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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

Updated: Jul 7

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 look up to the sky through the trees

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. The Stranger in the Woods 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.

Discussion Questions

  1. Stranger in the Woods explores what happens when someone seeks out nature not to return. So many dream of doing this but fail to take action. What do you think? Could you walk into the woods never to return?

  2. Do you think Christopher Knight should have been jailed for his burglaries on North Pond over the years? Does his petty theft somehow change your interpretation of his “living off the grid” mentality?

  3. What do you think about Knight's way of living off the land and the community around North Pond without contributing to it or society?

  4. How does someone endure nearly thirty years in a tent through New England winters?

  5. How do you feel about Knight? On the North Pond camp owners’ scale of “lock Knight up forever” to “let him go immediately,” where do you reside?

  6. Discuss Knight’s time in jail. How does the movement from complete solitude to imprisonment affect his morale? What tactics from his time in the woods does he use to pass the time?


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