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The Stranger in the Woods

By: Michael Finkel

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Imprint: Knopf

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781101875681

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On Sale: | Pages: 224

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For readers of Jon Krakauer and The Lost City of Z, a remarkable tale of survival and solitude--the true story of a man who lived alone in a tent in the Maine woods, never talking to another person and surviving by stealing supplies from nearby cabins for twenty-seven years. In 1986, twenty-year-old Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the woods. 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 in winter, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store food and water, to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothes, 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 the why and how of his secluded life--as well as the challenges he has faced returning to the world. A riveting 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.
In meeting Knight after his hermitage time ends, Finkel manages to pry powerful words from the man who may hold the world title for silent retreat.... In his fascinating story, Michael Finkel not only wrests quotes from the reluctant hermit, he comes up with a number of quotable lines of his own.
—San Francisco Chronicle
“The Stranger in the Woods” started as a 2014 GQ magazine article, and its journey to a petite 200-page book is similar to the one a meatball takes on its way to becoming a meatloaf. There's something tasty here. There's also a good deal of filler.... In a search for more motive and meaning than the hermit will provide, Finkel chats with psychologists who never met Knight, a seeming violation of psychiatry's Goldwater Rule against diagnosing people from afar. There are also honkingly dull digressions into the spiritual meaning of becoming a hermit...some pseudoscience about solitude and brain function, and an unfortunate comparison with prisoners in solitary confinement, who hardly have the luxury of choosing their solitude. All this seems like obvious padding, but to give Finkel the benefit of the doubt, it may simply be that his affinity for his amazing hermit got the best of him.
—New York Times
“The Stranger in the Woods” is a meditation on solitude, wildness and survival. It is also, unexpectedly, a tribute to the joys of reading.... Mr. Finkel reached out to Knight because he was motivated by “some degree of respect and a great deal of astonishment.” Had Knight never been caught, Mr. Finkel writes, “It would have been an existence, a life, of utter perfection.” Given the absurdities and indignities of modern life, it is little wonder Knight's choices look to Mr. Finkel perfectly sane.
—Wall Street Journal
Thought-provoking, especially for the armchair hermits among us who like to imagine they would enjoy total solitude for a few days, but probably not for years, THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS is notable for the author's earnest attempts to learn more and his elusive subject's clear desire to reveal less.
Michael Finkel's “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit,” an account of Knight's self-imposed exile from civilization, started as a phenomenally popular magazine article in GQ. This expanded version will no doubt have the same mass appeal. It's campfire-friendly and thermos-ready, easily drained in one warm, rummy slug. It also raises a variety of profound questions — about the role of solitude, about the value of suffering, about the diversity of human needs.... “The Stranger in the Woods” is involving and well-told; it certainly casts its spell. But there are inconsistencies in Knight's story.... Finkel appears to have been quite conscientious in writing “The Stranger in the Woods.” He provides notes on sources. He gives the names of his (two!) fact-checkers. But it's hard not to notice that he's chosen a story that is, in some sense, impossible to completely nail down.
—New York Times
The Stranger in the Woods is Michael Finkel's intriguing account of Knight's capture and confessions, and while it amasses the inventive details of Knight's solitary life, it can't quite explain the man himself.... Finkel established something of a bond with Knight in the course of his visits, and by the book's end he reveals to Finkel a certain ineffable sadness, but little more. He has no use for the world he must reenter, “and is certain he is not going to fit in.” Still, Finkel speculates and ruminates, concluding that Knight's retreat — if he'd managed to sustain it until he died — might have been a lesson in existential purity and perfection, a rare disappearance into egoless silence. Yet lacking the passion or psychopathy of a compelling literary character, Knight seems but a flickering candle, a wilfully lost soul.
—USA Today
Finkel does his best. His writing is vivid and clear, his reporting is diligent. He is careful not to overstep the journalistic boundaries of what he knows... His research is comprehensive. And it leads us — nowhere.... Knight can talk all day about how he laid his tarp and killed mice and cased cabins and grew his beard to a precise length in winter to keep warm, but he cannot say why he was out in the woods in the first place.... Finkel did his best. The book is interesting, but it is not illuminating.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
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