Review – The stranger in the woods

The stranger in the woods by Michael Finkel
Published:  March 7th 2017 by Knopf
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Autobiography, Memoir
Pages: 224

The stranger in the woods

“Not till we have lost the world,” wrote Thoreau, “do we begin to find ourselves.”

Christopher Knight gets in his car and sets out to lose the world at 20 years of age and isn’t heard from again, until 27 years later.

For all those years Knight managed to live undetected as a trespasser on private property in Maine. I pictured a hermit with some higher purpose in the woods living off the land, eating bark and distilling water. Far from it. Knight burglarised the nearby cottages for clothes, food, books, gameboys and alcohol!

My picture of Christopher Knight only got worse and worse, until I was left with no sympathy for him at all. He’s the bad guy in the story. And what drives him? Who knows, it just seems like he doesn’t like other people. He comes off as arrogant and judgemental and I didn’t like him at all. (He’s very stuck up in his musical taste and apparently “hates people that like Jack Kerouac” – well, I hate people that hate other people for stupid reasons that has nothing to do with them.)

He doesn’t share any wisdom or reflection of his being in solitude for that long, he just appears annoyed at everything.

“I finally caught his eyes and asked him the waiting-room question – “What did you do when the mosquitoes were bad`- and he said, “I used bug spray,” and turned away.”

So why did I like this book if I didn’t like the “Hermit”? (which I don’t really want to call him since he had no meaning for what he did and he didn’t leave society, he just hid from it and terrorized it during the night.)

Well, that comes down to the skills of a very talented journalist that managed to spin this very thin story into a great reading experience, looking into every aspect of it and examining it from all angles. He draws you in with history, beautiful quotes from famous writers, with personal thoughts, curiosities and philosophical questions. That’s what made the book entertaining, not the “Hermit” himself.

So does the book follow up on it’s promise to be extraordinary? It does, even if you don’t find it exciting, it’s still extraordinary that a man lived alone in the woods off sugar and alcohol while playing tetris for 27 years and never got sick.