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 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.

The Feather Thief Details

TitleThe Feather Thief
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 24th, 2018
PublisherViking
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Crime, True Crime, History, Science, Mystery

The Feather Thief Review

  • Carol
    January 1, 1970
    An online forum recently posted a list of true crime without murder or violence. The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century would fit the bill as no murder nor physical harm befalls any person. Yet is any crime without a victim? Each reader would come up with a different list of who or what was affected by the events that are related in this book. Perhaps not as disturbing as the loss of life or a brutal rape or abuse, but still a story of devastating loss An online forum recently posted a list of true crime without murder or violence. The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century would fit the bill as no murder nor physical harm befalls any person. Yet is any crime without a victim? Each reader would come up with a different list of who or what was affected by the events that are related in this book. Perhaps not as disturbing as the loss of life or a brutal rape or abuse, but still a story of devastating loss. I could not summarize what this book is about better than this quote from author, Kirk Wallace Johnson.”Initially, the story of the Tring heist—filled with quirky and obsessive individuals, strange birds, curio-filled museums, archaic fly recipes, Victorian hats, plume smugglers, grave robbers, and, at the heart of it all, a flute-playing thief—had been a welcome diversion from the unrelenting pressure of my work with refugees.”It is always fascinating to hear where the idea of a book is born. In the above quote Johnson refers to his work with refugees, this being his way of righting a wrong he saw first hand in his job reconstructing the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Overtired, he walked out a window which he refers to as a “PTSD-triggered fugue state” in which he nearly died. While recovering he launched a non-profit to help the refugees but when he needed a break it was trout fishing that provided relaxation. Quietly fishing the Red River in Taos, New Mexico with fly-fishing guide Spencer Seim, he first heard the name Edwin Rist, one of the best fly tiers “on the planet” who Seim went on to say ”broke into the British Museum of Natural History just to get birds for these flies.”. This one brief conversation soon became an obsession with Johnson to find out the true story, what really happened during the robbery at Tring where drawers of bird specimens came to be stored during World War II, in the mansion of Lord Walter Rothschild. What motivated Rist an American talented musician and fly-tier to commit this crime? The outcome, the finished book, proved to be all that I love in narrative non-fiction. It is a detailed exploration of not only the history of the intricacy and craft of ties and their creators but also the background of the birds, their role in evolution, the beauty of their plumes which were used for fashion almost to the extinction of some species (imagine a shawl made from 8,000 Hummingbird skins) and the quest to ensure their continued existence. My craving for adventure came in the story of Alfred Russell Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin, whose first expedition to collect specimens in exotic places ended with all being lost in a ship fire. Eight more years of perseverance netted Wallace many species including 8,050 birds which were sold to the British Museum. Extensive research and the interweaving of these themes by Johnson kept The Feather Thief from being mundane, instead it was thrillingly captivating. It is bound to be one of my favorite books not only of 2018 but of all time. I only wish there had been more photos of the birds whose feathers were a primary picture of the story. The many birding guides on my shelf satisfied my thirst for the splendor of these magnificent creatures.
    more
  • Rebecca Foster
    January 1, 1970
    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 explorers, tycoons, and fashionistas through to modern ob 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 explorers, tycoons, and fashionistas through to modern obsessions with music, fly-fishing and refugees.Author Kirk Wallace Johnson worked for USAID in Iraq, heading up the reconstruction of Fallujah, then founded a non-profit organization rehoming refugees in America. Plagued by PTSD, he turned to fly-fishing as therapy, and this was how he heard about the curious case of Edwin Rist, who stole the bird specimens from Tring to sell the bright feathers to fellow hobbyists who tie elaborate Victorian-style fishing flies.Rist, from upstate New York, was a 20-year-old flautist studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Since age 11 he’d been fixated on fly-tying, especially old-fashioned salmon ties, which use exotic feathers or ordinary ones dyed to look like them. An online friend told him he should check out Tring – the museum Walter Rothschild’s financier father built for him as a twenty-first birthday present – when he got to London. In 2008 Rist scoped out the collection, pretending to be photographing the birds of paradise for a friend’s book.A year later he took the train to Tring one summer night with an empty suitcase and a glass cutter, broke in through a window, stole 300 bird skins, and made it back to his flat without incident. The museum only discovered the crime a month later, by accident. Rist sold many feathers and whole birds via a fly-tying forum and on eBay. It was nearly another year and a half before the police knocked on his door, having been alerted by a former law enforcement officer who encountered a museum-grade bird skin at the Dutch Fly Fair and asked where it came from.Here is where things get really interesting, at least for me. Rist confessed immediately, but a psychological evaluation diagnosed him with Asperger’s; on the strength of that mental health defense he was given a suspension and a large fine, but no jail time, so he graduated from the Royal Academy as normal and auditioned for jobs. The precedent was a case from 2000 in which a young man with Asperger’s who stole human remains from a Bristol graveyard was exonerated.The book is in three parts: the first gives historical context about specimen collection and the early feather trade; the second is a blow-by-blow of Rist’s crime and the aftermath, including the trial; and the third goes into Wallace’s own investigation process. He started by attending a fly-tying symposium, where he felt like an outsider and even received vague threats: Rist was now a no-go subject for this community. But Wallace wasn’t going to be deterred. Sixty-four bird skins were still missing, and his quest was to track them down. He started by contacting Rist’s confirmed customers, then interviewed Rist himself in Germany and traveled to Norway to meet someone who might have been Rist’s accomplice – or fall guy.I happened to be a bit too familiar with the related history – I’ve read a lot of books that touch on Alfred Russel Wallace, whose specimens formed the core of the Tring collection, as well as a whole book on the feather trade for women’s hats and the movement against the extermination, which led to the formation of the Audubon Society (Kris Radish’s The Year of Necessary Lies). This meant that I was a little impatient with the first few chapters, but if you are new to these subjects you shouldn’t have that problem. For me the highlights were the reconstruction of the crime itself and Wallace’s inquiry into whether the Asperger’s diagnosis was accurate and a fair excuse for Rist’s behavior.This whole story is stranger than fiction, which would make it a great selection for readers who don’t often pick up nonfiction, perhaps expecting it to be dry or taxing. Far from it. This is the very best sort of nonfiction: wide-ranging, intelligent and gripping.Originally published, with images, on my blog, Bookish Beck.
    more
  • KC
    January 1, 1970
    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 began to put forth a plan to steal rare bird specimen 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 began to put forth a plan to steal rare bird specimens from the British Museum of Natural History in hopes to sell to wealthy tiers so he may be able to purchase himself a new flute. Kirk Wallace Johnson painstakingly unfolded this crime which was both peculiar and scandalous. This telling explored Edwin's consuming passion and fascination. His greed and lust forced him to ignore the devastating consequences of his actions resulting in a major blow to the nature community. An outstanding page-turner!
    more
  • Kasa Cotugno
    January 1, 1970
    Reminds me of The Orchid Thief in its readability and theme.
  • Jamie Canaves
    January 1, 1970
    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 and adventure. You start with a museum heist by a 20-year-old flu 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 and adventure. You start with a museum heist by a 20-year-old flutist, and then go on historical expeditions with everything from thieving ants, to Charles Darwin, and blackmail. And that’s just the very beginning of this very banana pants true story because why would a university student steal HUNDREDS of rare bird specimens? Well, you see, there is a community of fly tiers which uses, and obsessively covet, the rarest bird feathers. And there’s also the author, a refugee advocate, who got involved in this story and needed to know after the trial what was still unknown and began to investigate himself–because of course this book had plot twists! It’s a fascinating look at a crime (which not only stole property but potential knowledge from the museum), obsession, and man’s destructive need to conquer and own nature.--from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: http://link.bookriot.com/view/56a8200...
    more
  • Jerrie (redwritinghood)
    January 1, 1970
    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.
    more
  • April Cote
    January 1, 1970
    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!
    more
  • Kristen Beverly
    January 1, 1970
    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. :)
    more
  • Robert Sheard
    January 1, 1970
    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 retrieved an empty suitcase. He rode the train to a branch 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 retrieved an empty suitcase. He rode the train to a branch of the British Natural History Museum in Tring, broke in, and stole 299 priceless bird specimens (skins). A lot of people think he got away with it.In 2011, author Kirk Wallace Johnson was fly-fishing in New Mexico when his guide told him the story of the heist. Johnson was “hooked” and this book is the tale of his investigation into the story of the thief Edwin Rist, the history of fly-tying that prompted Rist to commit this crime, and the obsessed community of fly-tying fanatics still driving an illicit market in protected species.This book just served to renew my love of nonfiction and makes me wonder why I read so much fiction when these types of books are out there. It’s wonderfully written, suspenseful at times, contemplative at others. But even for a reader like me, who cares not one bit about fishing or salmon fly-tying, it was nevertheless a wonderfully compelling read. I paired the print book with the audiobook and it only enhanced the experience for me. MacLeod Andrews does a masterful job as the reader. If you like nonfiction accounts of bizarre crimes (with minimal carnage except to a ton of birds in the Victorian era), this could be the right read for you. I thought it was wonderfully done.
    more
  • Nicki
    January 1, 1970
    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 feather industry was absolutely fascinating. I lo 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 feather industry was absolutely fascinating. I loved reading about the trends of feathers in the fashion industry, starting with Marie Antoinette and continuing until the Victorian times when people began to discover that birds were becoming extinct for the sake of fashion.The obsession the salmon fly-tying community has with acquiring feathers is quite something as well and unless I’d read this I really wouldn’t believe it.If you’re looking for a true crime story but without murder and gore, then this is definitely the book for you.Thanks so much to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for my digital ARC.
    more
  • Emily Goenner
    January 1, 1970
    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.
    more
  • Jeimy
    January 1, 1970
    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 the author's involvement after the case was officia 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 the author's involvement after the case was officially closed.I have to admit that I picked this one up Sunday morning and lost myself in it. I finished it in one sitting.
    more
  • Rebekah
    January 1, 1970
    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.Excellent audiobook narrator.
    more
  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    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 because their feathers were fashion. We also meet ano 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 because their feathers were fashion. We also meet another obsessive person from the past; a scientist and contemporary of Charles Darwin- Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace endured numerous hardships to include malaria to collect birds from Indonesia. It was a ten year collecting trip which supported Darwin’s theory of evolution. Wallace actually came up with the theory simultaneously but deferred to the older Darwin. Well it would be Wallace’s massive collection of birds that would be looted from the British Natural History Museum in 2009 by another obsessive collector- a college student who absolutely had to have the feathers to tie his fishing flies. So the greatest crime of the century against science that you’ve never heard of is revealed. Get ready for some frustration as a Keystone cops type investigation ensues with an Aspergers legal defense. You will enjoy the journey but not the ending.
    more
  • Alex Bear
    January 1, 1970
    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 antidotes. The only thing I disliked is about half way 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 antidotes. The only thing I disliked is about half way through the book I got the tone of Kirk out for justice for these people who traded these feathers, and honestly I just couldn't get behind it. I can understand some kind of harsher judgement against Rist, but I don't need to see more people in prison, especially 20 year old college students convicted of non-violent crimes. All that being said, his solo trek to try to recover artifacts is just another noble act to authenticate his legend status.
    more
  • Joann
    January 1, 1970
    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 about collecting and obsession. Being obsessed wi 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 about collecting and obsession. Being obsessed with finding answers. Who is using whom.
    more
  • Bronwyn
    January 1, 1970
    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: https://www.dressedpodcast.com/podcas...Also, guys, Edwin Rist does flute covers of pop songs and tv music! https://youtu.be/CKnEp5qdANQ
    more
  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    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.
    more
  • Bob Walenski
    January 1, 1970
    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 review) After a 2 century summary of the history of fe 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 review) After a 2 century summary of the history of feather demand, the real novel is about Edwin Rist's break in and theft of bird skins/feathers preserved at the Tring, an outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Rist, a precocious 22 year old, planned and executed a theft of about 300 bird skins, a scientific loss of epic proportion and with a street value of easily 2 million dollars in sales of exotic feathers/skins. The market for these has shifted away from fashion, and into a curious group of worldwide collectors and tiers, whose fascination is in tying flies to capture fish. Their obsession as a group is truly difficult to fathom, since the lures/flies hardly ever are used to actually fish. It's all about wealth, scarcity, demand, history and one ups man ship. It a mania that has fueled an obsession that is small, but rabid in demand. Edwin Rist was their future, their "Michael Jordan"...an all star performer and dealers. What Edwin proved himself to be, however, was an entitled, obnoxious, self serving liar and cheat. He was caught, but by faking Asperger's syndrome, his lawyer and idiotic psychopathologist Sacha Baron-Cohen ( YES, Borat's cousin) manipulated the courts into a sentence of a year's probation, instead of several years of jail time. It's clear that Edwin 'played' the system, fooled a foolish doctor, so full of his own knowledge that he easily misdiagnosed Edwin. And Edwin was not at all repentant. Arrogant and self serving, he continued to lie, misdirect and hide what really happened. He hurt the entire "tying" community, including his friend Long Nguyen, a Norwegian dupe of Edwin's who was set up to take his fall from grace. At first Edwin is a likable character, who comes across as obsessed, but harmless and well intended. He proves to be a calculating liar, manipulator and cheat. He felt entitled to rob a museum, because after all, HIS need was far greater than Science and mankind, and those skins were just going to lie in a museum drawer anyway. The huge injustice that Edwin escaped punishment really was maddening. Karma doesn't seem enough for the damage he created and willfully planned, the people he hurt and cheated. The book didn't end with any resolution, and left me angry and frustrated by the injustice.
    more
  • Mac
    January 1, 1970
    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 hundreds of rare bird skins for their beauty and u 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 hundreds of rare bird skins for their beauty and ultimately for their feathers, which are so valuable to fly-tiers around the world. And second, Kirk Wallace Johnson, the author, commits years to understanding Rist's story and determining what happened to the skins and feathers he stole. We know Rist did it; after all he confessed. How did he do it, who helped him (if anyone), and what happened afterwards is the tale Johnson tells so well. And yes, The Feather Thief is well told. The writing is clear and informative; and the chapters are concise, well contained essays on a variety of related topics: mankind's feather fever over many centuries, the fanatical fly-tying community, even a take on evolution as played out through birds. The book is both interesting and educational, and it is also an intriguing mystery where numerous characters both clarify and confuse the author with admissions, obfuscations, and half truths. Taken together, the information, the education, and the mystery all yield some very rewarding reading.Caution: A moralizing lecture follows. Though The Feather Thief is enjoyable reading, it describes a disgraceful human trait--the drive to possess natural beauty, particularly the need to destroy that beauty in order to possess it. From my viewpoint, it is wrong to kill animals for their beauty, sometimes to the point of species extinction...then to steal that beauty from a museum...and then (in this case) to strip the feathers from the birds for sport. So for me, The Feather Thief, though fascinating, arouses disgust as well. That makes a book like The Big Year more pleasant reading; it's an obsession, equally intense, about bird watching, not bird slaughter and stealing. At the risk of upsetting hunters and fly-tiers, I prefer photographers. Their motto: Take only pictures; leave only footprints. Seems like good advice for us all.
    more
  • Jo Barton
    January 1, 1970
    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.I expected the book to mainly concentrate on this 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.I expected the book to mainly concentrate on this audacious theft, which of course it does in some detail, however, the early part of the book concentrates on the obsession with collecting natural specimens, initially for curiosity and then for scientific research purposes, but also in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for use by the fashion industry. I was shocked to learn that by 1900 some two hundred million North American birds were killed every year in order to satisfy the need for bird feathers for use in the millinery trade, and, as bird numbers depleted so the net worth of their precious feathers increased.By the time Edward Rist had his fascination for bird feathers, their usage had become consistent with the world of salmon fishing, where intricate flies, made from original and highly prized rare bird feathers, exchanged hands for large sums of money. The chapters which detail the Tring Heist are absolutely fascinating, and as the reasons for Rist's theft becomes apparent, so the strange and very secret subculture that exists around fly fishing comes vividly to life. I was astonished to learn of the lengths that some people are prepared to go in order to obtain the feathers they crave, and I was equally disturbed to find out that large sums are paid for extremely rare bird feathers. The book is an absolute page turner, beautifully written by a man who was determined to see this story told, and he does so with real flair, and fine attention to detail, so that even if you know absolutely nothing about birds, like me, or indeed fly fishing, like me, you can't help but be drawn into this fascinating true crime story. There are also a number of very interesting photographs and illustrations which help to put the subject into context.
    more
  • Madeline Partner
    January 1, 1970
    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, so I found the similarities rather similar--both t 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, so I found the similarities rather similar--both thefts were committed by college students, related to birds, and done for monetary gain. However, Rist's heist was planned much better than the Transylvania group.... Anyways, before I get too off-topic, I think Johnson did a really good job of explaining Rist's heist, and weaving in a wide variety of background information about ornithological history and fly tying. Johnson's own investigation allows the story to live on in a more interesting way, and explores the consequences of such a heist years after it occurred, looking at how those involved regret, hide or ignore the heist. He also weaves in themes of justice, friendship, trust and regret, which added some depth to this work.My main quibble with this book was that Johnson brings up his own past career as a lawyer helping to bring refugees into the United States in odd ways, almost as a subtle brag, like "Wow, look at the great work I used to do (insert applause) and now I am just here obsessed with birds!" It was just a little odd and unnecessary in my opinion. Other than that, I think this is a great introduction to Rist's heist, and you are sure to learn a lot while reading. Johnson keeps up the pace, and makes this an easy and quick read. I think this would appeal to a wide range of people, from true crime fans to those interested in birds, and would be a good start in non-fiction for someone who is more intimidated by the genre. Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing me with an advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review. :) I apologize for the late review... ---Original:Such an outlandish tale.. I’ll write more later, but I really enjoyed this! The only thing that bothered me was how the author interjected his own background (other valiant work he has done!) into this, almost as a subtle brag, though I doubt it was intended as such.
    more
  • Marathon County Public Library MCPL
    January 1, 1970
    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 when Johnson first heard the story, he had no idea 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 when Johnson first heard the story, he had no idea how it would become his own obsession. Over the course of the story we learn about Rist and how he became a revered fly-tier, his obsession with playing music (that led him to the Royal Academy of Music in England) and many details about the heist and its aftermath. It's not a spoiler to share that Rist was eventually caught and prosecuted for his crime, because there's much more to the story - which I did not expect but kept me interested in the book. Johnson takes the reader with him as he travels the world in pursuit of the truth about what happened to the hundreds of birds stolen by Rist.The Feather Thief provides a window into the unique world of fly-tying, as well as natural history and scientific inquiry. But it's also an engaging detective story that fans of true crime should enjoy, without blood and guts, because the victims (rare birds) have been dead for decades, if not a century or more. Chad D. / Marathon County Public LibraryFind this book in our library catalog.
    more
  • Mary
    January 1, 1970
    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 specimens from the British Museum of Natural Histor 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 specimens from the British Museum of Natural History. Author Johnson explores how he did it and why he did it and reveals Edwin Rist as a clever and manipulative thief who received very little punishment for his crime because he hired an attorney who put together an awesome alternative explanation for his crime beyond pure greed. Johnson’s pursuit of all the birds taken from the museum is fascinating as well because while law enforcement does nothing to pursue those who purchased and profited from the stolen goods, he identifies several guilty parties who should face justice as well for receiving stolen property. An excellent read for those who enjoy a mystery and history lovers.
    more
  • Whitney
    January 1, 1970
    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 characters, quick plot, an absolutely bizarre crime, and me 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 characters, quick plot, an absolutely bizarre crime, and meticulous research all make this book great.The bad: the first 150 pages are very fast paced and filled with background information leading up the verdict of them crime and then changes pace dramatically. The last part of the book were not as intense and a bit slower overall. It also felt like there was no real conclusion. Though that is the case and this is all true, I wish there was some follow up or at least a summary to tie everything together. It seemed to end quite abruptly.Overall: recommend this to all. A totally engrossing and meticulously researched true story of one of the most bizarre crimes I have ever heard of. Loved it.
    more
  • Elly Sands
    January 1, 1970
    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 understand what the author is describing and the obsession 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 understand what the author is describing and the obsession of people who do this as an art and to lure fish to their death. (Sorry, my father was an avid fisherman but I always felt anguish for the fish). The perpetrator of the crime, Edward Rist, was an unusual person that I couldn't get enough of. He seemed more fictional than real which made him even more interesting. I found myself getting enveloped in this story to the point of obsession and obsession is what it's all about!
    more
  • Sammi
    January 1, 1970
    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 interesting "character" in the book was Alfred Russell Walla 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 interesting "character" in the book was Alfred Russell Wallace, a man who coincidentally came up with the same theory of the origin of species as Darwin did, and instead of some epic Edison/Tesla showdown between the two naturalists he was pretty content to let Darwin have all of the fame and glory. I would read a whole book about just his travels through the jungle.The writing was zippy and it felt like reading a thriller, albeit with a slightly more ineffective detective than most people would probably want to see.
    more
  • Elena
    January 1, 1970
    The first half of this book is worth the read for the excellent cocktail party conversation fodder: the history of the feather trade, the niche community of contemporary Victorian fly tyers, and an absolutely bonkers amateur heist carried out by a young "celebrity" fly tyer and concert flutist. The second half was an unfortunate, meandering tale of the author's frustrating and ultimately ill-fated quest to locate the stolen goods.Read about the crime, stop when the author inserts himself into th The first half of this book is worth the read for the excellent cocktail party conversation fodder: the history of the feather trade, the niche community of contemporary Victorian fly tyers, and an absolutely bonkers amateur heist carried out by a young "celebrity" fly tyer and concert flutist. The second half was an unfortunate, meandering tale of the author's frustrating and ultimately ill-fated quest to locate the stolen goods.Read about the crime, stop when the author inserts himself into the story--there's no reward for sticking around after that. Excellent narration on the audiobook!
    more
  • Annette Jordan
    January 1, 1970
    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 events that the book is base on, in 2009 an America 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 events that the book is base on, in 2009 an American music student studying in London broke into a Natural History Museum and stole almost 300 rare bird skins, apparently motivated by a desire to use the rare feathers to recreate salmon fishing ties popular in the Victorian era. It really does sound too bizarre to be true, but the thief was eventually caught and charged with the theft, and selling the rare feathers for profit. Impeccably researched , it is clear that this book is a work of passion for the author, and as we read, we learn that he became so caught up in the mystery that he took it beyond the scope of the police investigation and endeavored to recover some of the skins that were unaccounted for, something that took him across the world.The book is a delight to read, entertaining , and while it contains a lot of detailed information and history, it does not become bogged down at any point. Beginning with the Victorian craze for natural history and the discovery of new bird species, it then describes how so many of these species became endangered or even extinct due to the popular fashion of using feathers and even whole bird skins to decorate ladies hats. Moving on it switches direction to the use of feathers in creating fishing flies, and it is at this point that we are introduced to Edwin Rist, a muscial prodigy who becomes obsessed with the art of tying. This obsession will eventually lead to him committing the crime at the centre of the book., and this theft, the hunt for the thief and the missing skins , and the court case make up the majority of the book.An unexpeced gem of a book that proves the adage that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.I read an ARC courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley
    more
  • Larry Hamilton
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting true crime story that also dealt with several obsessions; naturalists from the 1850’s who sacrificed their lives to discover and collect new species, fishing fly tiers who selfishly sought rare bird feathers and the author bent on discovering the truth. I was hoping for a better ending, but a worthy read.
    more
Write a review