Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel, reviewed by Sarah Corrigan

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, 224 pages, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Available here.  

If you asked me what my greatest fear is, I'd undoubtedly say loneliness, which should not be mistaken for time spent alone. I cherish time for myself: a day, a week, or even longer. Most people today spend virtually no time alone. Ask yourself, how much time you've spent alone in the past day or week? (And, no, time on social media doesn't count.) I bet the answer is very little. 

But The Stranger in the Woods is a true story about Chris Knight, who spent 27 years in the forest with no one for companionship, through frigid winters, without medical care, yet with "civilization" just a short walk away. 

I can understand why many people did not believe Chris Knights' story, yet I did; I believed it immediately, although at the same time, it's near impossible for me to comprehend. It is so mind-boggling that I appreciate why the author,  Michael Finkel, was drawn across the country to learn more about Chris Knights' story. 

Michael Finkel

This book is not really about the crime of robbery, though obviously, Chris is guilty of theft; it’s how he fed and sheltered himself. It's a story of survival in a world where people don't always fit into society's molds. It's about how our education systems and cities are not always welcome places for many people. 

Chris couldn't find contentment in society, so he looked for it in the forest. There he found a sense of peace in the quiet of isolation and his joy of reading. I found this inspiring and contrary to what society pressures people into believing – that they can't be alone and be happy.

The book relates how Chris had a very strong reaction to a photograph of a boy crying in a National Geographic magazine. This makes me wonder if there was a shameful trigger event which spurred his decision to go into the forest. If there was such an event, it will undoubtedly die with him a secret.

After his capture, Chris spent nearly seven months in jail. He was sentenced to time served and three years probation for his 1,000-plus thefts. Chris now lives with his family in Maine where he seems to have found some peace and, I'd bet, where he enjoys the local library.

Chris Knight

Chris is obviously brilliant. Two of my favorite reflections from Chris in the book were: 

He prefers to be Tough versus Strong and Clever versus Intelligent. Two comparisons I heartily agree with.


When asked if any grand insights were revealed to him in the wild. Chris answered, 'Get enough sleep.' Isn't it ironic, don't you think? To coin a phrase, whether alone or in our fast-paced world, getting enough sleep rules the day?

The author did an excellent job conveying the story without bias. His research was extensive, but he didn't let it bog down the story. I also enjoyed the not-so-simple journey the author took befriending Chris and sharing how the friendship affected him. It was easy to picture the two men with tears streaming down their faces on their last meeting. 


Sarah Corrigan is a life-long book lover who never tires of learning about writing. She lives in Collingwood, Ontario, and practices forest bathing all year long.

Quick Brown Fox welcomes essays about your experience of reading or writing (see examples here and scroll down) and book reviews (see here and scroll down). Send your essay or review to: brianhenry@sympatico.ca 

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

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