The Feather Thief

The Feather Thief

Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

Book - 2018
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On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London's Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin's obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins, some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin's, Alfred Russel Wallace, who'd risked everything to gather them, and escaped into the darkness. Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man's relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man's destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.
Publisher: New York, New York :, Viking,, [2018]
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9781101981610
Characteristics: x, 308 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations (chiefly coloured) ;,24 cm.


From the critics

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May 10, 2019

Rather odd story but it sucked me in. I did enjoy the second half maybe a bit better than the first. I was behind the author in his quest to at least try to find the missing birds. Good job. He is a good writer and I totally see why he wanted to write this book. It's odd and certainly not run of the mill. Shame on everyone involved except the author.

OPL_ErinD May 05, 2019

For fans who love intrigue, but also anyone who enjoys an inside look at a researchers path to storytelling.

Feb 20, 2019

Dec 12, 2018

I tend to agree with 'juniperwind' review. I skipped ahead frequently & didn't lose anything. What is remarkable is getting into the BHM for this theft - it is a wonderous section of the museum, one day cannot possibly cover the visit.

Oct 22, 2018

A gripping and fast-paced tale of true crime that takes the reader from the dark side of fly fishing and the feather black market to the site of a heist of rare bird skins from the Natural History Museum at Tring in 2009.

Oct 12, 2018

Loved this book! It's very fascinating!

Aug 10, 2018

I am impressed with the author's background and the synchronicity of events that led him down the path of bird feather whisperer. Johnson, former coordinator of reconstructing Fallujah for USAID, happens upon the story of Edwin Rist who managed to rob the Tring Museum of rare and endangered bird feathers in order to satiate the obsession of tie fliers world-wide. We get background stories of feather fashion fetish of the late 1800's, the unfathomable search, discovery, and collection of rare birds by Alfred Russel Wallace, and later legislation to stop the sale of these skins. However, the piece de resistance is Rist's heist and it's consequence worldwide in the underground of tie fliers and Johnson's obsession to bring closure to the mystery surrounding it.

DPLjennyp Jul 26, 2018

An interesting and enjoyable read.

JessicaGma Jun 26, 2018

An interesting look at a caper for endangered feathers - I never would have guessed there was a community looking to recreate authentic Victorian fish ties.... I am annoyed that he took apart a museum collection thinking no one would use it; that's some serious ignorance.

Jun 24, 2018

While the story of the heist and Rist is a strange tale and the author does his best to tell it from all sides, he interweaves too much of his own life into this book without convincing the reader that it is necessary.

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