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Michael Finkel

Michael Finkel

Best known for:

Michael Finkel is the New York Times bestselling author of "The Stranger in the Woods" as well as the author of "True Story" which was adapted into a 2015 major motion picture.


Michael Finkel is the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit,” about a highly intelligent man who lived alone in the forest of Maine for 27 years, as well as the book “True Story,” about Finkel’s bizarre and unhealthy friendship with a murderer, which was adapted into a 2015 major motion picture produced by Brad Pitt and starring James Franco and Jonah Hill.


Michael Finkel has reported from more than fifty countries across six continents, covering topics ranging from the world’s last hunter-gatherer tribes to conflicts in Afghanistan and Israel to the international black market in human organs to theoretical physics. 

In the line of reportorial duty, Finkel has skied off the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, set sail on a Haitian refugee boat, joined a cult in Colorado, been in a car that was run over by a tank in Afghanistan, climbed into an active volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and crossed the Sahara Desert on the back of an open truck. His work has appeared in National Geographic, GQ, The Atlantic, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times Magazine.

He lives with his family in western Montana and southern France.


I have prepared a talk, accompanied by slides and video, about the subject of my new book, a highly intelligent man named Christopher Knight who fled the world at age 20 and lived completely alone in the forest of Maine for nearly three decades.

My speech tells the incredible story of Mr. Knight, while also discussing, more broadly, the subject of solitude. Why are most people afraid to be alone? What did Chris Knight, and other hermits throughout history, learn from being alone? Why do so many religious, philosophical, and scientific breakthroughs come from people who have spent significant periods of time alone? What does it feel like to be alone for decade after decade? 

My talk answers all of these questions, and notes that, while our modern society seems set up to avoid loneliness at all costs, dozens of studies around the world have shown that spending time alone makes a person calmer, healthier, and smarter. 

I will also speak about the survival aspect of this story -- how Knight was able to live through 27 brutal Maine winters without even lighting one fire. (He was afraid that smoke would give his campsite away.) How can a man go 27 years without seeing a doctor? How did he deal with wild animals? Prevent his drinking water from freezing? Not die in the Great Ice Storm of 1998? It seems impossible, but Knight explained it all.

I will also discuss what Knight learned during his immense solitude -- he is one most secluded known people in all of human history -- and what advice he has for the rest of us, advice that could profoundly affect the way that we all live our lives. 


A man accused of the horrific murders of his wife and three young children fled the country and was arrested in Mexico, where he was pretending to be Michael Finkel, a reporter for The New York Times. He was pretending to be me. At same time, my own life and my own career was unraveling. What ensued was a bizarre game of psychological cat-and-mouse, a tale of truth and lies, of crimes and redemption, that first became a book called True Story, and then was adapted into a major motion picture, also called “True Story,” produced by Brad Pitt and starring Jonah Hill and James Franco. 


I have been a full-time journalist for nearly 30 years, writing for publications like National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine.

I am willing to speak about my career in general, or about topics as varied as the global migrant dilemma, the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and what it is like to descend into the center of an active volcano.

I have personally visited with active terrorists in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and the Palestinian territories, and can offer first-hand insight into how terrorists think, why they become committed to terrorism, why they believe what they do, and how the United States, and the world, can far more effectively combat terrorism.


You can find out more information about Michael and his speaking through his website.

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