The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

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Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is 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. 

New York Times bestseller

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101924907
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/07/2017
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 609,457
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

MICHAEL FINKEL is the author of True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, which was adapted into a 2015 major motion picture. He has written for National Geographic, GQ, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in western Montana.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 16

Excerpted from "The Stranger in the Woods"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Michael Finkel.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s conversation about The Stranger in the Woods, Michael Finkel’s absorbing and clear-eyed account of a man who spent decades living in complete solitude in the forests of Maine, only to be discovered and forced to return to society.

1. Discuss the significance of the Socrates epigraph that opens The Stranger in the Woods. How does this set the tone for the book? How does it relate to the book’s larger discussion of needs versus wants?

2. In the early pages of the book, Finkel states that Knight has “stripped the world to his essentials.” Consider the lifestyle that Knight leads in North Pond. What are his essentials? How many of these essentials are material versus immaterial? What does he value the most?

3. On page 5, Finkel states that Knight has a “moral code” that he lives by, which determines what he will and will not steal. How would you describe his moral code? How does his moral code relate to larger ideas about capitalism and materialism in the United States?

4. In the first few chapters of the book, Knight is referred to solely as “the hermit,” before his name and identity are revealed to the reader. Why do you think Finkel chose to employ this narrative device? Explore the significance of the lore around Knight as “the hermit,” and how the mythos of “the hermit” is complicated once his identity is made publicly known.

5. How would you describe the locals’ attitudes toward the hermit over time? Discuss the varied experiences of those who were victimized by his crimes and how these incidents affected their perceptions of their hometown, their domicile, and their safety. After his arrest, how does the narrative of the hermit change, if at all?

6. How do you feel about Knight? On the North Pond camp owners’ scale of “Lock Knight up forever” to “Let him go immediately,” where do you reside?

7. In chapter six, Finkel describes the fanfare surrounding Knight’s arrest, pronounced “a circus” by some local officials. Consider the irony of Knight’s fame in relation to his desire for solitude. How does Knight play into the public’s idea of what a hermit “should” be?

8. In chapter seven, the narrative lens of The Stranger in the Woods shifts to allow for the author’s point of view to emerge. What spurs Finkel to reach out to Knight, initially? Discuss their early exchanges, as well as Finkel’s first visit. How does their relationship evolve?

9. Early in their relationship, Finkel reveals to Knight that he is a “flawed journalist,” based on past actions during his reportage. Why does he choose to do this? Discuss the “lofty ideals” that both men strive for in their lives. How are they both committed to seeking truth?

10. Discuss Knight’s time in jail. How does the movement from complete solitude to imprisonment affect his morale? What tactics from his time in the woods does he use to pass the time?

11. Throughout The Stranger in the Woods, Knight is defined by many labels: He is a hermit, a thief, a prisoner, a purist, a son, a brother. Which of these labels does he associate himself with, if any? How much of a person’s identity is shaped by socialization, and how much is self-determined?

12. On page 50, Finkel states that Knight “seemed to say exactly what he was thinking, raw and true, unfiltered by the safety net of social niceties.” Discuss this statement. How does Knight’s time in the woods affect his understanding of human interactions? What is his general standpoint toward humanity? How does his exposure to media (books, radio) keep him connected to society at large?

13. When reading Notes from the Underground, Knight felt that Dostoyevsky was reaching through time and speaking directly to him. What books have made you feel that way?

14. Discuss Knight’s childhood and family. How does the idea of rugged individualism and self-reliance color his upbringing? The value of privacy? Consider his absence in the lives of his family members, and his sudden return to them. Does he feel any guilt about his decision to disappear? How does his family interpret his return?

15. On page 78, Finkel notes that Knight’s decision to retreat to the woods “had elements of a suicide, except he didn’t kill himself.” Unpack this statement. Considering Knight’s promise to go back into the woods at the end of the book, how does he view death in relation to the natural world?

16. Consider Finkel’s discussion of various hermits or secluded individuals in societies around the world. What does Knight share with these other historical examples of hermits? Is there a mutual moral commitment that underpins their solitude? How much of Knight’s decision to isolate himself seems to come from a place of idealism versus personal preference? How does his existence in Little North defy the typical categorization of what a hermit is?

17. Discuss the discipline inherent to Knight’s existence in the woods. How is his life reliant on patterns and consistency? How does he use fear as motivation?

18. On page 112, Knight wonders if “modern society, with its flood of information and tempest of noise, was only making us dumber.” Reflect on this statement. What are the pitfalls of technology in relation to modern living? How does our reliance on technology undercut some of the most essential human functions?

19. Stranger in the Woods asks complicated, fundamental questions about solitude, self-reliance, and humans’ relationship with nature, with an extraordinary, singularly unique human at the center. Consider your own life as it relates to these concepts. How often are you completely alone? Do you ever seek out solitude, particularly in nature? How is nature both restorative and challenging for the human spirit? By the end of the book, how did your feelings toward Knight evolve?

Customer Reviews

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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well crafted story, around the minimalist content provided by the main subject, Chris Knight. Thoroughly researched in order to provide accurate background content. An easy read that compels the reader to examine society through the lens of one who rejected it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is an interesting read, but it let me down. It constantly goes back to ancient history about hermits. At first it was interesting but now I have 40 pages left and I am struggling through. It looks to me like Christopher Knight didn't give him enough details, so instead of a book into the life of this man it is a history lesson. You learn about him in the beginning and then nothing interesting pops up after. What a waste.
B-loNY More than 1 year ago
Read a lot of books and this is right up there with the best
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nicely written!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. While the initial draw for me was the fact that this took place in my home state, I quickly become drawn to Chris Knight and his ability to follow his own path. Or, his inability to comply with social norms. Michael Finkle does an excellent job describing the state of Maine and how we value our privacy and independence. This is a fascinating story and I expect to explore deeper with some of the author's suggested reading. A must read for all!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like many of us, I was curious to this mystery I Maine. The author answered many questions, but he raised many more. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this book. The Author had good insight into why people seek solitude in the wilderness. This specific individual lived among people, but never interacted with people, very strange.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. Not what I was expecting, but really well done. It is definitely a cerebral book that makes you think long after the last page is read.
Candice_S More than 1 year ago
This book is remarkable and compelling as it follows the story and trying to understand the "why" of a man who chose to live as a true hermit for 27 years in the forests of Maine, before being arrested by police and forced to reintegrate to normal society. This read definitely took a more scientific and philosophical approach than I was anticipating, however that didn't take away from the story itself. Rather, it helped better understand why someone would make such extreme life choices, often at such a detriment to themselves. I only wish there had been more meat from the hermit himself - however I understand the complexity of him not wishing to share himself with the world. Super interesting read that will cause readers to stop and think about how we exist in our own worlds.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
3.5 stars I wanted to know more about the life of Christopher Knight. He had lived the life of a hermit, living alone for 27 years in the woods in Maine and the thought of this, intrigued me. I wanted to know how he had survived, what his days were like and what had happened to him. As I listened to this novel, I realized Knight was not a true hermit, at least in the definition that I had. This was a frustrating novel for me. I started to wonder if perhaps I was the only one who had a different definition of a hermit so I began asking my friends about their own definitions. The answers I received included: isolation, living off the land, denouncing society, defying societies growth and progress, they all seemed to agree with these basic themes. My view followed most of these ideas, so I felt better. At the age of 20, Knight drove his car as far as he could into Maine’s dense forest, placed the keys on the dashboard and began walking. Without any plans or supplies, he began his solitude life. I wouldn’t call Knight a hermit because he didn’t actually live the life of a hermit. He only lived a secluded life. When Knight needed something, he left his hidden camp site and found it. When he needed food, he stole it. He broke into people’s homes and businesses and took what he needed to survive and then he took more. He took radios, a tv, children’s game systems, books and magazines. He took clothing and household items, he took things that did not belong to him. Besides physical items, he took away an individual’s sense of security as he raided their possessions. I found it frustrating that people want to study him to see how he survived. He survived by stealing. He was content in the woods. He knew it was wrong to steal yet that didn’t stop him. And now that his life is different, he has to change but in reality, Knight would rather be back in the woods living like he did before. I found it interesting that he lived 27 years without having much communication with others. When they located his campsite, it wasn’t far from other individuals. He had to hear them, right? He just didn’t respond. So, what’s your opinion? Have you read this novel or heard Knight’s story? Perhaps you’ll need to read this novel to form your own opinion. There is nothing against the author, as he told Knight’s story. It’s the story of Knight, what he did, and how people think he’s an amazing individual that upset me. Reading this novel will definitely make you think.
Anonymous 22 days ago
I read The Stranger in the Woods for school and I really enjoyed it. It was a quick and easy read that I think any age can read. I usually do not like non-fiction books, but this one kept me entertained and it is even cooler because it is a true story, besides the end. The only thing I did not like about this book was the fact the there was a lot of unnecessary facts that I eventually ended skipping over. The facts bored me most of the time and although the facts were about hermits, they weren’t about the hermit I was reading about. The end was also not as good as I had hoped but if you want to find out the end you can read it, I really liked this book and I hope you will too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written. Finkel does a great job telling Knight's story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An epic story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very compelling and explained in detail how this man survived alone in the woods for 27 years. Not everyone is strong enough to do it the way he did. His mind seemed altered in a way that he could endure it. Many normal people mentally would hit some kind of wall or breakdown. I found I could not put this story down. It was Avery good read.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
In a world as frenetic as is this present age, the thought of escaping the chaos and living alone in an isolated spot is appealing to many. Its appeal lasts as long for we dreamers as it takes to realize how difficult such a task would be. Shelter, food, water, protecting the isolation, the very isolation itself, all become factors in “succeeding” in such an endeavor. Most humans in the Western Hemisphere get edgy when they are “isolated” for a few hours; solo, long-distance hikers rarely go more than 48-hours without contact with another human. Christopher Knight spent 27 years alone in the Maine woods and had contact with another human only once in that time span. In that exchange he spoke one word, “Hi.” Christopher Knight was reared in a close-knit, isolated, emotionally-closed family of eight (five boys, he being the youngest and one girl). He was taught in that loving atmosphere to be respectful, hard-working, self-sufficient, industrious and extremely private. His decision to withdraw from society was, from all appearances, sudden and remains unexplained. His “home” while in the Central Maine woods (the exact location is on private land, therefore its location was not given) was three minutes from a cabin, yet was so well hidden that he had to lead the authorities to its location after he was apprehended. He kept the site neat (he shoveled the snow, swept the pine needles from the area, buried his refuse), efficient (his sleeping, cooking, shower, restroom, trash areas were handy but separate) and sustaining (he was there for 27 years, the trash dump took a work crew, using heavy equipment, days to clear out, it was near a seasonal population who could afford to replenish goods he had stolen so he could steal them again). He stayed there all that time without ever building a fire (he used propane taken from the area’s cabins for heat and cooking). The book was written using the information gathered from five letters, seven, one-hour interviews and two short meetings after Mr. Knight was released from jail. The author noticed a news bulletin noting “The Maine Hermit” had been caught and chased the story. Mr. Finkel has an affinity for being alone and mistakenly thought that would be a connection between he and Mr. Knight. Due to the limited experience he was allowed of Mr. Knight (the interviews were stilted and limited by Mr. Knight’s unwillingness (inability?) to be forthcoming with information), much of the book is the projection of Mr. Finkel’s expectations and experience. The values Mr. Knight learned, then claimed as his own, from his parents abhorred thievery, but his need to remain unnoticed and alone won out over his ethics. He reports and appears to be ashamed of those actions and willingly admitted his crimes when questioned. The justice system mandates some measure of “understanding” for crimes committed and the court-mandated psychologist was successful in giving him a diagnosis, but that “explanation” for his actions does not cover the motivation for such actions. He had not been abused, was not without means (he had a job and familial support when he “disappeared”), was rational and well-ordered in all aspects yet choose to no longer participate in society. This was not a quest for enlightenmentor a religious commitment, he only wanted to be alone in the quiet. Mr. Knight choose to be a completely free individual, as much as he could be such a person. He lived as he wished (he did rely upon society to support t
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating, glad I purchased, enjoyed reading about this unusual man.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A differant kind of life. Not everyone can just live out who they think they are Knight tried.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A unique true story.