while I felt like I'd be rating this quite highly.
The story of Christopher Knight is fascinating.
However, the motives of the author are questionable at best and his behavior is positively icky.

It didn’t dawn on me how intensely Finkel was harassing Knight and his family until the last twenty pages or so (all of this the author seems to be aware of, but doesn't seem to find anything wrong with.) Below is spoiler territory in slightly ranty form regarding this gross behavior so proceed at your own risk.

This previously disgraced journalist's (was fired by the NYT for lying in print) feeling of self-importance regarding his "relationship" with this man who wanted nothing but to be left alone left me feeling quite disgusted. While I found his research on hermits in the world and in literature fascinating I can't escape the feeling of anger when thinking about his lack of respect for this man and his family.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
April 2, 2017
Four stars, just. There were two stories here, but the author only told one. I understand why but I am frustrated so I added, 'just'.

All-American kid age 20 abandons his new car and wanders off into the woods to live alone and make a career out of burglary. Strange eh? Not half so strange as his family who never even report him missing or make any attempt whatsoever to find him.

The book would have been shorter if the author had stuck to the title but it was padded out with history, famous hermits, religion, motivation etc. some of which was interesting. There was a discussion on whether Knight had Asperger's, was autistic or schizoid. It reminded me of what Asperger himself said: Not to pathologise the merely eccentric. There is a difference between bat shit crazy and a clinical mental illness, we all know that.

The second story, which was interesting in and of itself, was of the family. What family doesn't immediately report their 20 year old son gone missing to the police? What do they say to people who ask after him, friends or family? Aren't they anxious for his safety? Don't they wait by the phone for a call? The family wondered if he was alive. Wasn't anyone suspicious? Unfortunately Knight's family were so uncommunicative that there was nothing to report, only to surmise. Now it seems to me that these people have a pathological mental illness.

When in prison, Knight himself didn't turn into a garrulous party animal after 27 years of not speaking to another soul, by choice. This made life a bit difficult for the author who has obviously tried his best to get to the root of why Knight became a hermit.

It was an interesting book, but it wasn't fully fleshed out, and to a reader it doesn't matter why it wasn't, whether it was because of Knight being so taciturn, the author or the writing, only that the book didn't deliver a deep experience, the 'extraordinary story' when it promised to.
Profile Image for Rowan.
117 reviews221 followers
August 24, 2022
I enjoyed about 75% of this book. It starts off gripping and fast-paced – straight into the action. The short, snappy chapters make The Stranger in the Woods an easy read. It's the kind of book you can devour in a weekend, or just pick up whenever. I chose to read it at a leisurely pace, much like the life that hermit, Christopher Knight, longed for himself.

Michael Finkel knows how to hold the reader's attention. His description of the Maine woods made me feel like I was on a hike. The whole book and its subject is a wonderful form of escapism. Things got particularly interesting once Finkel began correspondence and ‘friendship’ with Knight.

His journalistic skills came to the fore when profiling this man, often known as the North Pond Hermit. In depth analysis of his likes and dislikes are featured, along with expert opinions and interviews with Knight himself. All of this serves to paint a picture of this mysterious man and attempt to understand the “why” and “how” of Knight’s 20+ years of solitude living in the Maine woods.

The winter survival skills and “lady of the woods” were particularly interesting aspects. Stealth abilities, stoicism, the urban legend, and hermits throughout history are also explored. The book is really a meditation on loneliness and solitude, with a dash of true crime sprinkled on top.

The downsides? Knight himself was often a contradiction - after all, there are victims in this story. By the end of the book, the author had also injected too much of himself into the story. His relationship with Knight evolved into prime candidacy for a restraining order. Some might describe it as stalker-like. Due to Knight’s extreme desire for privacy and to disappear from the world, I began to feel like an intruder just by reading this book. The final "notes on reporting" pages somewhat saved the author, but by then, the damage had already been done. It was enough for me to take a star off my rating.

Still, if you're fan of books like Into The Wild or have a longing to escape society, I recommend this book.

Many thanks to my penpal from Maine for gifting me this book.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,534 reviews9,931 followers
June 26, 2017
Wow! This book . . . I couldn't even put it down!

This is the story about Christopher Thomas Knight who at 20 years old, walked into the woods and ever came out until he was caught at 47 years old. He lived in the Maine woods for all of those years in bad weather and in good weather. The only thing he did wrong was burgle cabins and Pine Tree which was a place for people with disabilities. He took any kind of food to survive, watches, books, propane tanks, etc. And when he was caught he confessed right away about these things and said he was sorry for it. He had 1000 burglaries over the course of his life. All he wanted was to live alone in the woods and survive. He never hurt anyone and he never damaged anything.

The author, Michael Finkel met Christopher while he was in jail. He wouldn't talk very much. When he did open up I found that so many things he said opened my eyes even more to the world we live in and how being quiet in nature is more important than even writing this review. Too many things take over our lives and I would like to start simplifying more things then I already do. (which is going to take about 6 years!)

Christopher didn't ever get a cold or any major issues accept for his teeth from a lot of the sugar he ate because when you live like that and you take what you can get. He was wearing the same glasses he was wearing at age 20, he was losing his sight but they fixed him up with some new glasses when he got caught.

Chris knew the woods, his hearing became fine tuned to every little sound, even the minute ones. He never left any tracks. When he left his camp, he stepped in the same places that he had stepped in for years. The police were amazed about that while watching him when they followed him back to his camp.

I'm just amazed at this book. I wish he didn't have to do all of the burglaries but I think he should have been left alone and there are a lot of people that feel the same.

If I had a cabin in that area I would have left him out some food, mostly right before winter. A big lot that he could have over the course of the winter to survive so he wouldn't have to go and get so much stuff to make sure he stayed alive. He wasn't a free loader just because he stole food to survive in the woods. Seriously, I know some free loaders that just don't want to work and live off someone else. My cousin, she has one of those. I think if he could have had the nice part of the community to leave him some food and let him be alone in the woods that would have been a nice thing. He just wanted to be in the woods. He didn't want to sit in his house and watch tv or drink or do drugs, things free loaders do. He just wanted to sit with nature, listen to the odd pbs broadcast on his radio and read books. I didn't think it was right to bring him back, make him live with his family and work with his brother. The quiet was gone and he wanted to kill himself. I don't know what ever happened with that or how he is doing now. I really hope he finds a way to get back to his nature in some way. I thought while reading the book that maybe he could go out and live in the woods close to his family where he would have some quiet and his nature. I don't know. But he was always good and did what the police said and did his community service without any trouble. He never caused any trouble or denied anything when he was caught.

Once again this book was so very good. I'm going to have to get my own copy since this was a library book. It was my own type of feel good book with some of the little things Chris said.

I'm going to leave a few pictures below that came from the author's website taken from him and the Maine Police. There are more but you can go look yourself.

And I will leave an excerpt or two.

Another decade elapsed. The break-ins at Pine Tree increased with both frequency and quantity of goods stolen. By this point, a quarter century in, the whole thing was absurd. There was the Loch Ness Monster, the Himalayan yeti, and the North Pond hermit.

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 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. Observing the trees was indolent; cutting them down was enterprising. What did Knight do for a living? He lived for a living.

His mushroom friend that he watched grow from a baby. He was worried the police might have accidentally killed it, but the author went out and it was still there =]

Little North Pond above.

The woods he traveled.

I hope others get a chance to read this book this wonderful book!

MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,604 reviews5,983 followers
April 27, 2018
*looks around at high ratings on Goodreads*

*Decides to still review this stinking ass book*

Okay, so when I first starting reading this book I actually liked it.

It tells the story of a shy man who just decides to leave civilization one day and head off into the woods. He lived completely by himself and survived by robbing a neighboring camp and cabins. For twenty seven years.

I find that part just fascinating. Christopher Knight didn't announce any reason for his departure he just went. We probably would be okay with never knowing anything else.
I admit to being curious about his everyday life and exactly how he survived the brutal Maine winters...because I'm a nosey bitch. I don't really like a whole lot of people either so I could totally see the wanting to be away from them. Probably not that long of a time period but still.

Now...before you get your panties all in a snitch about my rating. I DID think this book was very readable...I finished the thing in almost one day and that is unheard of for me lately.

Why? Christopher Knight did NOT seem to ever really want to be 'interviewed' by Michael Finkel. He actually did not want to see him. So what does Finkel do? He flies from Montana to Maine SEVERAL times to see him.

The last part of this book had my stomach kinda twitchy..and IT TAKES A WHOLE LOT TO TWITCHY ME! The author admits after Knight finally leaves jail he flies out to see him and his family tells him NO several times. Does that stop him? Freaking hell no. He shows up at the dude's mom's house with a freaking pie and plant branch. (I think lilac but I had stopped caring by this point) Is that the same kinda thing as showing up at a reviewer's house? Both seem kinda over the top to me..

I am giving this stupid ass book 1.5 stars because I admit to being creepy enough that I at FIRST wanted details about this poor man's life. After reading how the details were gotten I just feel freaking dirty and wish that the man had just been left alone.
I'm ashamed I read it. I'm not ashamed to review it badly. Sometimes I do feel bad for giving a book a low review because I know reader's tastes are different. This one just pisses me off. I feel like this author just wanted to make a buck off this poor man and I'm pissed off about it. He can kiss my fat butt.

Booksource: I got this sucker at the library. Thank gods for libraries because I'd want my money back for this one and I HAVE never asked for my money back on a book.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,075 reviews59k followers
April 1, 2017
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel is a 2017 Knopf publication.

Is it fact or fiction?

I don’t suppose this story ever showed up on my Newsfeed here in Texas, or if it did, it didn’t register with me at the time. But, I will say, that as an extreme introvert, I am no longer concerned about my tendency to avoid social gatherings, because Christopher Knight’s case makes me feel like a social butterfly by comparison.

Christopher Knight when ‘off grid’ shortly after graduating from high school and spent the next twenty-seven years of his life living in the woods in rural Maine. To survive, he rummaged through summer cabins, uninhabited camp sites and such, and stole food, radios, batteries, and all manner of other items to live on. He soon earned the moniker of ‘The North Pond Hermit’ and was highly sought after by the police.

One day, while rummaging through an off season camp site, his luck ran out and he was arrested. This is when Finkel became involved in starting up a correspondence with Christopher, that led to the writing of this book, and if I’m not mistaken a documentary as well.

This story is fascinating, due in part, to how Christopher managed to survive those brutal Maine winters out in the woods. But, he was far more brilliant than I would have imagined. He’s smart, very smart, but he just didn’t want to live around people. If he had done it the right way, without stealing from people, it really would have been much more remarkable, and he would still be out there living the life he prefers.

It is hard for people to understand someone like Christopher. I can relate to him in many ways, but certainly have no desire for that extreme manner of solitude. Yet, someone who shuns society, who is different from the norm must be psychoanalyzed the nth degree and it was suggested to the reader that Christopher may have some symptoms of Asperger’s or maybe even schizophrenic tendencies.

Christopher’s childhood can account for some of his behavior, I would think, since he was raised in a rather isolated environment. Christopher knew how to survive without constant companionship and apparently had no real need of it.

The one thing the book really takes a hard look at, is why? Why would someone deliberately choose to do what Christopher did? There are various reasons people become ‘hermits’ and it’s not as uncommon as you might think. Yet, in Christopher’s case, he doesn’t fall into any of the usual categories and offers no real answers to this all consuming question.

The saddest thing about this story is that Christopher was forced back into society, and is obviously miserable. Yet, he was a thief and he frightened people, and a crime is a crime, even if no one was physically harmed. So, he had to pay his debt to society.

This is certainly an interesting story, and it’s hard to believe all of it is true, but truth, as you know, can be stranger than fiction. It’s an amazing story of survival, and a riveting character study, and an overall fantastical, incredible true story. While some people doubt aspects of Knight’s story, and I’m one of those people who remains skeptical at all times, no matter what, but there is enough physical evidence to back up the story so, I see no reason to doubt him, at this time…

*note: Finkel did commit the ultimate journalism faux pas by falsifying reports on child labor in Africa, at one time.

I don’t know how I feel about Christopher. I think people should live their lives as they see fit, and if he wants to live out in the woods all alone, I suppose that’s his prerogative. However, he should not have broken the law or rationalized his crimes in order to maintain his chosen lifestyle. While I do feel his discomfort and even understand it to some extent, I hope he can make peace with his life now and will become a productive citizen using the obvious gifts he was born with. I do wish him the best.

4 stars

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews585 followers
June 6, 2017
Christopher Knight is possibly the most solitary known person in history.
Capturing Knight after 27 years..... known as the "North Pond Hermit" was like "netting a giant squid".
When captured he was wearing a pair of LandsEnd jeans - size 38 - with a brown belt:
Stollen goods!

Knight's story continued to be equally as fascinating after he was captured as much as
why Knight chose a reclusive life in the woods of Maine in the first place.

There are the details about how Christopher Knight survived: the many-many-MANY break-ins ......stealing food, supplies, books, etc. ......surviving the elements of the seasons... LIVING IN A WORLD WITHOUT WALLS......for *27 years*.....surviving psychologically... sometimes meditating and living as a hermit-criminal. ( I would have given him food - clothes - flashlights - batteries - and books too)....

There is this fascinating 'cliffhanger- of -stories'....that happened once Knight was captured. Journalist from all over the world we're trying to get hold of Christopher Knight's story.
Letters, phone calls, and visitors we're pouring into the jail. A woman offered to marry him. He was offered money, cleaning services, donations of all kinds. Knight didn't accept ANY of the gifts!!!
Every TV network wanted their hands on the story. Five songs were written about Christopher Knight.
People were curious. People wanted to help. People wanted to learn from Christopher Knight. Was he an explorer of life? And if so... what words of wisdom could he pass on? Or was he just crazy?

..........I'd have to had been a 'hermit', not to.
"The Stranger In The Woods", WAS SOOO MUCH MORE POWERFUL TO LISTEN TO MYSELF....... than everything I had previous read about it. In fact, I read tons of reviews ways back when this book first came out --/as I never thought I was going to read the book. I felt I 'got' the story. What else did I need?

I was expecting to be semi-critical. I 'mostly' belong with the believers that we should LEAVE THIS MAN ALONE....."he shouldn't have to talk if he doesn't want to". -- but I think what was created with this book 'is' a contribution to MANY PEOPLE INCLUDING
Christopher Knight.

Knight was shy about most things - except literature and history. He would talk about books he read.
I had heard that the author was a jerk - from a few readers.
I don't feel this way. As I listened to this audiobook--my respect for author, Michael Finkel elevated. Finkel gave us ( the reader) background information---historically- about other 'hermits' which added a great context to Christopher Knight's story. We see from past history - monks - and other spiritual 'hermit's who found inner peace and wisdom. Hermits are a PRIMAL HUMAN INTEREST STORY!! I DID UNDERSTAND WHY FINKEL WANTED TO INTERVIEW KNIGHT. I ALSO FELT FINKEL WAS TENDER - COMPASSIONATE - and RESPECTFUL OF KNIGHT!!

I found it very sweet when after Michael Finkel wrote Knight a hand written letter -- a man close in age as Knight - who also loved to spend long periods of time alone with himself. (Enjoyed camping and reading - alone).....
Knight wrote Finkel back and said, "it was very sweet that you wrote me a personal note".
Point is. .. THE LONGER I LISTENED ... I came to believe that Knight and Finkel developed a 'lovely' friendship of equal respect.

I'm glad I read it....It gave me a bigger picture than I had previous thought. Whatever I 'thought' I knew about this story 'before' .....didn't come close to the magnitude of the actual facts.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,127 followers
January 22, 2020
What an amazing true story! For a random audible pick this was quite a remarkable tale of one man’s decision to quit life, disappear and live as a hermit for 27 years.
Christopher Knight was only 20 years old when he decided to vanish from society without leaving any notes or indication that he was doing so with friends or family. He had been working for less than a year installing home and vehicle alarm systems near Boston, Massachusetts, until one day with any prior planning he abandoned his car on the edge of a forest and walked about and wasn't seen for 27 years until his arrest for burglary.

For me the essence of this story wasn't why but how does someone survive for 27 years in the Maine Forest through harsh weather condition and never communicating for 27 years, I can barely remain quiet for 27 minutes let alone 27 years.

The book is well written, fast paced and entertaining and yet I kind of felt by the end that I was intruding on his privacy in reading it as this man had chosen to live his life as a hermit and here was a book detailing his life and exposing him to the world and yet another side of me felt he had invaded people’s homes and privacy for years in stealing from their cabins and lives in the forest so what is good for the goose is good for the gander I suppose as I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to own a cabin in the forest and endure the constant break ins over the years without the perpetrator being caught.

An entertaining and well researched story. I listened to this on audible and the narrator was excellent.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,777 reviews14.2k followers
March 4, 2017
At the age of twenty, Christopher Knight, leaves his large though taciturn family, his job, and society as a whole and disappears into the Maine woods. He will live within a short distance from others but make no personal contact, will steal what he needs from cabins left empty from the winter or weekend and survive totally on his own. When he is caught, never having physically harmed anyone, he will not have spoken to another human being for 27 years.

I have never read anything like this, cannot even imagine for a minute this appealing to many, but for this young man it was a total life of freedom. This is not a book on nature, though of course it is mentioned and Christopher relished nature in all its many forms. It is a book of quiet and solitude and a different way of finding joy in living one's life the way one wants to or maybe even needs is the better word choice. It is astonishing and makes one reflect on the things we value, take for granted.

Can you imagine not speaking for 27 years? We have a new salt room in my town. I asked my daughter if she would care to go and her response was, An hour is a long time not to talk, I don't think I could be quiet that long." How many of us are ever quiet for any length of time and yet for Christopher this was the life he preferred.

The author hears about the story and contacts him in jail, surprised when he shows up at the prison and Christopher agrees to see him. Regardless of how one feels about how the author got this story, one can tell he was much impressed and later very concerned about this now 47 year old Man's future. Where does he go from here? How does he reintegrate into a society where time has passed him by? This is his story, read it, I promise it will be a unique experience.

ARC from publisher.
Published March 7th by Knopf publishing.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,717 followers
May 24, 2017
This book was so fascinating and engrossing that I had to give it five stars.

The Stranger in the Woods is the unbelievable-but-true story of Christopher Knight, who in 1986 decided to go into the Maine woods and live alone in the forest. He wasn't discovered until 2013, when he was caught stealing food from nearby cabins. In those nearly three decades, Knight lived outdoors in a tent, never once sleeping in a building. (This is an astounding feat considering how cold Maine gets in winter.) He devised an ingenious campsite that was hidden behind boulders and surrounded by dense trees. His only real problem was food, and he frequently had to steal supplies to stay alive.

"It's better to be tough than strong, better to be clever than intelligent ... I was tough and clever." — Christopher Knight

Michael Finkel heard about Knight's story on the news and was intrigued enough to send him a letter. At this point Knight was being held in jail for his burglaries, and after some correspondence, Finkel flew to Maine to meet him. It was difficult getting Knight to open up, but eventually he shared stories of his time in the woods, and some reasons why he felt the need to escape society.

While reading, I was reminded of another beloved book, Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. It's a similarly fascinating story about a young man, Christopher McCandless, who felt the need to escape into nature, although McCandless ended up dying alone in Alaska. What Finkel was able to do in The Stranger in the Woods is to get a modern-day hermit to talk about his reasons for wanting solitude in nature and for isolating himself from other humans. The insights into Knight's behavior were interesting and thought-provoking.

"All his life, he'd been comfortable being alone. Interacting with others was so often frustrating. Every meeting with another person seemed like a collision."

Besides conversations with Knight, I liked that Finkel included examples of other hermits throughout history, and also some relevant research from psychologists and sociologists. There are also great literary references throughout the book, since Knight liked to read so much. I would highly recommend The Stranger in the Woods to everyone.

Favorite Quotes
"In many cultures hermits have long been considered founts of wisdom, explorers of life's great mysteries. In others they're seen as cursed by the devil. What did Knight wish to tell us? What secrets had he uncovered? Or was he just crazy?"

"Two of life's greatest pleasures, by my reckoning, are camping and reading — most gloriously, both at once."

"Knight 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."

"His chief form of entertainment was reading ... 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."

"I have no desire to travel. I read. That's my form of travel."

"Modern life seems set up so that we can avoid loneliness at all costs, but maybe it's worthwhile to face it occasionally. The further we push aloneness away, the less we are able to cope with it, and the more terrifying it gets. Some philosophers believe that loneliness is the only true feeling there is ... We live locked in our own heads and can never entirely know the experience of another person. Even if we're surrounded by family and friends, we journey into death completely alone."
Profile Image for Caro (Bookaria).
618 reviews20.4k followers
May 27, 2018
Excellent account of somebody's choice to live isolated from society.

The irony is that although the “hermit” (Christopher Knight) despised the idea of being part of a community he still was completely dependent on society for food and supplies and resorted to regularly stealing these items in order to survive. I listened to the audiobook which had a great narrator.

Overall, I loved the book and highly recommend it.

EDIT: I want to share one of my favorite quotes from this book...
“People earnestly say to me here, 'Mr Knight, we have cellphones now, and you're going to really enjoy them.' That's their enticement for me to rejoin society. 'You're going to love it,' they say. I have no desire. And what about a text message? Isn't that just using a telephone as a telegraph? We're going backwards.”

― Michael Finkel, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit”
Profile Image for Idarah.
464 reviews52 followers
August 15, 2023
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"Silence, it appears, is not the opposite of sound. It is another world altogether, literally offering a deeper level of thought, a journey to the bedrock of the self."

Can you think of a time when you isolated yourself for some quiet time? No communication with the outside world or other beings? I can remember a time in my mid twenties when my routine was as follows: after work on Fridays, I would turn off my phone, head to the grocery store for some weekend staples, pick up my holds from the library, and make one final stop at the mailbox for my bundle of three Netflix films. Thereafter, I would shut myself in at home with awesome reading material, my dogs, and some classic movies (usually long epics that would slowly smolder over the weekend). I craved this quiet time away from people, even on social media, which to this day I find grating. Work and social interactions just depleted me during the week, and I found these weekends restorative at a very hard time of my life. It was about this time that I read Into the Wild, and it moved me to my core. I am an introvert, but that doens't mean that I don't enjoy people and socializing. However, at my core, I am most content when on my own with my animals. It warms my heart when I read about others who are similar.

When I heard about this book and Knight's quarter century lived out of doors, alone but surrounded by people, I knew I had to read it! I was not disappointed at all, because I could understand what he was seeking, albeit his solace at times put him in great danger of losing his life.

"The dividing line between himself and the forest, Knight said, seemed to dissolve. His isolation felt more like a communion. 'My desires dropped away. I didn’t long for anything. I didn’t even have a name. To put it romantically, I was completely free'...This loss of self was precisely what Knight experienced in the forest. In public, one always wears a social mask, a presentation to the world. Even when you’re alone and look in a mirror, you’re acting, which is one reason Knight never kept a mirror in his camp. He let go of all artifice; he became no one and everyone."

This was a fantastic read! I wish it hadn't ended so abruptly. I was hopeful but a little sad, too. The afterword and acknowledgment pages provided a lot of supplemental reading material on solitude and other hermits that I'll definitely be looking into.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,150 reviews56 followers
January 31, 2021
Interesting and thought provoking story. While you may go into this thinking the hermit has issues, you will come out of it thinking the author also has issues. I’m glad I read it and would recommend it just for the thought provoking content.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,390 reviews4,905 followers
December 16, 2021

3.5 stars

This is the story of Christopher Thomas Knight, also known as 'The North Pond Hermit', who lived in the Maine woods, without human interaction, for 27 years - from 1986 until 2013.

Christopher Thomas Knight


Christopher Thomas Knight grew up in in the small town of Albion, Maine with his parents and five siblings. The Knight family - which was exceptionally clever, capable and self-sufficient - kept to itself, rarely interacting with neighbors or other townsfolk. This may have factored into Christopher's decision to isolate himself from all human contact when he was a young adult.

Christopher Thomas Knight as a young man

Knight appears to have had a relatively normal childhood, during which he attended school and even had some friends. After graduating from high school, Knight got his own place and briefly worked for a security company. Knight left the job unexpectedly - without even returning his tools - and embarked on a road trip, driving all the way to Florida. Then, in 1986 - when he was 20-years-old - Knight returned to Maine, abandoned his vehicle, and hiked into the woods - where he proceeded to make his home.

Knight carefully avoided human contact while he looked for a spot to establish his campsite - a place that wouldn't be found by hikers or hunters, and which couldn't be seen from above. After trying out a half-dozen locales, Knight finally found the perfect site - a boulder-shrouded clearing near North Pond in central Maine. Knight proceeded to make this his residence, and lived there - isolated and alone - for the next 27 years. Knight didn't even contact his parents, who - he later speculated - thought he was 'off on an adventure.'

Needing supplies, Knight repeatedly broke into cabins around North Pond. Knight was a master thief, using his knowledge of security devices to good purpose. Knight never took expensive items, but stole 'necessities' like: food, candy, clothing, tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, blankets, propane tanks, flashlights, batteries, toiletries, watches, books, Playboy magazines, radios, electronic games, bug spray, small amounts of cash (in case he ever needed to go to a store), and so on.

The thief, whose identify was unknown, became known as 'The North Pond Hermit' - and people in the area grew increasingly frightened, angry, and frustrated as the vandalism went on week after week.....month after month.....and year after year. Surveillance equipment was installed in some cabins, and in a summer camp that was one of Knight's favorite targets, but the hermit was too wily to be caught. Finally, monitoring devices became too sophisticated for Knight to evade, and he was apprehended in 2013 - at the age of forty-seven.

Surveillance camera photo of Knight

Knight's picture caught in a surveillance photo during a burglary

A hermitic existence in the woods wasn't easy, but Knight perfected his routine over the years. The recluse took sponge baths, brushed his teeth regularly, and - though he never had a mirror - shaved and trimmed his hair. Knight washed his clothes, and - when his tent and bedding got moldy - changed them out for new (stolen) ones.

The hermit kept his food in waterproof containers, ate easily spoiled items first, and always buried his trash. This cornucopia of garbage - when unearthed by police after Knight was arrested - provides a fascinating picture of his 'menu.'

Fearing discovery, Knight NEVER lit a fire - even in the frigid Maine winters. That he didn't freeze to death - or even get frostbite - is almost unbelievable (to me). I get cold fingers and toes just thinking about it. Brrrrr!

The author of this book - journalist Michael Finkel - wrote to Knight in jail, while the hermit was awaiting trial for more than 1000 robberies.

Author Michael Finkel

Knight never became 'friendly' with Finkel, but acquiesed enough to exchange several letters and allow a few visits....all of which provided Finkel with material for this book.

Knight grew a beard in jail, while awaiting trial

Knight being escorted by police

Finkel describes Knight's forest adventures in great detail, and tries to comprehend the reasons for the recluse's behavior. This is a tough call, since Knight himself can't explain why he went into hiding.

To try to understand Knight, Finkel researched - and writes about - hermits throughout history. The writer describes their philosophy, religion, behavior, means of survival, etc. Finkel also interviewed many psychologists, and includes their observations in the book. Finally, Finkel speculates that Knight may be on the autism spectrum, though this doesn't really explain his desire (or perhaps need) for extreme solitude.

Once Knight was arrested, he had to endure jail, interviews with police, and interactions with lawyers - all of which was very difficult for him.

Knight with his lawyer in court

Eventually, the hermit was compelled to return to his family, get a job, and conduct himself like an average person....which almost drove him to suicide.

This is an interesting book about an unusual person, and would be a good primer for an outdoorswoman (or man) who likes to camp out. The book doesn't, however, provide any 'universal truths' about anything.

Still, it's a fascinating story, well worth reading.

Photos of Knight's campsite in Maine

Maine hermit: Christopher Knight's makeshift camp
Maine hermit: Christopher Knight's makeshift camp

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Jessaka.
901 reviews136 followers
April 30, 2022
“There are no trails. Navigation, for nearly everyone, is a thrashing, branching snappy ordeal, and at dark the place seems impenetrable. This is when the hermit moves. He waits until midnight. Shoulders his backpack and his bag of break-in tools, and sets out from camp. A penlight is clipped to a chain around his neck, but he doesn’t need it yet. Every step is memorized.

He threads through the forest with precision and grace, twisting, striding, hardly a twig broken. On the ground there are still mounds of snow, sun cupped and dirty, and slicks of mud—springtime, central Maine---but he avoids all of it. He bounds from rock to root to rock without a boot print left behind.”

Christopher Knight lived by stealing, but he was not proud of this; this isn’t how he was raised. When he was caught he was asked to show the officer his camp, and the officer said of him, “Every step was calculated, every movement. He clearly took the same steps all the time, year after year, decade after decade…while Knight was walking, he entered this fugue-like state... The trance was so strong that Knight didn’t respond when I tried to ask him a question."

This book was just so beautiful, such a meaningful and interesting life that Christopher Knight had lived in those woods, and how I wish that it hadn’t ended for him by placing him once again in a society in which he couldn’t adjust, but if he hadn’t been caught we would never have gotten to know him.

At age 20 Christopher Knight entered into the woods for 27 years. It wasn’t really a calculated decision, it just happened. And it was there that he found some peace, except for the times that he had to go into the village to get food or other items, all stolen quietly in the night, for it was then that he felt the guilt of stealing and the fear of getting caught. 27 years.

He was never lonely and said, “Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant.” The dividing line between himself and the forest, Knight said, seemed to dissolve. His isolation felt more like a communion. “My desires dropped away. I didn’t long for anything. I didn’t even have a name. To put it romantically, I was completely free.”

So this book isn’t just about how Knight survived, it is about how he developed a philosophy over time, how being alone changed him deep within, and by the end it was also a story about how he could not cope with living in society again. He shared as much as he could with the author, Michael Finkel, when he visited with him in jail. He visited him once again after he was released from jail, and Knight confessed that he wanted to commit suicide, just walk into the woods some winter and wait. I felt his pain, and I felt anger over his being caught, and then I felt the pain of the author as he tried to continue to communicate with him again and was told, Leave me alone.

Finkel was actually closer to Knight than anyone else was or may ever be, but I hope the latter doesn’t prove to be true. The author cared deeply about Knight and still does. He was privileged, and I hope that he realizes this, and we, too, are privileged for being introduced to Christopher Knight and to the lessons that he has left us in regards to life.

And I must say, anyone who has cried over the Civil War letter written by Sullivan Ballou, as Knight had, is really in touch with his feelings and can really connect to another human being, because he connected here and in a big way. And I am sad that this book ended.

Here is one of Knight’s lessons:

“He was never once bored. He wasn’t sure, he said, that he even understood the concept of boredom. It applied only to people who felt they had to be doing something all the time, which from what he’d observed was most people. Hermits of ancient China had understood that wu wei, “non-doing,” was an essential part of life, and Knight believes there isn’t nearly enough nothing in the world anymore.”
Profile Image for Ammar.
451 reviews215 followers
March 11, 2018
Michael Finkel's The Stranger in the Woods is the mesmerizing account of Christopher Knight's disappearance into Maine's forests for 27 years. For reasons Knight himself never fully articulates, he abandoned civilization for a hermit's life in his early twenties. Knight made his home in a small camp encircled by concealing boulders and dense flora just three minutes (by foot) from a nearby cabin. Developing into a master thief, he survived by stealing from the cabins and camps in the area -- though never from his unwitting host's home. His ability to survive unmolested for so long at the edge of civilization in such a hostile climate testifies to his amazing abilities and perseverance.

Finkel is a capable and captivating writer whose efforts here were hamstrung by Knight's recalcitrance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Knight proved a reluctant, taciturn participant in the author's effort to memorialize his amazing story of survival. That Knight willingly met and corresponded with the writer as much as he did proved amazing. But Knight provided Finkel with few direct insights into what his decades in the woods taught him, and doubtless had many adventures he will never share with anyone.

Despite Christopher Knight's limited cooperation, Michael Finkel presents a masterful portrait of the recluse, offering fascinating perspectives and theories on the life and motivations of this modern-day hermit. Writing a book about such a reluctant subject takes rare skill, perceptiveness, and patience. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Kiekiat.
69 reviews126 followers
January 30, 2020
Warning: Contains some spoilers, though if you've read other reviews, you'll find no surprises in mine.

This is a difficult book to review. At first I gave it two stars, then went back and changed it to three. I did so because the book is well-written and covers an interesting subject. This is borne out by the fact that there are 34,000+ ratings and 4500+ reviews. Humans are generally fascinated by stories about people living outside the parameters of "normal" society. Certainly the true tale of a modern-day hermit living an isolated life in the woods of Central Maine for 27 years and obtaining his food via a thousand break-ins into cabins nearby his wooded hermitage sparks interest. Christopher Knight lived this hermetic life from 1985 to 2013, when he was finally apprehended in the act of burglarizing a camp.

The reason I had given the book only two stars, at first, was due to my irritation with the author. He comes across in the book as intrusive and also a bit pathetic in his continued attempts to extract more info from Mr. Knight, despite the hermit's obvious desire for him to go away. During one unannounced visit, e.g., he asks Knight if he can have a handshake. Except for concluding a business deal, asking a man for a handshake is akin to asking a girl for a kiss. If you have to ask, you probably don't deserve one--and indeed Knight refused to shake his hand. The author, likewise, made a great many unannounced visits to Mr. Knight and this reached the point where, on the one occasion when he did write to say he was coming, Knight wrote and expressly told him NOT to come and threatened to call the police if he showed up. The author got all sorts of signs that he was unwelcome. Knight's family had all refused to talk to him and Knight was never portrayed as eager to meet with the author when he made his visits to see him in jail. The author seems to interpret Mr. Knight's willingness to talk to him as a sign he had made some sort of breakthrough and penetrated the hard shell of silence that Knight lived in for 27 years.

I'm guessing the author has never spent many nights in jail. Jail is boring, nerve-wracking and noisy, and must have been a horrendous experience for someone of Mr. Knight's sensibilities. It is not surprising to me that he would want to leave the confines of his cramped jail cell to meet a journalist, if for no other reason than as a break from the din and ennui. In fairness to the author, before his jail visits he had wooed (perhaps ingratiated is the better word?) the hermit with books and correspondence and had built a sort of tenuous connection with him. I think, though, that after his jail interviews, attending Knight's trial and talking to his secondary sources, he should have left well-enough alone and taken the hint that he had worn out his welcome.

This book could have easily been condensed into a "New Yorker" or "Longreads" story. I agree with some other reviewers that it was padded with information about hermits and speculation about Mr. Knight's mental health diagnosis. Some of this information was interesting, but read like it had been included more for the purposes of lengthening the book, which was a scant 191 pages, rather than as adding information germane to the story.

Many times while reading the book I felt sad and had a lot of sympathy for the hermit, Christopher Knight. America is not an easy place for an outlier to find a place to live undisturbed and also find a way to survive. I am reminded of the Charles Bukowski quote, "When you're on the row (skid row), you realize that everything is owned." Still, there are actually many hermits and semi-hermits existing here. There were many in the woods of Southern Oregon where I used to live. Most had some contact with the rest of the world, as they had to have some means to survive. Many would craft furniture from scrap wood and sell it at the local Saturday farmer's market. Others hunted mushrooms--the kind that will get you put in jail if the law catches you with them. There were also "barter fairs" there, where like-minded isolates could come together and trade for what they needed.

In some ways, I viewed the life of Mr. Knight as both a bold example of self-sustained living and, at the same time, a tragedy. A tragedy that resulted from the strictures of our society, coupled with the fact that Christopher Knight was only twenty when he took the impulsive step of driving his late-model Subaru from his home in Massachusetts to far Northern Maine. He abandoned the car in the woods, a car one of his brother's had co-signed for and ended up having to pay off, and headed south on foot toward his home country in Central Maine. It was an ill-thought-out and impetuous act by a man too young to have considered doing any serious research about how one could have lived a solitary life here in America without resorting to a life of criminality. In 1985, at the time of his disappearance, America was less regulated and restrictive than it is in 2019. Finding a way to live a hermit life would have been possible, though admittedly difficult. It would have probably involved some compromises, but less damaging ones than burglarizing other peoples' summer cabins and a camp for disabled children. There was no Hermitary.com, in those days, where a person could have gone online and perhaps gleaned hermit advice from several of the thousand or so members of this interesting "community" of isolates.

I concur with Petra's assertion that the book was not adequately fleshed out. Reading it, one gets the feeling a LOT is missing. Perhaps this is because the author was denied access by the family and his subject was a grudging participant not naturally given to pouring out his soul, even to close relatives, much less a stranger. It would have been curious to know how Knight's parents and siblings dealt with his disappearance. We will never know because his family was not forthcoming, nor was Wright's "lady friend," a lady a couple years his senior who attended the same high school and asked permission to visit him in the jail so she could proselytize her Christian beliefs. Knight apparently let her visit and maintained contact after his incarceration because she was a person who wanted nothing from him, or at least nothing he was unwilling to give. One would think after so many people refusing to talk that the author would realize he was being shut out and leave them the hell alone. Instead, he flies to Maine, stops to buy lilacs and an apple pie for Knight's mother, a woman he has never met, and proceeds uninvited to the Knight home.

I am not so surprised as some reviewers that the family did not report Knight's vanishing to the police. This was a private family and people can be strange. I know this firsthand from working many years in a profession interacting with strange people who sometimes behaved in bizarre ways. Once you've interviewed thousands of unusual people, you realize the odd behavior of some humans, such as Knight's family, does not have to make sense.

I recommend the book as a mildly interesting plane or beach read. If you're looking for any deep insights into why people choose the hermit life, I'd look elsewhere.
Profile Image for F.
294 reviews251 followers
August 4, 2019
I was sent this book from Goodreads.

I really enjoyed this book. More than I thought I would.
Really interesting.
Profile Image for Brandice.
909 reviews
July 19, 2020
This story is Fascinating! I truly enjoy my fair share of alone time and being independent - I’m just fine with silence, but could not fathom doing it for 27 years, alone, in the woods, with no technology and barely encountering just 3 people in that time period. Christopher Knight took hermitting to the extreme. The Stranger in the Woods shares his story.

Knight walked into the woods in Maine one day as a 20 year old, and didn’t leave until he was caught stealing food from a camp site, 27 years later. He survived by stealing from cabins - food, propane tanks, gameboys & books (for amusement, naturally), and other items, creating his own “home”. He never lit a fire, even in extreme brutal winter conditions, as the smoke could have attracted unwanted visitors. He had little desire to seek happiness in the modern world so, he just walked away.

It’s extremely odd to me that his family did not seek assistance in finding him, or search themselves. Knight was not residing far away from his parents home where he grew up. To not inquire about the what, where, how and why of a missing 20 year old son raises a red flag, to me. This book tells the story indicating his family just accepted him as “gone”, some assumed he was dead, and let it be. Not all families are the same of course, but this is one aspect of the story I found truly baffling - The lack of pursuing the result, to find out either way.

As I read the book, I felt Finkel, the author, became increasingly aggressive or at least too persistent in his pursuit of Knight. While I’m glad he wrote the book, because as stated above, it’s a fascinating story, I thought to myself, “Ah, really?! Why is he going to Maine again when Knight told him he wants to be left alone?” At a few points, the way some things were phrased, I felt Finkel was working really hard to find commonalities with Knight, his subject for the story. Sure, this may be a journalism tactic but when done well, not always so obvious. I didn’t love this aspect of the book, which I didn’t truly feel until the final third of the book, but it wasn’t enough to detract from my enjoyment of The Stranger in the Woods as a whole.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews133 followers
August 10, 2018
"Modern life seems set up so that we can avoid loneliness at all cost; but maybe it's worthwhile
to face it occasionally... some philosophers believe that loneliness is the only true feeling
there is."

This incredible book, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit written by Michael Finkel, poses some thought-provoking questions... questions which really have no definitive answers. This book tells the story of Christopher Knight who became known as the 'North Pond Hermit'. In 1986, just a couple of years after graduating from high school, Chris Knight left his young life behind and entered the Maine woods where he would live in complete solitude until his arrest nearly three decades later for stealing food form the Pine Tree Camp for disabled children. Chris Knight spent those years living in a tent he had cleverly modified with odds and ends he had stolen from empty cabins. These empty cabins were also the source of his food, clothing, batteries, propane tanks and even books. It was only through the diligence of a particular ranger with the Maine Forest Service that he was ultimately captured at Pine Tree Camp.

Although I had not heard of Chris Knight's story prior to reading this book, it apparently had captured the attention and imagination of numerous journalists... one in particular was the author of this book, Michael Finkel. Mr. Finkel sent a letter to Chris Knight in jail and to his surprise, Chris Knight wrote him a letter in return. The two corresponded through 8 letters and cards and eventually, Mr. Finkel made trips to the jail in Maine where Chris Knight reluctantly met with him a total of 9 times. This book is a result of that correspondence and those jailhouse visits.

From the conversations between Mr. Finkel and Chris Knight, it was clear that Chris Knight is an intelligent and articulate man; but it is also clear that he was experiencing a great deal of difficulty in trying to assimilate first into his life in jail and later, he would experience the same struggles at his family's home. Chris Knight related to Mr. Finkel that he did not like to be touched in any way. He also could not maintain eye contact.. preferring to carry on conversations while looking at a point over Mr. Finkel's shoulder saying... "I'm not used to seeing people's faces. There's too much information."

Michael Finkel had had an interest in the idea of solitude and the lives of hermits throughout history. He believed that people throughout history who had endeavored to live such a lifestyle had discoveries and knowledge to share with the rest of the world. If he was hoping to receive such knowledge from Chris Knight, however, I can't help but believe he must have felt somewhat disappointed. If Chris Knight had made any discoveries or had come to any conclusions about life or in particular, about a life in solitude, he either could not or would not articulate that wisdom. Although He spent every day for nearly 30 years reading or simply sitting in silence and observing the world around him, he had no real wisdom to share.... except that the life he had been living was the life he had truly wanted for himself. In fact, it had been his intention to spend the rest of his life in his self-created solitude. He found life among society unbearably painful.... and that was difficult to read.

Was Chris Knight a 'true' hermit? Opinions seem to be split on this. Some people feel he is not a true hermit because he obtained what was necessary to live by stealing from others. Many of the owners of the cabins he had stolen from expressed that they had lived in fear all of those years Chris Knight had been breaking into their cabins... how were they to know he would not have harmed them? I could really relate to their feelings because several years ago, my own home was broken into in the middle of the night. It took many months for me to feel safe enough to sleep through the night. Of course, there were others who felt that Chris Knight HAD been a hermit and should have been permitted to continue his life as he wished. I believe the author leaned in that direction as well. Mr. Finkel provided examples of hermits throughout the history of the world, all of whom had had community support and contact with people to obtain necessities when it had been required. He discussed early Christian hermits who had lived in caves but who still held communal gatherings; he also discussed extreme Buddhist monks who had food delivered to them. How had Chris Knight's lifestyle been different from these earlier hermits?

Why DID Chris Knight walk away from his life.. a life that had not really begun? I don't believe anyone has the answer to that question.. perhaps not even Chris Knight himself. Some psychologists speculated to the author that perhaps Chris Knight had schizoid personality disorder and some proposed that perhaps he is on the autism spectrum...but these were hypotheses posed by people who did not know and had never examined Chris Knight. It's possible no one will EVER know the reason Chris Knight chose to live in solitude.

I personally found Chris Knight to be an extremely sympathetic person. I would not want to spend years away from society but I have found that as I get older, I don't mind solitude and quiet. In fact, I very much enjoy it for small periods of time. Chris Knight's personal story was captivating but I found myself thinking about this book in broader terms.. on more of a societal level. Perhaps Chris Knight's choice to live outside of society was so fascinating was because he was engaging in the opposite of what people are socialized to do from birth. We are taught from birth how to be sociable.. how to act, how to speak, how to interpret social cues.. all so that we might fit into society. We are taught that being part of society is good for society, There are many slogans which seem to celebrate and promote people's individuality.. 'think outside the box' and 'dare to be different'.. but in reality, being different and standing out is not the message society wants people to receive. All of our socialization seems to discourage solitude. Certainly there are societal benefits to encourage social cohesion... sticking together under a shared set of mores and laws prevents chaos and lawlessness. But people hear Chris Knight's story and they are intrigued....

Viewing Chris Knight's years of solitude on a more personal level, I believe I can actually find a bit of wisdom. In these days , despite our ability to connect with people around the world through the advances in technology, people continue to describe themselves as lonely and many self-medicate with prescription drugs for depression and anxiety. I believe that the mind numbing manic chatter sometimes increases those feelings. Perhaps Chris Knight has provided some very simple knowledge we can utilize. For me.. I don't need to escape from society for decades but maybe every now and then, I can disconnect from the world and simply sit and listen... to the summer breeze which is rustling the leaves on the tree outside my window... to the sigh of my old cat as he turns himself into a more comfortable position for sleep... and the beating of my own heart in the stillness... those peaceful, soothing sounds of silence....
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,732 reviews479 followers
October 9, 2018
Christopher Knight walked into the woods of Maine and lived in isolation for 27 years. He was an introverted, intelligent twenty-year-old with a dry sense of humor. He had been brought up in a family that prided themselves on their practical skills and self-reliance, and set up a camp hidden by large boulders. But Knight had to steal food, batteries, books, and other supplies from a nearby children's camp and from vacation cabins in central Maine. He waited until the vacation homes were vacant before breaking in, but the homeowners felt frightened and tense as over 1000 burglaries occurred in the area. When he was finally caught stealing by a game warden, Knight felt deep remorse. Knight had survived brutally cold winters, extreme hunger, and terrible mosquitoes. He never got sick because he had almost no exposure to the bacteria and viruses that humans pass to each other.

Knight was evaluated by psychologists, but he did not really fit a particular diagnosis, although he exhibited some traits of autism and schizoid personality disorder. Why would someone want to be socially isolated? "One's desire to be alone, biologists have found, is partially genetic and to some degree measurable. If you have low levels of the pituitary peptide oxytocin--sometimes called the master chemical of sociability--and high quantities of the hormone vasopressin, which may suppress your need for affection, you tend to require fewer interpersonal relationships." (69)

The author, Michael Finkel, includes information from his correspondence and conversations with Knight in jail. The author and Knight shared a love of camping and reading that created enough of a bond that Knight talked to Finkel. Background information about other famous hermits in history was also interesting. But those historical figures usually had help from the church or friends who provided their food. This was an engaging story told with compassion. I found the story of Christopher Knight so fascinating that I had my head buried in the book all day. 4.5 stars.

First reading: March 2017
Second reading: October 2018 for book club
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,538 reviews12.9k followers
April 13, 2018
In 1986, 20 year-old Chris Knight walked into the Maine woods and didn’t emerge for the next 27 YEARS! He made camp at a hidden spot near a place called North Pond and survived by repeatedly burglarising the surrounding cabins, most of which were uninhabited for much of the year. Astonishingly, he wasn’t caught until 2013 and up until then had become a local legend dubbed the North Pond Hermit. Journalist Michael Finkel interviewed Knight several times while he was awaiting sentencing and the end result is The Stranger in the Woods, as near a full account of Knight’s years in the wilderness as any we’re likely to get.

This book was great! I’ve never read anything by Michael Finkel before or knew anything about Chris Knight so was pleasantly surprised on both counts – Knight’s story is absolutely fascinating and Finkel is a terrific writer.

Beginning with Knight’s fateful nocturnal raid when he is finally arrested, Finkel takes the reader on a fast-paced, yet thorough, tour of Knight’s life, from his rustic childhood with his self-sufficient, stoic farming family, to suddenly deciding, two years out of high school, that he was done with the world and randomly took to the forest.

As well as providing a clear and compelling picture of Knight’s zen-like existence over his hermit years, Finkel is careful to include the perspectives of Knight’s “victims” (I use quotation marks as his crimes were so benign; stealing Twinkies, batteries, jeans, etc.) as well as those who don’t believe he lived in the woods for so long as the Maine winters are too brutal. It makes for a well-rounded, considered overview.

Though Knight comes off as intelligent and articulate, he is, understandably for someone who chose to live as he did, a man of few words (when asked what profound insight he gained after untold hours spent alone thinking he said “Get enough sleep”) who steadfastly refused to document his experiences. And while Knight opened up to Finkel a fair bit, some aspects to his story remain unsatisfying from a narrative viewpoint, particularly regarding his motivation.

To that end Finkel includes details on historical hermits, expert opinions on Knight’s possible autism, and the tremendous benefits of being alone, all of which provide added context and possible explanations for Knight’s choices. The part where modern hermits ponder whether or not Knight was a “true” hermit was amusing as were the qualifiers - does stealing count or should he have lived off the land? Still, despite the author’s efforts, Knight remains unknowable and mysterious which seems fitting.

It’s a odd contradiction: Chris Knight’s everyday existence - made up of the usual domestic chores - was wholly unremarkable and yet it was remarkable for how he chose to do it - completely alone, in the woods, where nobody knew where he was. The story certainly lives up to the book’s subtitle - Knight’s life is certainly extraordinary!

Michael Finkel’s writing style is always clear, informative and entertaining. Combine the accessibility and compelling subject matter to the relatively low page count at just under 200 pages and you’ve got a helluva zippy read. An excellent book, fans of Jon Ronson will definitely enjoy The Stranger in the Woods.
Profile Image for da AL.
370 reviews371 followers
February 23, 2019
How would I fare in the woods for 27 years, without human contact? lolololol in my case indeed! Finkel's biography of a man who did just that is as much a thoughtful meditation on individuality, the need for solitude, and the need for contact. Audiobook performer Mark Bramhall does an excellent of raising the already great writing.
Profile Image for Char.
1,679 reviews1,549 followers
December 27, 2017
3.5/5 stars.

This book has me conflicted! I listened to it, narrated by Mark Bramhall, and he was excellent. What follows are my thoughts on this book while trying to avoid spoilers, (even though the synopsis tells a lot already). Perhaps my feelings will become more clear as I write.

What I found most fascinating was this: think about how long you've gone in your life without talking to or touching another human being. I'm talking phone calls, internet, or hugs. As the author points out in this book-most of us have gone only a matter of hours. Imagine going for 27 years.

Is a person who has a need for quiet and silence sick? Are they autistic? Are they schizophrenic? Do they have Asperger's? The author asks all of these questions-of doctors and regular people alike. I couldn't help but wonder why everyone thought something was wrong with Christopher Knight. Is it so wrong to want to avoid people, noise, news, television, and electronics? Is that abnormal? I guess 27 years with no contact does seem strange, but sick? I'm not sure about that.

A number of philosophical views were also offered as well as quotes from many different books about hermits and recluses throughout history. Views on solitary confinement are also discussed, with most agreeing that solitary is a type of torture.

Here's what bothers me most: I'm not sure I'm comfortable with what the author did to get the information for this book. While I did find this story fascinating, the hermit himself asked Mr. Finkel to leave him alone on a number of different occasions, yet he persisted-not only visiting him in jail, but also visiting him in Maine once he was released. (Christopher Knight was incarcerated for a time, due to his repeated thefts of food, books and other items.) I'm not sure if I view this as honorable or as harassment.

I can't deny, however, that I did keep listening. I loved the parts that were direct quotes from Mr. Knight, because he had such a clear view of how he saw things/nature/people. Did all of these things make sense to me? No, but they sure did cause me to rethink my views on the world and all of its noise and distractions.

I will also admit to a bit of envy when Knight spoke of one of his deep winters in the Maine wilderness when there was NO SOUND. Nothing whatsoever. No animals, no planes, no birds, no chatter, nothing at all. It's hard to imagine that.

Well, I wrote all this and I'm still conflicted. I guess I am glad that the author pursued Mr. Knight because I did find this tome to be fascinating at times. It's just that I feel Knight's wishes were disrespected and I hate the thought of that; and I hate that I took part in it by listening to this book. Which probably makes no sense at all, but there you have it.
Profile Image for Ron.
394 reviews95 followers
October 29, 2017
The extreme examples in life interest me. Those who climb mountains, strike their own path, live through tragedy, walk into the wilderness alone. This true story about Christopher Knight is like that last example. What I didn’t know before reading the book is that Chris actually lived very close to civilization, almost unbeknownst "neighbors" surrounding a small lake in Central Maine. If he had not broken into their cabins for necessities to live, they would not have guessed another lived just a stone’s throw from their summer homes.

After getting to know Chris, I didn’t want to use the word thief to describe him, but he would not argue the term. When finally caught, he freely admitted to stealing, never sought to absolve himself, and hated the fact that he had done so for so long. Some of the cabin owners held onto their anger, but most forgave immediately. They would give more. He’d become their Hermit legend, their ghost in the night. For 27 years Chris had lived outside of our world. At twenty years old, he walked away. Literally. Why? He was a man who felt out of place. That sounds strange to most. Crazy even. But he is actually a highly intelligent person. Just different. People want to fit a round peg in a round hole, yet we are not all the same shape.

I did not expect this to be an emotional read in any way. But near the end, I had come close to tears for this man out of place. *Spoiler ahead* That spot in the forest he called home was the only place Chris felt truly right in this world. Michael, the author, stands near him just asking him how he is getting along, now that he cannot go back. Here, in this moment, became the one point that Chris truly let another person in, and in doing so both men stood with tears in their eyes. They barely knew one another, but there it was. (I won’t reveal the words expressed here.) I will say that it caught me completely off guard. Finally, I see the kinship Michael had come to feel for Chris because it’s expressed in the way the story is written. He did a wonderful job honoring the life of man that people would otherwise not understand.
Profile Image for Jay Schutt.
259 reviews88 followers
May 18, 2022
Loved this from cover to cover. An extraordinary story of a man's escape to the freedom of the Maine woods only to be brought back to the prison of society.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,743 reviews6,670 followers
March 22, 2017
“...sometime in the 1990s, he encountered a hiker walking in the woods. “What did you say?” asks Vance. “I said, 'Hi,'” Knight replies. Other than that single syllable, he insists, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this evening, for twenty-seven years.”
Dang, that's some solitude right there. After no identifiable antecedent, Christopher Knight walked into the woods of Maine at the age of twenty years old and never looked back. In an effort to support his lifestyle, he burglarized unoccupied vacation cabins for food and supplies, racking up over 1,000 incidents of burglaries and becoming a well-known and well-feared ghost of the area of Pond Lake. Journalist: Michael Finkel built enough rapport with Knight to complete interviews with him which resulted in a GQ article and then this book. In The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Mr. Finkel discusses Knight's upbringing, his exit from civilization, his lifestyle of "aloneness", the town's response to having a hermit in their backyard, the true crime element, and my personal favorite: the act of solitude itself with the reasons why people from past to present in varying cultures voluntarily engage in it. I enjoyed learning about this subject through the perspective and detailed research of a quality journalist. Never once does Mr. Finkel justify Knight's criminal behaviors or advocate for them to be overlooked or rationalized. Both Christopher Knight and Mr. Finkel hold Knight responsible for his actions, as does the judicial system, so don't let an assumption to the opposite dissuade you from reading this book. Check it out!

Source: New York Post

My favorite quote:
"Modern life seems set up so that we can avoid loneliness at all costs, but maybe it's worthwhile to face it occasionally. The further we push aloneness away, the less we are able to cope with it, and the more terrifying it gets. Some philosophers believe that loneliness is the only true feeling there is. We live orphaned on a tiny rock in the immense vastness of space, with no hint of even the simplest form of life anywhere around us for billions upon billions of miles, alone beyond all imagining. We live locked in our own heads and can never entirely know the experience of another person. Even if we're surrounded by family and friends, we journey into death completely alone."
Profile Image for Melanie.
279 reviews133 followers
December 2, 2017
"Modern life seems set up so that we can avoid lonliness at all costs, but maybe it's worthwhile to face it occasionally. The further we push aloneness away, the less we are able to cope with it, and the more terrifying it gets. Some philosophers believe that loneliness is the only true feeling there is."

Interesting book. While I don't think Christopher Knight is insane I do feel he has some sort of personality disorder. For someone to leave society for 27 years and have no contact with people is a bit odd. I am also at odds about him stealing in order to survive. No, he didn't harm anyone but..... Amazing to me that he survived the winters.

I hate camping so the thought of camping for 27 years (especially winter camping) sounds like a horrible existence but if that's what makes him happy he should be allowed to do so (without the thieving).
Profile Image for Laura.
828 reviews253 followers
March 24, 2017
I started this book and finished within 24 hours. It's absolutely fascinating. I do not think that it was acceptable to steal from others but it's pretty amazing that this guy stayed off the grid for 27 years. This book was so interesting. It has taken alot of self-control not to tell every detail to my family members. If you need a book to discuss in social settings where the people are not book nerds(like me), grab this one. Totally recommend to anyone.
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