BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, March 2017
If you’re a fan of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, you might like The Stranger in the Woods even better. Once you start, in fact, you’ll likely have a hard time putting down Michael Finkel’s fascinating new book.
For decades, cottages on North Pond in Central Maine had been broken into, with food, flashlights, clothes, books and many other items stolen. In April 2013 a Maine game warden set a high-tech surveillance trap at a camp that had been repeatedly burglarized. The trap worked, and the mysterious culprit was finally arrested: 47-year-old Christopher Knight.
This “North Pond Hermit” had been living in a carefully camouflaged tent for 27 years, since the spring day in 1986 when the then-20-year-old abruptly left his job with a security company, drove his car into the backwoods of Maine and abandoned it. (Knight’s expertise with alarm systems proved particularly helpful during his more than 1,000 burglaries to stockpile food and supplies.) Even Knight wasn’t exactly sure why he abandoned both his family and society so suddenly, except to say that he felt like a “square peg.”
Finkel, a journalist and author of True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, heard about Knight’s arrest and wrote to the jailed hermit. Surprisingly Knight wrote back. They exchanged several letters, and when Knight stopped writing, Finkel flew from his Montana home to visit the inmate in person.
During the course of their visits, Finkel managed to elicit details about the life of the man he calls the “most solitary known person in all of human history.” Finkel’s account artfully blends the details of Knight’s childhood, how he survived in the woods, his legal proceedings and his eventual uneasy return to society, along with informative descriptions of various hermits throughout history and their motivations.
Well researched and compassionate, The Stranger in the Woods is a thought-provoking account that will make you thankful for your next hot meal and warm bed, especially on a stormy, bone-chilling night.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Michael Finkel about The Stranger in the Woods.