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.
A 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.
On a summer morning in 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight didn't show up for his job installing alarm systems in Waltham, Mass. Nearly three decades passed before he reappeared and revealed he'd spent most of that time camping in the woods of central Maine. In this fascinating account of Knight's renunciation of humanity, Finkel (True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa) struggles to comprehend the impulses that led Knight to court death by hypothermia even though his family home was less than an hour's drive away. To survive, Knight relentlessly pilfered supplies from vacation houses around his campsite, infuriating and terrifying homeowners and baffling a generation of cops. Finally apprehended during one of his raids, the "Hermit of North Pond" battled depression and contemplated suicide as he was forced to rejoin society. Drawn by the details that followed Knight's arrest, Finkel reached out to him through letters and visits. Despite frequent rebuffs, enough of a relationship developed for Finkel to broadly outline Knight's wilderness solitude. A fellow outdoorsman, Finkel places Knight in the long tradition of hermits, a category that has been admired and distrusted over the centuries. Yet even as Finkel immerses himself in Knight's life researching hermits, consulting psychologists, even camping at Knight's hideaway his subject's motivations remain obscure, leaving the book somehow incomplete. The book doesn't penetrate the mystery of Knight's renunciation, but the questions it raises remain deeply compelling.
Customer ReviewsSee All
With great insight to a troubled man. Well researched and edited. Good read.
The Stranger in the Woods
Fascinating read about how one person could isolate themselves from society. And also interesting how the community that he stole from responded to his crimes. Hard at times to read how this man felt having to be a part of society.
Read this in one sitting I couldn’t put it down
This is an extraordinary true story about a man who was stifled by the society and the pressure of societal expectations and behavior that’s thrust upon us all. For some, they conform and find it relatively easy to acclimate into the narrative and restrictions others around us write for us. For others, the only contentment they find is when they are alone free of the barriers and interaction with others. It is where Christopher obviously felt his most authentic self. I was devastated for him when he was arrested and locked up in a room away from nature and the freedom he paid an extreme price for. Nothing he did was easy, in fact I’d say his life was full of suffering and pain but he’d go to these extreme measures to find some peace of mind and clarity in a place where he was able to be his best version of himself. Yet, his need to survive and to remain in the home he’d given his life for was only attainable if he stole the food in which he needed to live. I think this is a very difficult situation for all involved but my heart and my conviction was with Chris. For anyone to go to the lengths he did, for nearly 3 decades to be free of the imposing restraints of society it speaks volumes of the visceral need for solitude and the yearning to be free from everything living in our society entails and requires of the citizens who live within it- it wasn’t FREEDOM or how he identifies with that state of being and he isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of things this county is but land of the free it is not. The proof of this idealism is in his sentencing and the incarceration of a man who couldn’t live within the boundaries of societal expectations and restraint so he chose to live alone, sacrificing his connection with his family and he gave everything up including his principles when he resorted to stealing food to do so. I was saddened he was given so much probation time, drug tests and forced him to live in a world that he walked away from 30 years earlier. There’s no amount of therapy or time that will acclimatize him into the very place he escaped from by forcing him to be everything he detests and cannot relate to on any level other than despondent misery and false pretenses. It’s everything that I dislike about this society, judicial system and especially the penal system. In this country, we call it the land of the free. Nothing about this place is free. We abide and obey the laws, the societal norms and the peg holes that are dictated to us as the correct, right and law abiding way to live. There are rules, regulations and expectations as well as narratives written for us before we can even express what it is we need to make us feel our best selves, safe and have peace of mind. The notion that millions of people will all find these restrictive and rigid rules laws and beliefs agreeable is not realistic. The punishment those who aren’t able to conform are harshly punished, labeled mentally ill or judged harshly and treated cruelly and unfairly. We’ve lost our sense of compassion and empathy for other humans who aren’t marching to the same beat and it’s brutally unfair. Some of the most grueling incarnation or institutionalizations have been given to human beings who weren’t violent, they didn’t cause intentional destruction or harm but they were forced to endure living in a world that didn’t feel comfortable or even worth living in and they’d been left to make take extreme measures that very often weren’t harmful to anyone but they broke the laws of the land and they weren’t following suit in the tidy manner expected of everyone to comply with. My heart and respect is with Chris. I hope he’s able to find his way and I pray he’s been able to get back into the woods for a respite from the ever omnipresent government and society that remove those who aren’t like all the rest from their communities and their lives and they put them into cement versions of hell on Earth and leave them there without a chance of comprising a life that would be beneficial for the perpetrator and the elitists that make the rules, and decide who is in and who is out.