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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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Member thoughts

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3917 ratings
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  • Enfield , CT

    I’ve read this at least twice now. It’s a fascinating view into the surprising life of a hermit. I was shocked he was able to live comfortably for years in the Maine woods, and saddened when it ended.

  • Saint Petersburg, FL

    One of my favorite books. I was surprised to learn about Knight's intelligence. He is such a troubled soul, I wonder how he is doing. In addition to interesting story, I truly appreciate the writing style

  • Anchorage, AK

    This book was really good! Not my usual choice of book but I loved the story. I definitely couldn’t live out in the woods alone like that and I loved hearing about how he was able to do it for so long

  • Mission, KS

    The topic of a hermit in today's world was thought provoking to me. I spend a lot of time alone but I don't think I could drop out. Entrancing story I wish I knew more about what happened in the end.

  • New Orleans, LA

    I don't read non fiction, but the story of anyone surviving the Woods of Maine was too much to resist. From page one I was hooked. The writer has a way of Really making you feel for Knight. Great book

  • Waynesboro, PA

    I really enjoyed this,Knight was so resilient and fascinating. I always love to read about Maine and the fact that this was true, made it even better. I also have an understanding of silence myself..

  • New Egypt, NJ

    A riveting story about a man who secretly lived in the woods of a park for YEARS. Growing up in a house in the woods, something like the possibility of this never really occurred to me before, but wow

  • Brewster , NY

    Grewup in the Belgrade Lakes and vacationed across the road from the area that the hermit lived in. The book was great. I still can'tstop wondering just how the hermit survived. Very thought provoking

  • Springfield, MO

    This will probably be one of my top favorites of the year. It not only tells a genuinely fascinating tale of the Last True Hermit, it also explained so much about myself and my own hermit tendencies.

  • Temecula, CA

    Author uses historical quotes from philosophers, authors, and others. . .thought provoking. Story causes you to ask, Why? Is it True? Is main character guilty or not guilty, and if so, what degree.

  • Tempe, AZ

    I loved this book! It's a beautiful portrait of a very complicated, very weird, sometimes very unsympathetic man. Love the way the book looks into his reasons and the reactions of everyone around him.

  • Sayre, PA

    This book provoked contradictory feelings in me. I was amazed that he stayed alone for 27 years, but I also hated the right he felt he had to take whatever he wanted from innocent and trusting people.

  • Laguna Woods, CA

    Well written and for such a small book it packs a lot of punch! An incredible story, the author includes a lot of background information on the history and psychology around a committed hermitic life.

  • Las Vegas, NV

    I really enjoyed this story. I've always wondered what it'd be like to leave society and live in the woods. And thanks to Knight's story, I now have of a glimpse it'd be like to leave the world behind

  • Salt Lake City, UT

    New respect for solitude and knowing oneself. Being alone has such a negative connotation in our society, but now I realize we avoid getting to know ourselves out of fear. Well written. Made me think!

  • Tucson, AZ

    I loved this book from the very first page -- it was so interesting and had a great attention to detail. I'm also a sucker for a book that includes a map, which this one had along with a camp diagram!

  • Grosse Pointe Farms, MI

    I am not the type of person who loves to be by themself all the time, but when I get the chance I revel in it. This book was eye-opening on how the complete opposite of the spectrum feels about people

  • Houston , TX

    I enjoyed reading this account of a unique situation and the character really spoke to me. Finkel did an amazing job of retelling this in a suspenseful way. I was so enthralled I read it in an evening

  • Valley Village , CA

    LOVE IT! I appreciate so much the in-depth reporting by Finkel to give the reader a very well-rounded, comprehensive look at a very reclusive man and the (meta)physical forces at play during his life.

  • Holdingford, MN

    This story piqued my curiosity big time. I enjoyed reading it but felt a little weird about it too. After I let it sink in a bit, I thought the theft piece was unconscionable. Certainly made me think!

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