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

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

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 Massac...

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

  • Diane S ☔

    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, canno

    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.

  • Michael Finkel

    I greatly appreciate all of the reviews here -- even the bad ones! (Though, I admit, it's sometimes a bit painful to read them.) There are so many books out there, I am grateful 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 w

    I greatly appreciate all of the reviews here -- even the bad ones! (Though, I admit, it's sometimes a bit painful to read them.) There are so many books out there, I am grateful 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 -- no fake news here! -- 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!

  • Ashley Brooks

    This book has left me with intensely conflicted feelings. For a while I felt like I'd be rating this quite highly.

    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 slightl

    This book has left me with intensely conflicted feelings. For a while I felt like I'd be rating this quite highly.

    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.

  • F

    I was sent this book from Goodreads.

    I really enjoyed this book. More than I thought I would.

    Really interesting.

  • Petra X

    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 hermi

    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.

  • Julie

    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 ‘

    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

  • Diane

    This book was so fascinating and engrossing that I had to give it five stars.

    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 de

    This book was so fascinating and engrossing that I had to give it five stars.

    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.

    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

    . 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

    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

    to everyone.

    "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."

  • Elyse

    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:

    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 HAD HEARD 'OF' THIS STORY BEFORE LISTENING TO THE AUDIOBOOK.

    ..........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?

    THE EXPERIENCE WAS MISSING UNTIL I LISTENED MYSELF!!!

    NO REVIEWS SPOILED 'my' EXPERIENCE!!!! NOT AT ALL!!!!!!

    'KNOWING' ABOUT THIS STORY WAS NOT THE SAME!!!!!

    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.

  • Eve

    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 l

    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

    , 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.

    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.

  • Melissa ♥ Dog Lover ♥ Martin

    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 confesse

    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.

    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:

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