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Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery Hardcover – January 29, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From August to October 1913, 43-year-old Joseph Knowles went alone, naked and without supplies, into the Maine woods, vowing to live for two months by his own devices. The stunt, sponsored by the Boston Post, generated publicity for Knowles and increased readership for the newspaper, but later proved to be a hoax, one of several examples of nature fakery in the early 20th century that Motavalli (Forward Drive) discusses in this entertaining and evenhanded account of the life of the Nature Man. Knowles got another chance to prove himself when William Randolph Hearst backed a second naked wilderness foray, this time in California and with sanctioned observers to watch over Knowles. A third expedition would have put Knowles in the Adirondacks with a naked woman, but this fizzled when Dawn Woman, as she was called, quit after realizing she would have to endure cold weather and kill wild animals. Motavalli sees the humor in these exploits, but also describes Knowles as a skilled woodsman with a sincere love of the outdoors that reflected the back-to-nature movement of his time. He paints a sympathetic picture of a man with a tragic flaw, showing how Knowles succumbed to media hype and tried to maintain his Nature Man image long after public interest in his wilderness experiment had subsided. Illus. (Feb.)
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"A fascinating story of survival, showmanship...Thoroughly researched...If you like survival stories and tales of bigger-than-life people, you will enjoy Naked in the Woods. More than a fascinating story of a Maine character, it deals with the neverending lure of wilderness in the days of urban culture. A great winter read." -- Maine Sunday Telegram

"An absorbing tale of one man's retreat into the Maine woods, padded with a healthy history of the back-to-nature movement...The good-natured author... uses Knowles's stunt to digress on such topics as the establishment of the character-building Boy Scouts; consciousness-raising by naturalists John Muir, Ernest Thompson Seton and John Burroughs; and the sensational life of Ishi, "the last wild Indian," whose emergence from the California woods made headlines two years before Knowles did. Tasty, light nourishment for nature buffs." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Lengthy, luxurious discussions of Ishi, Frederick Jackson Turner, Buffalo Bill, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and the extended family of Oscar Hammerstein." -- Washington Post

"The book shows how current media celebrities like Paris Hilton--who are famous for being famous--have nothing on Joseph Knowles, who caused a sensation in 1913 with a publicity stunt for The Boston Post." -- Connecticut Post

"To place an individual in the time and place in which he or she lived so that a reader can understand both the person and the period is a smooth talent. Motavalli, editor of E/The Environmental Magazine, demonstrates this skill...This lively biography/adventure story/cultural history is recommended." -- Library Journal

"You might call it the precursor to reality TV." -- New York Post

"[A] thorough and readable study of Knowles...Motavalli takes us through a history of the back to nature movement, with its phonies and firm believers that extend to today's "reality" television." -- Associated Press

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (January 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786720085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786720088
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,085,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jim Motavalli writes on environmental topics for The New York Times, CBS MoneyWatch, NPR's Car Talk, AOL, Mother Nature Network and (Hearst). He is author or editor of six books, including Forward Drive: The Race to Build Clean Cars for the Future, Feeling the Heat: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Climate Change, and Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery. His next book, tentatively titled High Voltage (about electric cars), will be published by Rodale. He is also a senior writer for E/The Environmental Magazine, a contributor to the Environmental Defense Fund publications and to Knowledge@Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania.

Motavalli is a two-time winner of the Global Media Award from the Population Institute, and hosts a radio program on WPKN-FM in Connecticut, with frequent live music. He lectures widely on climate and transportation issues.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
We are often told that our nation, especially our menfolk, are getting soft, that we don't have the ruggedness of our forebears, that we spend too much time in our cities and not enough back to the land, and that as a result we are losing some moral anchor which used to hold us in good stead. The trouble is that we have been told this for at least a hundred years, probably further back than that, and the message has not changed much, although it is a message that is enthusiastically boosted by many. Our coddled and citified society went faddishly berserk in 1913 for a man who simply went into the woods of Maine, vowing to stay there for two months on his own, unassisted by any technology. Joseph Knowles was a sensation at the time, now forgotten. His astonishing story is the subject of _Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery_ (Da Capo Press) by Jim Motavalli. The author, a journalist who writes on environmental themes, has picked from obscurity a wonderful subject, not just Knowles but also the anxiety we tend to have that we are out of touch with natural life.

Knowles was all of 43 years old when he went into the woods. He had been a sailor, trapper, and scout, but what he wanted to be was an artist. He had some untutored skill in painting, and was making sketches and paintings in Boston for a decade when he got the idea (perhaps in a dream) to go support himself in the woods. The _Boston Post_, always ready for a circulation gimmick, was ready to back him. "Can Knowles Live Two Months as a Cave Man?" came the headlines, and though the paper hyped the event, people were sincerely interested in the man-against-the-wilderness theme.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Makara on February 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Never have I read a more fascinating account of salesmenship in America. As a nation the US prides itself on our frontier heritage,the quest for individuality & independence,& the pursuit of an ideal existence in harmony with nature, & making a few bucks along the way. This is a true American story !
This book Kept Me In Stitches !!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By WTA on March 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Motavalli has created a wonderful interpretive picture of the media and public reactions to a great story in early 20th Century America. He puts the reader in the period, but brings us in contact with our ancestors and shows that we haven't progressed in terms of our love for the spectacular stunt! Joseph Knowles exploits thrilled the nation longing for a free show. Not unlike the infamous OJ low speed chase that captivated us a while back.

A good story, a wonderful interpretation and a great read!Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Howard on February 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: The author, Jim Motavalli, is my mentor, so I'm not exactly unbiased. However, I can honestly state that I loved this book. It's a quirky and unique story of a little known, yet fascinating, character from a dynamic time in history. The book explores the underpinnings of modernization and our shifting relationships to nature and indigenous peoples, mixed up with a colorful dose of Americana. I highly recommend Naked in the Woods, and everyone I have lent it to got a lot out of it.
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