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All booksNarrative nonfictionThe Stranger in the Woods
The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
Narrative nonfiction

The Stranger in the Woods

by Michael Finkel

Quick take

He abandoned his car, hiked into the Maine woods, and lived in solitude for 27 years, without speaking to or touching another human being.

Why I love it

Liberty Hardy
BOTM Judge

For 27 years, the residents of the North Pond, Maine, lived in fear. A mysterious interloper robbed their homes repeatedly at random times. Children were scared to go to sleep at night, afraid of the mythical boogeyman who 'œlived in the woods' and who might break into their homes at any moment. Security systems and cameras were installed, but still the thief kept stealing '“ food, clothes, batteries and books from locals. Though he remained seemingly invisible, every day his legend grew.

In 2013, the thief is caught, and his story is unbelievable: In 1986, Christopher Thomas Knight left his home in Massachusetts without saying goodbye to anyone. He drove to Maine, abandoned his car, hiked into the woods, and lived in solitude for 27 years, without speaking to or touching another human being. He was a real life hermit.

This book is a compelling portrait of a solitary man, his unbelievable existence, and his ultimate capture. In the case of The Stranger in the Woods, truth is definitely stranger than fiction: Finkel gets inside the mind of a man who had gone to great extremes to be alone, to leave behind most of the comforts of civilization to live a life on his own terms (albeit one in which he needs to steal Cheez-Its, peanut butter and other sundries from local vacation homes in order to survive).

I was touched by this man’s decision to leave it all behind, in a world where we think we have so little control over our very brief time on this planet. Who hasn’t fantasized about running away and living alone, about never having to work or face the everyday worries and troubles most people experience? But here is a man who actually did it!

As a proud Mainer myself, I remember hearing about the mysterious thefts over the years. The legend, the hermit, and the Maine surroundings are what drew me in to this very interesting book, and I loved everything about it.

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