Book Reviews

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (Spoiler-free) Review

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.

“His seclusion was not pure, he was a thief, but he persisted for twenty-seven years while speaking a total of one word and never touching anyone else. Christopher Knight, you could argue, is the most solitary known person in all of human history.”

This is a true account on how one man, Christopher Knight, lived off the grid as a hermit in the woods for 27 years. This truly is a remarkable story. It’s not very often I delve into the genre of non-fiction, but someone living alone for so long just intrigued me. I had to read this book to find out how it was even possible. I know personally I would never be able to survive on my own in the woods for so long.

“He was one of the longest-enduring solitaries, and among the most fervent as well. Christopher Knight was a true hermit.”

The biggest question, I think, everyone has is why anyone would choose this lifestyle. Why abandon society, all you’ve ever known; family, friends, companionship to live in the middle of the woods? That was one of the first questions Michael Hinkle asked Chris. If you are expecting an answer to this question, you will be let down. Chris’s only reasoning for leaving society was that he wanted to be alone. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Nature is brutal. The weak do not survive, and neither do the strong. Life is a constant, merciless fight that everyone loses.”

One of the biggest reasons I picked up this book was my curiosity on how someone would be able to survive without society. I am happy to say that this is answered in the book. I am not going to tell you the specifics as to how Chris survived–read the book if you want to know–but I will say that he does dive into some criminal activity–stealing. So while Chris remained hidden in the woods, he did somewhat rely on society to continue living. He just chose not to be apart of it by keeping to himself.

You can really tell that Michael Hinkel did a lot of research for this book, including face-to-face interviews with Chris while he was in jail. The book also dives into the subject of hermits in history and the reasonings people choose solitude. I really liked that this was added in. It helped to aid in my understanding as to why some people would choose this lifestyle, especially since Chris didn’t give us much of an answer for that specific question.

I really thought this was a well-written book. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the life of a hermit or curious as to how someone would be able to survive living in the woods for such an extensive period of time with no human interaction. I am giving this book a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.



31 thoughts on “The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (Spoiler-free) Review

  1. sounds like an interesting read! reminds me of a local legend who went to live in a wood with his dog, lived there til he died 10 years ago, christmas was always good as he used to decorate the woods with tinsel

    Liked by 1 person

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