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...
  • Kasa Cotugno
    Reminds me of The Orchid Thief in its readability and theme.
  • Jamie Canaves
    FANTASTIC Nonviolent True CrimeI had wanted to read this one for the nonviolent true crime roundupI’d done but hadn’t been able to get a copy until now. Now if you’re thinking “But really how interesting can bird specimen theft be?” let me just tell you this book was super interesting from beginning to end, and read like a thriller that I couldn’t put down. Just 10% into the book I felt as if I’d read 10 books worth of information a...
  • 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.
  • April Cote
    I read this nonstop, completely drawn into this bizarre true crime. Who knew a crime about a man stealing a historical collection and thousands of dollars worth of dead birds from a museum so he could use the feathers to make salmon fly catchers could be so fascinating!
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Audrey
    This was just fascinating. All of it, the natural history (and destruction of species), feather fashion evolution, fly fishing, Edwin Rist, the theft, the recovery, the closing of ranks, the sales, the diagnosis, the author’s obsession and the overall fallout and conclusion. It’s such a shame that so many birds were lost (not only hunted close to extinction) but now the missing and some recovered birds have little scientific value. And, Rist ...
  • Emily Goenner
    I flew through the first two sections. Johnson provides a history and tells the heist story in a way that makes feathers fascinating. The last section, though, which tells his story of his obsession, was less interesting to me and a shift from telling the story to personalizing the story; the end didn't work for me but the book is well worth the read.
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Chris
    It’s hard to distinguish who is the more obsessive, the author in his quest for the truth or the fly tying thief. It’s nice to know that a fly fishing trip to Taos, New Mexico was the inspiration for this book.We castigate ourselves today for our lack of respect for the environment and nature but things were much worse in the 19th Century. Johnson re-educates us on our all but forgotten sordid past when entire species of birds were eradicated...
  • Alex Bear
    Kirk Johnson is a personal hero of mine. He is the subject of one of my favorite This American Life entitled Taking Names which gave me goosebumps when I heard it for the first time 4-5 years ago, and is always on my short list of episodes I recommend to people. So I definitely recommend listening to that before starting this book, so you can see the full scope of what a bad-ass this duder is. Fun little story, with a lot of cool historical antid...
  • Lisa
    The entire time I was listening to this book I thought it was fiction. Even more intriguing that it's true crime. I really enjoyed listening to this story and wanted to keep getting back to it. If I had known more about it before beginning, I probably would not have picked it up. I'm so glad I didn't know more details because I would have missed this gem.
  • Joann
    3 1/2 Stars really. The book has three parts. The story of early collector and scientist Alfred Russell Wallace which is fascinating. The story of the theft of hundreds of valuable bird skins from the British Museum and the detective work involved in solving the crime. Also fascinating. And an endless description of the history of fly-fishing lure tiers. Which was just too long. Glad I read it. Learned a lot. The book brings up interesting issues...
  • Bronwyn
    This was such a bizarre story, but super interesting!I've recently listened to this podcast about the Victorian bird market, which is super interesting too:, guys, Edwin Rist does flute covers of pop songs and tv music!
  • 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.
  • Katherine McCauley
    Really engrossing story—as a bird enthusiast (and specifically a bird of paradise enthusiast, but frankly, who isn't) I had an emotional response to the crime, but it's the sort of thing you'd care about even if you weren't so much a bird guy. The history on Alfred Russel Wallace was fascinating and well-told, and although I was already quite familiar with the late 19th/early 20th century mass bird slaughter for fashion purposes thing, it never...
  • Bob Walenski
    Few of the books I've read taught me more than this one. I never realized the history or market for bird feathers, let alone the huge sums of money and potential corruption and greed that their value encourages. The wonder-lust for certain bird feathers has led to the extinction of a large number of species, and protection laws and enforcement of them have been woefully inadequate on an international level. (Spoiler alert from here on in my revie...
  • 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...
  • Madeline Partner
    EDIT:I really really enjoyed this! I was originally drawn to the odd title--what sort of theft could be called the 'natural history heist of the century'? As soon as Johnson began to explain the tale of Edwin Rist's theft of almost 300 bird skins from the British Natural History Museum, I was astonished. I recently watched the movie American Animals, based on the attempted theft of a copy of Audubon's Birds of America at Transylvania University, ...
  • Marathon County Public Library MCPL
    In 2009, 20-year-old American Edwin Rist broke into the Tring museum, a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. His quest: to steal rare bird specimens - some collected more 150 years earlier - with gorgeous feathers sought the world over by people who shared Edwin's obsession of the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying.Author Kirk Wallace Johnson's own interest in fly fishing drew him to learn more about Rist's daring caper. But ...
  • Bibliophile
    Life is a rich tapestry indeed. When you think you've heard it all, along comes a fly tying bird burglar. Fly tying is not just a hobby for some people, but a passion, an obsession, and a gateway to property crime. Edwin Rist broke into a natural history museum and stole hundreds of invaluable bird skins and sold the feathers to fellow enthusiasts on ebay, because apparently just dyeing some turkey feathers isn't fancy enough. No, you want the fu...
  • 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...
  • Whitney
    Summary: an engrossing and obsessive book about a true crime involving stealing hundreds of priceless dead birds.The good: meticulously researched and extremely well written. I could not put this book down and will have a difficult time getting it out of my head. Very intriguing and very informative. This is an area I knew nothing about and found myself continuously looking up people, facts, and other details from this book. Interesting character...
  • Elly Sands
    This is a good thorough look into the world of feathers! I love birds and they are often the main subject in my artwork so parts of this book were difficult to read. I guess the price (literally) of being a stunningly beautiful bird is the extinction of your species! I knew absolutely nothing about fly tying, zilch, zero, nada, but boy did I learn. I highly recommend watching YouTube videos on this subject. It's fascinating and helps you understa...