cover image Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery

Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery

Jim Motavalli. Da Capo, $26.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-786-72008-8

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.)