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

     by Finkel, Michael

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

For twenty-seven years, the woods near the North Pond in Rome, Maine, held a secret. The cabins and campgrounds nearby had been repeatedly raided for food, clothing, and anything useful to the “hermit” that lived in those woods. Some of the Maine residents lived in fear of the break-ins, their terror sullying the quiet refuge that they had created in this remote place. Other residents, feeling sympathy for their fellow man, purposefully left out food and books for the mysterious thief. One night in 2013, technology and law enforcement caught up with the North Pond hermit. Christopher Knight had been living in a dense patch of woods for over a quarter of a century. Journalist Michael Finkel was immediately intrigued by the story, having experienced his own desire for solitude. Finkel attempted to interview Knight, writing letters and eventually visiting him in jail as he awaited prosecution for more than 1,000 burglaries. Knight reluctantly allowed this intrusion, letting Finkel slowly learn about the determination and willpower that was required to live alone, season after season, without any communication or help from others. As Finkel becomes attached to Knight’s story, staying overnight at the hidden campsite and following him to his childhood homestead, he pieces together an intimate portrait of a man determined to live on his own terms. 

Though the bones of this story were covered in a long- form GQ Magazine article from 2014, Finkel’s book is much more in depth, providing a fascinating examination of solitude and why people seek it. He skillfully interweaves references in literature and religion as he follows Knight’s fate. His research on the ground, getting to know the Maine residents and experiencing the woods first-hand, allows the reader to feel connected to his quest to find out why Christopher Knight abandoned society. This is an excellent character study, especially for those who have ever felt the desire to leave the modern world behind. If you are a fan of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, you might enjoy this book.

Reviewed by cs, 04/17. Other reviews by cs.