The Feather Thief by Kirk W. Johnson

The Feather Thief

A rollicking true-crime adventure and a thought-provoking exploration of the human drive to possess natural beauty for readers of The Stranger in the Woods, The Lost City of Z, and The Orchid Thief.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 or...

Details The Feather Thief

TitleThe Feather Thief
Release DateApr 24th, 2018
GenreNonfiction, Crime, True Crime, History, Science, Mystery

Reviews The Feather Thief

  • Rebecca Foster
    The Feather Thief is a delightful read that successfully combines many genres – biography, true crime, ornithology, history, travel and memoir – to tell the story of an audacious heist of rare bird skins from the Natural History Museum at Tring in 2009. Somehow I managed not to hear about it at the time, but it was huge news in terms of museum collections and endangered species crime. The tendrils of this thorny case wind around Victorian exp...
  • KC
    This is the truly amazing story of how a twenty year old American flute prodigy pulled off an unbelievable museum heist of rare and exotic bird skins and feathers. Edwin Risk loved music but also was quite enthralled in the world of fly fish tying. He spent hours perfecting his craft and while still a young teenager, became a master tier within the competitive and elusive world. In 2009 while studying at London's Royal Academy of Music, Edwin beg...
  • Jerrie (redwritinghood)
    I was absolutely captivated by this book! Who knew there was this obsessive group who made salmon fishing ties using the feathers of endangered birds? Amazingly, they often don’t even fish with them and the salmon themselves don’t really care what’s on the tie. For many, it is an art form and an obsession so strong they commit burglary to feed it. This was a great look at wildlife research and a strange subculture at odds with it.
  • Kasa Cotugno
    Reminds me of The Orchid Thief in its readability and theme.
  • Kristen Beverly
    This is such a weird but fantastic book. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, i mean, we’re talking about feathers, right? Feathers? Aren’t there bigger issues going on in the world right now? But it sucks you in & somehow you find yourself thinking, what happened to those feathers? Where did they go? What did Edwin do with them? So crazy how it twists your mind into actually caring about some feathers and what happened to them. :)
  • Robert Sheard
    The Feather Thief is marketed as similar to one of my favorite nonfiction books, Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. And it’s an apt comparison.The books is a tale of obsession, the desire to capture and “own” beautiful nature, and the frenzied lengths some people will go to in pursuit of acquiring something that no one else has.In 2009, a young American musician named Edwin Rist played a concert in London, put his flute in his locker, and r...
  • Jeimy
    This was a fascinating look into the world of salmon fly-tying. It tells the story of a young savant and how his obsession with recreating classic lures led his to steal birds from the largest museum collection in England. The author became obsessed with the case and decided to hunt down some of the missing birds. He writes about how he first found out about this case; the thief's life, the events leading up to the heist, and its aftermath; and t...
  • Nicki
    What a fascinating book this was! The fact that somebody had the audacity to even consider breaking into the British Natural History Museum and let alone do it, was intriguing enough for me to request this on NetGalley.The author tells an absorbing tale of how he first heard about the incident, and then how he follows the trail to find out how and why the thief did what he did.As well as the story about the theft, the historical research into the...
  • Mac
    I'm fascinated by stories of obsession where people are all-in pursuing a goal. I'm intrigued by the combination of years-long focus, intensity, and dedication; and I want to know if the pursuit will end in success or failure. (My recent review of Cork Dork describes another obsession story.)The Feather Thief fits the "obsession genre" particularly well. Actually, two characters are obsessive here. First, Edwin Rist dedicates himself to stealing ...
  • Jo Barton
    This book really took me by surprise as I had no idea that bird feathers were such a valuable commodity, and, as such, are open to thievery on really a grand scale. That's just what happened in the summer of 2009 when twenty year old musician, Edward Rist broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire and stole a huge assortment of wild bird specimens which had been collected centuries before by some of the very first naturalists...
  • Mary
    What a story! Who knew that were people so obsessed with the art of tying fishing flys that they would spend huge amounts of money and purchase feathers they should suspect were stolen. But then, who would have ever thought that we would elect a president with no respect for the environment or humanity. Edwin Rist thief, accomplished flautist, and Master Flytier is the subject of this book and his daring robbery of irreplaceable scientific bird s...
  • Sammi
    This book was so weird and so fascinating. If you told me that someone had written a book about a man who was a world class flutist who was obsessed with tying fish hook ties (but didn't fish) and who robbed a museum of almost 300 exotic birds, I would almost never have believed that it was a true story. Everything about it sounds crazy. Honestly the theft was interesting to read about, if a little heartbreaking, but I thought the most interestin...
  • Annette Jordan
    Every so often a gem of a book comes along, a book with a story so strange that you would struggle to find it plausible as a work of fiction, How much more surprising and fascinating to find out that not only could the events have happened, they actually did. The Feather Thief by Kirk W Johnson is just such a book, and I found myself engrossed in the strange tale of the musical museum thief and his obsession with feathers. To briefly sum up the e...
  • Rebekah
    This book hooked me from the moment I read the description. True crime about a fly tier trying to earn money to buy a gold flute? I'm there.The book was a great mix of the author's obsession with this case, the history of 19th century naturalists and the quest for exotic birds, background on a young prodigy in both the flute playing and fly tying world, an unexpected museum heist, and the investigation and trial of this case in London courts.Exce...
  • Jill
    The tale of a man who steals birds from a museum in order to sell them to salmon fly tyers. Yes, it's a true story and a fascinating one at that! I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will now go look for Kirk's first book to read while I eagerly await his next book.
  • Sheila Garry
    This is a true crime adventure that happens in 2009 in England. It begins with a brief chapter explaining the history of bird preservation at the time of Darwin in 1823. It culminates with the obsession with feathers in the fashion industry. It’s a quirky story about strange birds, obsessive individuals, curio-filled museums,fly fishing, grave robbers, and a flute playing thief.
  • Peggy
    This is quite a story! It’s an important read but also disturbing at times. It’s sad to be reminded of the greed and disregard of life that some people have. Hopefully most of us will cherish all birds and animals and let them be.
  • Sarah
    This is about 100% more interesting than a book about obsessive Victorian fly tiers and the flautist who robbed a natural history museum of its rare bird skins has any right to be. A weirdly good adventure/science/extremely esoteric and dorky true crime caper.
  • Natalie
    I never thought I’d care so much about a museum heist involving birds! I really enjoyed Johnson’s writing and I’m so happy to have won this book ahead of publication from Goodreads.
  • Carol
    A very unusual book. Who knew there would be intrigue from a heist of rare, dead, endangered birds? Who knew fly-tying is an obsession for many?
  • Samuel
    Finished this book in two days. Had no idea that there was such a thing as an underground feather market or that a story about bird feathers can be this gripping. The author, a former aid worker in Iraq, says that he got interested in it as a distraction from the work he did and was failing to do (procuring refugee status for the Iraqi interpreters that helped the US) and the PTSD he was suffering. He never says directly how this work with the fe...
  • Brandi
    Such an interesting read about the world of fly-tying and the crime of Edwin Rist. This book covered the theft dangers to museum collections and a great history on Alfred Russel Wallace and his work.
  • JackiexA1
    March Book ReviewA quick look at the details of the true crime story that drives this narrative and I was hooked. A 19-year old flute-playing savant who steals an invaluable collection of rare bird skins by breaking into a British museum, all so he can tie Victorian salmon flies? BRING IT ON!!! I'm happy to relate that the story is just as compelling as it sounds, inspiring a marathon reading session that kept me staying up late into the night. W...
  • K.
    That was a far quicker and absorbing read than I had expected, even with the uncomfortable topic of how the skins/feathers came into place. It was particularly interesting to see that when we see the feathers as gorgeous and breathtaking, others may see it more valuable in other aspects, such as fly-tying. (view spoiler)[On the side note, I feel for the historians/scientists a lot more - the loss to science, ouch. (hide spoiler)]
  • RMazin
    The Feather Thief has it all: a mystery, a hunt, quirky characters, arcane birding history, fly-tying and a great story. How all these elements weave together in a successful book is a tribute to the author. Kirk Wallace Johnson happened to be fly-fishing on a New Mexico river when his guide began telling him about an unusual theft at the Tring, a British Museum. Johnson was quickly mesmerized and knew he had to pursue this story. There were many...
  • Randal White
    As a fly fisherman, fly tier, and former policeman, I found this book to be an absolute home run! A young "savant", Edwin Rist, had everything going for him. A brilliant flautist, he and his brother (also a savant), discovered the art of tying Atlantic Salmon flies. Throwing themselves into the hobby, they soon discovered the extreme costs and rarity of some of the required feathers. These feathers come from some of the rarest birds in the world,...
  • Becky B
    While fly-fishing to destress from his work with advocating for refugees, the author was introduced to a strange theft in England by his fishing guide. Just years before a young man broke into the British Museum of Natural History and made off with hundreds of rare birds driven by an obsession with Victorian fly-tying. Mr. Johnson was intrigued and decided to look into the case further. What would drive someone to steal dead birds, and furthermor...
  • Ann
    Who would have thought that there is a market in feathers of rare, endangered or extinct bird species? For the purpose of ...making fishing flies? That are not actually used for fishing ? And that there is a thriving culture of feather-obsessed fly-lovers who are willing to pay high prices for such feathers, and even condone theft in order to gain access?That's the world I discovered in this book. From the natural history expeditions and frantic ...
  • Kim
    The Feather Thief defies all expectation. An amazing stunner of a story, it is such a fantastical story you simply couldn't make it up! The shock, anger and sheer befuddlement (on my part) at the crime, the outcome and the sad lack of respect for laws and history is gobsmacking. I am working incredibly hard to keep myself from overusing the exclamation mark so I hope you can appreciate my restraint as this book really got to me.Where to begin? Fi...