Review: The Stranger In The Woods

Review: The Stranger In The Woods

How many things there are that I do not want”. Socrates, Circa 425 B.C.

When you enjoy solitude, you are never alone”. – Christopher Knight


I recently returned from one of several road trips I take each year. Vacations are important to me to maintain sanity and return refreshed and refocused on life’s priorities. Each trip is always an “off the grid vacation”, where I do my best to not leave a digital trail of where I have been. Colleagues and friends are often provided misdirection as to where my travels will take me. I do not have a cell phone, and the only device I use to maintain communications is an Ipod Touch or laptop using encrypted applications, like Wire, to check messages and stay in touch when needed. I stay in rural hotels under an alias name, paid for with cash, and the vehicle I drive may or may not have license plates on it. Overall, I attempt to leave as little trace of my travels and whereabouts as possible using the trade-craft and tools that a privacy advocates employ to stay off the grid. Off the grid vacations are a challenge, a lot of fun, and always a learning experience.

I prefer to take trips away from the busy lifestyle and big city environment that is day to day life. Relaxation, and refocusing on proper perspective are always at the top of mt “to-do” list, in addition to hiking, writing, and catching up on reading that I have wanted to do. I finished a book during my trip and felt compelled to share it here on my blog. I have never done a book review, but this particular one seemed appropriate for this audience and I enjoyed it a lot.

Talk about taking a desire for privacy to the extreme! The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel, is the story of Christopher Knight, a man who decided to remove himself from society completely, for his own reasons, and did so for almost three decades.

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 twenty-seven years, making this dream a reality — not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

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. It 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.

This book was fascinating from so many different perspectives, extremely well written, and very thought provoking. From the perspective of someone who values their privacy a great deal, and who also enjoys the peace that solitude can provide, reading about someone who went to the absolute extreme to obtain those goals was truly a pleasure. I think most people who ready this book will be entertained. When it is read by someone who understands and truly values the need for introspection, solitude, and self-discovery, the lessons learned will be even more apparent. I found thought provoking perspective in every chapter, and hidden gems of information throughout the entire book.

This book was a quick and easy read. I highly recommend it and I feel that regardless of your tolerance for taking things to extreme, a lot can be learned from someone who has. The book is available from all the usual sources, including an audio format. Happy reading to you if you pick up a copy. That will likely be the only book review for a while, at least until my next off the grid trip affords me some more time. Until then, it’s back to the humidity and big city life of South Florida for me, teaching, working, and battling traffic on I95 until the next opportunity to make an escape.

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