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Book Review ‘The Stranger in the Woods’, Michael Finkel

There are 2 different views on the solitude: people either hate it or love it:

1. “Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.” Honore de Balzac
2. “The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” Michel de Montaigne 

Do you feel the difference?
Now sit-down and think to which kind of the group you belong…and do not lie to yourself! 

The genre: non-fiction
The level of entertainment: 7 from 10. At least for me, because:

  1. I never heard about this man (meet Ray-the-hermit of the news, haha). 
  2. This is the story about the most solitary known person in all of human history and it is freaking fascinating!
  3. The author have done quite a big research on the solitude and loneliness – via books of the classical writers and philosophers.

Short synopsis:
‘In 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight left society. Leaving everything behind and telling no one, he ventured into the forests of Maine where he’d live alone for the next 27 years. Over that time, he survived by his skills – he was capable of making it through the deadly cold of the winter, unaided – but also by theft, which was ultimately his downfall when he was finally arrested.’

The guy is really extraordinary because he doesn’t know why he left: there’s no answer to this simple question. He just wanted to be alone, I guess.

Hate society? Love solitude?
Solution: Leave –
Go live in the forest
(the mountains maybe??)
DO NOT contact any human being –
Repeat for 3 decades or more.

WHATTT??? Internet? Wi-fi? What is dat? haha
Listen to the birds all day long and stay healthy!
But even if you’ll try it for 10 days or 10 month or 10 years -> Mr Knight is still THE ONE,  who has surpassed all boundaries, plunging to the bottom of the Solitude-Well, to the mysterious deep.

The style of the book: fast-paced, straight to the point
The main hero: Chris Knight
I think the author sees him as a very complicated, troubled (definitely not a Robin-Hood-type, but more like a mad Robinson Crusoe), some way special or sick (Asperger’s disorder, Shizoid personality disorder, depression ), but very intellectual man, interested in the nature, philosophy (stoicism), reading, and with the awesome survival skills. 

To Check: He didn’t like Hemingway, Thoreau, Kerouac, and ‘Ulysses’, but preferred Rudyard Kipling (lesser known works), Robert Frost, Shakespeare, William Shirer, Emerson. His favourite subject – history. He hated gym. The only book Knight didn’t steal – The Bible. He do not practice any religion.

What he did in the woods? Mmm, actually the best thing humans can do – doing nothing. In the ancient China they call it – WU WEI – ‘non-doing’ – the essential part of life. And Knight believes there isn’t nearly enough nothing in the world anymore. 

‘Daydreaming. Watching nature. Thinking about things. Reading.’ – Chris Knight 

His closest companion and pet: The mushroom on the tree.

The family of the hero: Chris is the fifth child. His mother is house wife, his father is a navy veteran who served in Korea. They lived in a farm house (60 acres). His family was obsessed with privacy. 

Science: The desire to be alone is partially genetic and to some degree measurable. If you have low levels of the peptide oxytocin – sometimes called the master chemical of sociability – and high quantities of the hormone vasopressin – you tend to require fewer interpersonal relationships.

The author: Michael is very proud of being one of the few people accepted into Knight’s life (it feels in every chapter).

The extreme touch: 

  1. Think about winter… hm, the guy stayed in the small nylon tent (he insist) and did not once in all those winters light a fire. 
  2. The biggest burglary case in the history of Maine (he simply burglarized cabins, houses or camps about 40 times a year, during 27 years = 1080 times. By the way no windows or doors were broken…just imagine the skills!!). Stolen mostly food, batteries, books, clothes. He had a major sweet tooth (that means – hide your chocolate well, peeps!)
  3. No mirrors in his ‘forest-camp’, but he’s perfectly shaved
  4. He never been sick (Knight said: ‘You need to have to contact with other humans to get sick’, which is true 😂)
  5. No map, mo compass, moves like a cat.

He was called ‘Hungry Man’, ‘The Hermit of the North Pond’, ‘Pond Monster’ and so on. His own reaction to that: ‘When I came out of the woods they applied the hermit label to me. Strange idea. I had never thought of myself as a hermit. Then I got worried. For I knew with the label hermit comes the idea of crazy. See the ugly little joke.’

But thats how our society works.
Plus the hermit sounds better than a thief. 

The question of the book: How easy to re-enter society? How we see people who are different from us? Is Chris Knight only a madman? And the most important –

WHY?
Why would a 20+ kid with a job and a car and a brain abruptly abandon the world?

Maybe you can find the answers in these quotes/Chris Knight:

  • ‘I’m not used to seeing people’s faces. There’s too much information there. Aren’t you aware of it? Too much, too fast. I prefer a meeting of the minds rather than a touching of bodies. I like my distance’.

We have something in common with you, Chris.
Because Ray is not a hugger either.

  • ‘I don’t like jokes. Freud said there’s no such thing as a joke – a joke is an expression of veiled hostility’.
  • ‘The idea of crazy has been attached to me. I understand I’ve made an unusual lifestyle choice.. But the label ‘crazy’ bothers me. Annoys me. Because it prevents response. When someone asks if you are crazy, you can either say yes, which makes you crazy, or you can say no, which makes you sound defensive, as if you fear that you really are crazy. There’s no good answer.’
  • What I miss most in the woods is somewhere between quiet and solitude. What I miss most is stilness’. 

It’s possible Knight believed he was one of the few sane people left…

I liked:
The groundwork the author done by researching Tao and different hermits around the world. As well as the facts about 3 diagnoses (disorders) that the state offered to Knight. 

Notes for future reseach: 

  • The modern Hermit Community (exist as a web page) for the hermits, but you aren’t allowed to write there unless you’ll prove you are the real hermit lol 
  • Japanese hermits known as hikikomori ‘pulling inward’ – called also ‘the last generation’ (around 1 million in Japan)
  • Sadhus in India (at least 4 millions)
  • Anchorites in Europe 

So on which side are you:

  1. ’Soltude is the school of genius’ Edward Gibbon
  2. ‘Its an awful thing, solitary. It crushes your spirit’ John McCain

And what if …Knight had never been found/caught? No person would know of his experience, existence or life. 🤪😱


Next Post – Sunday, after that I’ll be on the summer – break until 11 June. 

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raynotbradbury View All

Living in Sweden. Awesome. Happy. Ayurvedic food. Healthy lifestyle. Dogs. Literature. Painting. Meditation/Yoga. I love my life.
"It does not matter how long you are spending on the earth, how much money you have gathered or how much attention you have received. It is the amount of positive vibration you have radiated in life that matters" A. Ray
Contact: vickanohlsson@gmail.com

35 thoughts on “Book Review ‘The Stranger in the Woods’, Michael Finkel Leave a comment

  1. I like the idea of this book! I’ve considered it myself!
    I’m definitely a solitude kind of gal. I have too much anxiety to be around other people a lot… On the other hand, my man is a social butterfly (they DO SAY opposites attract) so, I never really GET said solitude as there are CONTANTLY people walking into my house! (and I do mean “waking in”. None of his friends or family knock. Ever.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The review was nice…I’ll leave the details for another day…

    You know you are getting old when you walk past a bathroom without saying “well, I’m here already – I may as well pee.” And, if you forget what today, or what this is all about…go have a beer or better still an Ayurvedic tonic! Relax, Chill and pee again! If you still don’t get it…. I’ll give you a clue!

    Two women are sitting on a park bench. One says, “Hey Vic, I have nothing but aches and pains. How do you feel?” Vicky says, “I feel like a newborn babe!” “Really, a newborn babe?” “Yes! I have false teeth, false hair, and I think I might’ve wet my pants!”
    Still no clue… Babe, Al the zheimer is getting to you!

    Anyways, age is only a number that represents how attractive, happy, “athletic,” and able-bodied you are. So, there is nothing to get worked up over.

    Don’t worry, Cheers! Have one on me!

    Tomorrow never comes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • U r always so cheerful 😀…ah I have no degrees in peeing lol but how to chill in the most non-active way – I know very well 😂😂 probably that’s why I’m so happy 😇
      Tomorrow never comes – is true😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating. I love my solitude, truly. A daily dose of it is precious to me. I love people all the more when I don’t have to be with them all the time. But this example is rather extreme and fascinating, isn’t it? Did he have a particular justification for why burglarizing cabins 40 times a year was okay? I guess if he had to resort to stealing he wasn’t that intent on a “survivalist” philosophy – he was reliant on other people in covert ways. I’m intrigued though, and might check this out.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Knight’s is truly a fascinating story, and one I have long envied myself. There is truly great joy in solitude and nothingness, but both are becoming rarer and rarer with each passing day, at risk of extinction with the advancement of society and technology. But such is life. Ideas and concepts are subject to the same evolutionary pressures. The iblt difference is, they can be resurrected at any time…

    Liked by 2 people

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