The Stranger in The Woods, by Michael Finkel

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Alone in The Woods…

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of The Last True Hermit.   What a well written, captivating story.

This book written by Michael Finkel was a fascination to me. I got the audio version, knowing I’d enjoy reading of a man living alone, surviving harsh conditions. Stories of survival always draw me in. It was far more than that though. It was as much about capturing a thief. So intriguing that both were equally enjoyable.

Christopher Knight chose that life. One young day in his twentieth year, he simply walked away, into the Maine woods. How he made a ‘home’ and survived are remarkable.

Twenty seven years later, After being in solitude for all that time–preferring it that way—he was caught in the act. He didn’t run or try to escape. He confessed to far more than expected. Still his punishment seemed cruel, to force him to live in civilisation. Still, he admittedly was guilty of multiple crimes. It would be a hard compromise that would satisfy justice, the victims, and the hermit.

The book is the touching story of a man who simply wanted to be alone. Many of us can relate to that desire, though few of us could probably succeed at that kind of aloneness. It makes me think of survivalist stories, how the will to thrive in difficult to impossible circumstances still sees one through. Perhaps introverts can relate more easily to the ideal of it.

What Would You feel?

Christopher Knight is a likable, solo character. I couldn’t help but smile at his manner and his successes. At the same time, he wasn’t precisely self sufficient. He may have lived on the land, but he wasn’t a hunter as much as a gatherer. When he lacked, he broke into empty homes and stole what he needed. It wasn’t huge. It was for food mostly, some clothes, batteries, a pot.

The amount of money he stole was startling in its lack. Perhaps in one year he took a total of $15.00—yes, a whole year. That was wrong. Each and every break in was a separate crime, yet you may still find yourself wishing him well.

A Cruel Punishment?

Should a hermit be made to live with others if he chooses not to? That may have been the part of The Stranger in The Woods that was the harshest for me to read.

That is surely part of the draw of the book. That you can like the man even though he is committing crimes. Is it because he never took very much, and mostly from vacation homes where residents wouldn’t need it themselves during the harsh winter?

The author went to great lengths to research this book, including many treks to Knight’s actual camp, in a hard to get to location. The visits he had with Mr. Knight were bittersweet as well. You can sense the man needed the solitude, though it wasn’t available to him then.

In Audio

The audio version is excellent, narrated by Mark Bramhill. He provides the proper gravitas and excellent pacing to fit the story. It’s a relatively short book, and very absorbing, so I listened to it in one relaxing day. It was an enjoyable escape.


Merry Citarella, often writing as Merrci, writes on a wide range of topics. Recently relocated to the Oregon Coast in the northwest United States, she frequently writes travel features on the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She specializes in health and aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, food, lifestyle, and book reviews. For more information you can see her on The Writers’Door. You can read more articles here or at her websites Alzheimers HQ and Simple Living Ideas

Author: Merry Citarella

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