Review of The Stranger in the Woods

Review of The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
Rating *****

When I first heard about this story of a man disappearing into the woods and not reappearing for twenty-seven years, I imagined someone living off the land. Hunting and fishing and growing crops. It never even donned on me that an individual could survive for that length of time solely on the food and items stolen from surrounding cabins and camps. But that’s what Christopher Knight did.

Chris Knight was twenty-years old when he entered the woods. He had started out from Florida. While driving through Maine, Chris took a detour and followed small roads and dirt paths until his car could go no further. With little more than the clothes on his back, he hiked into the woods and decided to stay. Except for a couple of accidental encounters with hunters and cabin owners, he had no human contact for all of those twenty-seven years.

Author Michael Finkel leaves no stone unturned in his account of Chris’s self-imposed isolation. He asks and answers every conceivable question one might have related to this extraordinary story. The how and the why. The details of a life spent alone. He interviews locals, some who felt the burglaries of Chris Knight were harmless, and others who spent years afraid of the Hermit of North Pond. The author also does a good job of talking about other similar cases of people living in isolation: solo sailors sailing around the world, Japanese soldiers on remote islands in the Pacific, and countless others who choose a similar life. The result is a compelling study of human nature.

No story about living away from society would be complete without also talking about solitary confinement. There are plenty of studies that show that solitary confinement for extended periods is inhumane and can lead to severe mental problems. Chris Knight did not suffer such maladies, though he did develop an aversion to people and noise. But then again, Chris Knight was not confined to a cell.

The story after Chis is arrested and reunited with his family is equally compelling. Don’t expect a Hollywood ending, though. Chris Knight is not a prisoner suddenly freed from years of imprisonment, eager to take in all of the wonders of technology and invention. He is a man who longs to return to the woods.

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