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The Stranger in the Woods

The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
Written by: Michael Finkel
Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
Length: 6 hrs and 19 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (50 ratings)

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Audible Editor Reviews

Editors Select, March 2017 - The literal stranger in the woods obviously fascinated author Michael Finkel, and his ode to this stranger created an immediate fascination within me. At age 20, Christopher Knight disappeared into the Maine woods and lived a life of solitude for the next 27 years. Over that time, he committed 1,000 burglaries (a necessity for survival) and spoke only once. Finkel's portrayal of Knight's time in the woods, capture, and imprisonment is haunting, heartbreaking, and utterly human. Mark Bramhall's narration served as the perfect accompaniment to the story. His lilting delivery evoked the slowed-down life of a hermit, and his characterization of Knight captured the gravelly tone and halted nature of speech that one would expect from someone who has uttered only a single syllable in 27 years. I listened to this in a single day - it's simply an amazing story. —Katie, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

For readers and listeners of Jon Krakauer and The Lost City of Z, a remarkable tale of survival and solitude - the true story of a man who lived alone in a tent in the Maine woods, never talking to another person and surviving by stealing supplies from nearby cabins for 27 years.

In 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the woods. 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 in winter, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store food and water, to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothes, 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 the why and how of his secluded life - as well as the challenges he has faced returning to the world. A riveting 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.

©2017 Michael Finkel (P)2017 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"[A] fascinating account of Knight's renunciation of humanity.... Deeply compelling." ( Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

FASCINATING!!!!

This book grabbed my attention right from the first word. There are so many fascinating things about this story:

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1. How is it possible for anyone to survive, alone, in the cold, in the elements, without any preparation, and never been seen/caught for over 25 years?! This story goes into detail just how this was possible, from what was used for shelter, how food was acquired, how he moved about the landscape unnoticed, how personal hygiene was dealt with, to how the hermit passed time. It was so interesting to see how resourceful someone can become and made me question how I would have dealt with this issues if I were in this situation.

2. The book discusses different forms of isolation that have occurred, including isolation for religious/spirtual reasons, protest reasons, and those in solitary confinement. It discusses the mental and emotional effects of isolation in these situations and why it impacts some differently than others.

3. My morals were questioned throughout the entire story. On one level I was rooting for the hermit as he stole most of the items he used for his survival. I think at first I was okay with his form of stealing because he would only steal items that look as though they had been cast aside, were of low value and often required for survival. He would often steal books, which on some level also seemed to make it okay for me. However, when the owners of those homes that were broken into, year after year, explained the impact on themselves, specifically how their homes became a place of fear, I began to change my opinion to perhaps feel as though his form of inconsequential stealing was actually not that inconsequential. He made the choice to be a 'hermit' and cut himself off from society, but was he really a hermit if he was relying on others for survival? Did he really cut himself off from society? He made this decision, so perhaps he should have been able to rely solely on himself, instead of robbing others of their feelings of safety and security.

4. Narration was fantastic!

Overall this is one of my favorite books. I listened to it twice just so that I could pick on some of the details I may have missed the first time. If you are looking for a fascinating story, with great narration, then check this title out.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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It's ok

The narrator was fine. The story was kind of interesting, the writing wasn't astonishing.

a thought I had while listening to this book was that all this guy wanted was to be alone because that's the only time he felt content. that's such an American thing, the 'pursuit of happiness' . American society isn't set up to let everyone do that. my takeaway is that this is a tragic story of a man who only yearned to be free and couldn't because he lived in the u.s.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • NMwritergal
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • 2018-04-20

A one-sitting listen

I had this on my wish list but until I heard the author interviewed on the Book Cougars podcast, I was on the fence about whether to listen to it or not. Halfway through the interview, I downloaded the book and started listening. And didn’t stop.

There are quite a few reviews for this book, so let me just say it was well-written, fascinating, absorbing. And the perfect length. Lately I’ve been finding that I want the occasional 6 hour book, instead of the long ones I usually crave. There’s no filler here.

Finkel puts himself in the story just enough--I enjoy books in which a journalist writes not only about the subject, but about the investigation. So while the focus is Knight, we get the bonus of learning something about the author—the how, the why, the delving into this unbelievable story. Because really, 27 years in the woods without human contact, without spending money, without even building a fire in the middle of winter in Maine?

Also, very good audio performance.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 2017-03-10

Captivating Then Exasperating

There's no doubt that Christopher Knight's story is absolutely captivating... at first. And Michael Finkel does his best to portray him as a hero of sorts. Knight was a man who simply decided to bow out of society. Right?
Well, not quite. I listened to "The Stranger in the Woods" twice, and the second time brought out a lot of the story's flaws, a lot of Knight's flaws. It's no wonder that true hermits are peeved about his "Hermit" status because the man brought society with him. He stole a television set, a radio with TV, trashy books. He lived off Marshmallow Fluff and Chimichangas. He had his own city dump style garbage pit of plastics and waxed cardboard trash.
Mostly, the man was no hero--the more I listened to it the more it became clear that Knight is a man completely lacking in empathy. He knew he was causing fear, knew he was taking that which did not belong to him, knew plenty but felt he was entitled to it all.
Finkel's book covers why someone would shun society: political reasons, philosophical reasons, biochemical reasons, etc. etc. But there's no answer for Knight. At first I found this to be unsatisfying then I didn't care. Sure, it's pretty hilarious that Knight used pages from John Grisham novels when toilet paper was running low, but no, it's not funny when you consistently screw over strangers, even family. Further, the Publisher's Summary says this is based on extensive interviews and such, but actually it was nine one-hour prison interviews and a couple of quick interactions with Knight.
Take your chance with this book, if you're interested. As someone who's worked the graveyard shift for a couple of decades, I can attest that you lose social skills, so it's interesting that Knight lost his ability to pick up on body/facial cues, make eye contact. But the more I listened to the book, the more it came to me that the man simply doesn't care about other people... except for stealing from them. God forbid he should try to live off the land. Not while he could steal from them, judging them harshly the whole time...

172 of 190 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mark W. Huddleston
  • Newark, DE USA
  • 2017-03-13

Outstanding book

My expectations of this book were not high. I had anticipated a fairly sensationalist treatment of a bizarre story. Instead, I found a beautifully written, sensitive and richly contextualized treatment, one that situates the fascinating story of Chris Knight within an informed rumination on the nature of loneliness and human connection.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2017-12-09

Loved it

Amazing story. Very powerful trying to imagine what it really must have been like to experience what he did. Felt an strong connection and compassion for Mr Knight. Narration was excellent.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Marla
  • COLUMBIA FALLS, MT, United States
  • 2017-03-08

What about the masks that you wear?

Finally, I found a book that grabbed my attention and would not let me go. Do you desire to be alone? Do you love solitude? What if you could take off all of the masks you wear? The one you wear for your spouse, each child, the teacher, the preacher, your church friends, your co workers, customers, neighbors, yourself when you look in the mirror, etc. Who would you be? I sure don't know. Being all alone is very desirable to me and that is why this book caught my attention. It is told in a very catching way. I like how Mr Finkel has delved into so much research on different aspects of this man's character. What caused him to be this way. I found no doubt in the fact that this story is true. Did you ever make a tree house or a pretend house in the woods or some sort of hiding spot as a child? Perhaps we might all have a longing to this hidden secret spot where no one can bother you. The author has brought so many deep thought provoking thoughts with his questions. The narrator did a fairly decent job. occasionally slipping into a faster paced speech when it should have been slower but overall was very enjoyable to listen to. I have not written a review on a book for a long time but was so delighted with this book that I had to. I even shared it on my facebook page.

31 of 36 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Gotta Tellya
  • Knoxville, TN
  • 2017-03-27

Interesting. Not extraordinary, just interesting.

Would you try another book from Michael Finkel and/or Mark Bramhall?

Mark Bramhall was an excellent narrator. Michael Finkel seemed oddly and overly obsessed with Christopher Knight, who chose to live as a recluse in the woods for 27 years, surviving by stealing from locals and never getting in touch with his family to let them know how and where he was. Finkel started interviewing Knight while he was in prison, having finally been caught stealing food from a camp for kids. The book tells Knight's story as related to Finkel by Knight and by those few who knew Knight. I could not feel very sympathetic toward Knight, who criticized and rejected society and yet lived off the hard work of others by stealing their food and belongings. I found the author's obsession with Knight to be as strange as anything Knight had said or done. When Knight was released from prison, both he and his family asked the author to leave them alone. The author was so driven to maintain his connection to Knight that he did not honor their wishes. He practically stalked Knight. I don't see how that could be OK. So no, I won't be reading anything more by this author.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

This is supposedly a true story, so the ending was what it was. It wasn't constructed to please anyone.

What about Mark Bramhall’s performance did you like?

Evenly paced reading. Avoidance of hyper-drama or tedious droning.

Could you see The Stranger in the Woods being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

Maybe this story could be a one hour TV documentary. I don't see it as movie material. Movie makers always morph a true story into something it was not, to suit their own ideas of drama. A Hollywood director or producer would no doubt try to make Knight into some kind of hero or villain. He was no hero and not much of a villain, just a selfish man who lacked sufficient regard for the feelings and rights of others, a petulant but not malicious parasite who wanted to be left alone.

Any additional comments?

No.

33 of 40 people found this review helpful

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  • RLL
  • 2017-12-22

Facinating And True!

I really enjoyed this book. There were times I laughed out loud and others when I teared up.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jeff York
  • 2017-12-04

Very Interesting

Not a book I would normally read, however the story was very interesting and the narration was spot on.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Shane Hamiton
  • 2017-11-13

Really interesting story

Fascinating story about a real life character. Didn't want the tale to end. Highly recommend. AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Katie - Audible
  • Newark, NJ
  • 2017-07-10

Crazy True Story - I Listened in a Single Day

The literal stranger in the woods obviously fascinated author Michael Finkel, and his ode to this stranger created an immediate fascination within me. At age 20, Christopher Knight disappeared into the Maine woods and lived a life of solitude for the next 27 years. Over that time, he committed 1,000 burglaries (a necessity for survival) and only spoke once. Finkel’s portrayal of Knight’s time in the woods, capture, and imprisonment is haunting, heartbreaking, and utterly human. I've shared this book with a few friends, and responses have ranged from, "what a nutter" to "this guy is my idol!" I love stories with that kind of power.

Mark Bramhall’s narration served as a great accompaniment to the story. His lilting delivery evoked the slowed-down life of a hermit, and his characterization of Knight captured the gravelly tone and halted nature of speech that one would expect from someone who has only uttered a single syllable in 27 years. But pro-tip, if you're an east coast speed talker (like myself), there will be times when you'll want to bump this one up to 2x.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful