Rating: 3.5 / 5
I decided to kick off #NonfictionNovember by combing my shelves for all of my nonfiction titles. THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS by Michael Finkel is a book I received in a subscription box and it isn’t one that I had heard of prior to receiving it. Still, the story of a hermit who survived for years in the woods on his own sounded intriguing so I picked it up to kick off the month.
THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS tells the story of Christopher Knight, a man who disappeared in 1986, walking off into the woods. For the next 27 years he lives without human interaction save for a couple ‘hi’s if he passed a hiker in the woods. He lives by raiding local cabins and stealing his basic needs: food, camping supplies, books and outdated handheld games.
Knight was considered a considerate robber, never taking more than he needed and making sure to lock up after his departure. He timed his heists to ensure that he never ran into the owners, hitting up seasonal housing. While some considered his thefts little more than a nuisance, local law enforcement was determined to catch him and eventually they did. The author heard Knight’s story and struck up a correspondence with him first by mail and then by occasional visits to explore and tell his story.
This isn’t a book that I would have picked up on my own, but I found it very fascinating. Knight disappeared without a trace, leaving behind a family that didn’t consider it something worth reporting to authorities and it seems he was essentially unmissed. He didn’t have a particular reason for going, no mental illness that drove him away or past he was escaping. He just preferred time to himself.
When I thought of a hermit living on his own in the woods, I expected someone living off the land, but that really wasn’t the case here. Though he reports that he always felt bad about it, he lived in an environment where his only survival option was to steal the food and other necessities he needed. In the freezing winter when he couldn’t venture out, he had to get himself fat, grow out his hair and stockpile the basics to get him through until spring. He had contact to the world by listening to the radio and occasionally powering a pilfered TV with stolen batteries, but he otherwise had books and his own mind to keep him company. After his arrest, Knight is thrust into a world 27 years after he left it and he isn’t entirely impressed.
This wound up being a very entertaining read and one I’d recommend to the curious!