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In 1986, 20-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.
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By Gillian on 03-10-17
Captivating Then Exasperating
There's no doubt that Christopher Knight's story is absolutely captivating... at first. And Michael Finkel does his best to portray him as a hero of sorts. Knight was a man who simply decided to bow out of society. Right?
Well, not quite. I listened to "The Stranger in the Woods" twice, and the second time brought out a lot of the story's flaws, a lot of Knight's flaws. It's no wonder that true hermits are peeved about his "Hermit" status because the man brought society with him. He stole a television set, a radio with TV, trashy books. He lived off Marshmallow Fluff and Chimichangas. He had his own city dump style garbage pit of plastics and waxed cardboard trash.
Mostly, the man was no hero--the more I listened to it the more it became clear that Knight is a man completely lacking in empathy. He knew he was causing fear, knew he was taking that which did not belong to him, knew plenty but felt he was entitled to it all.
Finkel's book covers why someone would shun society: political reasons, philosophical reasons, biochemical reasons, etc. etc. But there's no answer for Knight. At first I found this to be unsatisfying then I didn't care. Sure, it's pretty hilarious that Knight used pages from John Grisham novels when toilet paper was running low, but no, it's not funny when you consistently screw over strangers, even family. Further, the Publisher's Summary says this is based on extensive interviews and such, but actually it was nine one-hour prison interviews and a couple of quick interactions with Knight.
Take your chance with this book, if you're interested. As someone who's worked the graveyard shift for a couple of decades, I can attest that you lose social skills, so it's interesting that Knight lost his ability to pick up on body/facial cues, make eye contact. But the more I listened to the book, the more it came to me that the man simply doesn't care about other people... except for stealing from them. God forbid he should try to live off the land. Not while he could steal from them, judging them harshly the whole time...
115 of 131 people found this review helpful
By Mark W. Huddleston on 03-13-17
My expectations of this book were not high. I had anticipated a fairly sensationalist treatment of a bizarre story. Instead, I found a beautifully written, sensitive and richly contextualized treatment, one that situates the fascinating story of Chris Knight within an informed rumination on the nature of loneliness and human connection.
11 of 13 people found this review helpful