The Stranger in the Woods

The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

Publisher: Knopf
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.

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Chapter 16

Knight lived in the dirt but was cleaner than you. Way cleaner. Pine needles and mud don’t make you dirty, except superficially. The muck that matters, the bad bacteria, the evil virus, is typically passed through coughs and sneezes and handshakes and kisses. The price of sociability is...
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PRAISE FOR

"A story that takes the two primary human relationships—to nature and to one another—and deftly upends our assumptions about both. This was a breathtaking book to read and many weeks later I am still thinking about the implications for our society and—by extension—for my own life."
—Sebastian Junger
 
"An absorbing exploration of solitude and man’s eroding relationship with the natural world. Though the ‘stranger’ in the title is Knight, one closes the book with the sense that Knight, like all seers, is the only sane person in a world gone insane—that modern civilization has made us strangers to ourselves."
—Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic
 
"Campfire-friendly and thermos-ready, easily drained in one warm, rummy slug… Raises a variety of profound questions—about the role of solitude, about the value of suffering, about the diversity of human needs."
—Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
 
"Michael Finkel has done something magical with this profound book… [His] investigation runs deep, summoning…the human history of our own attempts to find meaning in a noisy world."
—Michael Paterniti
 
"Chris Knight is an American original... I burned through this haunting tale in one rapt sitting."
—John Vaillant