Rated Reads

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

by Michael Finkel

Rated: Moderate

I have never visited the American Northeast in the winter, and even though I love a campout, the idea of spending 27 consecutive winters in a Maine forest does not appeal to me. At all. This is the story of Christopher Knight, who decided 30 years ago at age 20 (in an offhand sort of way) to leave civilization behind and set up camp in an obscure location in the woods. He soon discovered that living a secluded existence still required access to modern conveniences, like food and clothing.

Over the years, he improved not just the conditions of his hiding place, but also his skills as a burglar. He obtained everything he needed to survive by developing incredible observational and walking skills so that he could come and go as needed and leave behind absolutely no trail. The residents of the community that he frequented created a number of nicknames for him, and some even tried to help him out (indirectly), yet no law enforcement effort was even remotely successful at finding him. He became a local legend.

The life Knight chose created a number of inner challenges that eventually rivaled the obvious physical difficulties of surviving only on what can be found in other person’s homes. How does a person raised to be self-sufficient and honest deal with the self-imposed necessity of stealing? What does this person do when he meets strangers in the woods on one of his raids? How does he react when he is finally caught? These conflicts (and their resolutions) are what make this book so compelling to those of us that live in society but often yearn for more simplicity in our lives.

The tale is so fantastic that even four years after his capture and with plenty of evidence of its veracity, some still think it is a hoax. The author has included contemporary scientific information about solitude that also contributes to the story’s unbelievability. Yet the direct quotes from Knight (together with his behavior after coming home) ring true to many of my own personal introverted tendencies, so I am convinced this is a true account.

The prose is smooth, combining journalism with narrative, and it is an easy, enjoyable read. The events are presented in an order that eliminates tension, which I found to be extremely enjoyable. The reader only gets hints of the aftermath before the concluding chapters, which provides satisfactory suspense and drama. The only objection I had is that Knight could never decide how much detail to relate to the author (in multiple interviews) and subsequently left out a lot of details I was curious about. Even though I found it frustrating, that is one of the clues that I think confirms the truth of this amazing account.

Rated: Moderate. A single f-bomb is the only profanity in the entire work. There were also no discussions of any kind of intimate encounters.

— Reviewed by Craig Smith

Craig Smith is chief medical officer of Tacoma Cat Hospital. In addition to providing book reviews on Rated Reads, he podcasts about feline health issues through iTunes and www.tacomacat.com.

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  • The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
  • by Michael Finkel
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: