The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods 

The Stranger in the Woods is the latest novel to be checked off my to be read list. This one caught my attention pretty quickly when I read the description. 

How did Christopher Knight survive in the woods for that long on his own? What made him want to do that? I’m sure that everyone has a million questions just like these and wants to know everything about a hermit. I know I do. 

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“I enjoy being in the dark. Camouflage is my instinct. My favorite colors are those that helped me blend in. Dark green a shade darker than John Deere green is my favorite color.” 

Christopher Knight, The Stranger in the Woods

Have you read The Stranger in the Woods? Come on in and let me tell you about it! 

The Stranger in the Woods
The Stranger in the Woods

About The Stranger in the Woods 

The remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality—not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. 

He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. 

Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life—why did he leave? what did he learn?—as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.

Thoughts on The Stranger in the Woods 

I think many preppers and survivalists dream of a life like Christopher Knight lived, alone, off the grid, and in solitude. It certainly sounds like a dream life! 

“All his life, he’d been comfortable being alone. Interacting with others was so often frustrating. Every meeting with another person seemed like a collision.” 

Michael Kinkel, The Stranger in the Woods

What I found interesting is that he never took things of value. A good example is one couple had their passports stashed in a backpack. Knight went through the backpack, and removed the passports and left them there, in a closet, for the couple to find. No jewelry, computers, or anything of actual value was taken. Just the basics, clothes, food, and things like that. He even locked things back up so vandals looking for things just to steal for their value wouldn’t be attracted to the homes Knight broke into. 

I also found it interesting that he did it so much that people became aware of his tastes and preferences. It was mentioned he preferred peanut butter to tuna fish, as an example, among others. 

Many people had conflicting opinions about Christopher Knight and his string of break-ins to survive. Some were robbed of their basic sense of security, some were more than giving, and wanted to give him even more. They even left him the option to give them a shopping list. Sometimes I am astounded by the kindness of strangers, like the ones who asked for a shopping list. They had no clue who Knight was, just that he was breaking into their home for food, and they asked him to leave a shopping list so they could buy him what he wanted. 

The concept of the story is very interesting. A hermit who is caught and interviewed. What I disliked the most was the almost clinical way it was presented in the book. Michael Finkel visited Christopher Knight only a handful of times in jail, and their conversations were really nothing special. Then Finkel takes what little there is and somehow stretches it into 225 pages of filler, with the history of hermits and how they came to be. I found myself skipping over some of these parts because it was boring and very much like a high school book report. 

The other part that irritates me and actually knocks my review down a star is the ending. Christopher Knight elected to talk to Finkel while in jail. Knight specifically stated once he was released, he no longer wished to talk to Finkel. The interviews were over. Which I don’t think is unreasonable. 

Did Finkel respect these wishes? Nope, not even close. He went full blown stalker and turned clingy, trying to keep in contact with Knight, and even trying to contact his entire family as well. Think of the worst breakup you’ve ever seen between two people, and one just can’t let it go and move on, and turns into a creepy stalker. Knight was almost at the point of needing a restraining order because Finkel couldn’t understand the words no and do not contact. That is what this felt like to me. 

Finkel left his home in Montana to fly to Maine, just to keep trying to interview and be friends with Knight. I don’t know how Finkel’s wife tolerated him leaving home from Montana to go to Maine, just to disrespect the wishes of someone he interviewed, while leaving her at home with the kids so he could stalk strangers who wanted no contact with him. The word priorities comes to mind, and I feel like Finkel’s were in the wrong place. 

I also wouldn’t call 8 hours and a couple letters “extensive interviews” with Knight. It definitely didn’t qualify as “deeply moving” as the description says either. Finkel’s marketing team gets good props for selling the book based on the description, but it definitely didn’t live up to that description. 

Final Thoughts on The Stranger in the Woods 

The description of The Stranger in the Woods set my expectations pretty high for it to be interesting, thought-provoking, and moving. A deep look inside someone who I envy for their ability to live a life of solitude for almost three decades. 

But Micheal Finkel isn’t the person to give me what I wanted from The Stranger in the Woods. He needs to stick to writing magazine articles, honestly. I’m sure the one he wrote about Knight is good. But then to stretch that into a book is just ridiculous. Because there is so much filler in it, that it detracts from the story. 

I thought the exact same thing when I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Heather Morris wrote it originally as a screenplay and not a book. Which would have been a far better medium. I think a magazine article would have been sufficient here, and Micheal Finkel should stick to what he knows and is good at, instead of trying to branch out, because it wasn’t a success. 

I’m calling this a two star read. I really wanted to love it, but it fell far too short to make it good. I expected a five star read, it started out as a three star read, and then the end dropped it down to a two star read, and that is what I’ve settled on for my rating, is two stars. 


Have you read The Stranger in the Woods or any other writing from author Michael Finkel? Are you a fan? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

About the Author 

Michael Finkel is the author of “The Art Thief,” “The Stranger in the Woods,” an international bestseller, and “True Story,” which was adapted into a 2015 motion picture starring James Franco and Jonah Hill. He has reported from more than 50 countries and written for National Geographic, GQ, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine. 

His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting, The Best American Science and Nature Writing, The Best American Travel Writing, and The Best American Non-Required Reading. He lives with his family in northern Utah and southern France. 

The Stranger in the Woods
Michael Finkel, author of The Stranger in the Woods

Purchasing The Stranger in the Woods 

If you are interested in buying the paperback version of The Stranger in the Woods, click here.

For the hardcover version, click here.

Click here for the Kindle version.

Click here for my favorite Kindle I currently own.

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The Stranger in the Woods
The Stranger in the Woods

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