The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

by Kirk Wallace Johnson


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The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson

As heard on NPR's This American Life

“Absorbing . . . Though it's non-fiction, The Feather Thief contains many of the elements of a classic thriller.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

“One of the most peculiar and memorable true-crime books ever.” —Christian Science Monitor

A rollicking true-crime adventure and a captivating journey into an underground world of fanatical fly-tiers and plume peddlers, for readers of The Stranger in the WoodsThe 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101981610
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,394
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Kirk W. Johnson is the author of To Be a Friend Is Fatal and the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. He is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the American Academy in Berlin, and the USC Annenberg Center.

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Excerpted from "The Feather Thief"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kirk Wallace Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

I Dead Birds and Rich Men

1 The Trials of Alfred Russel Wallace 13

2 Lord Rothschild's Museum 38

3 The Feather Fever 43

4 Birth of a Movement 49

5 The Victorian Brotherhood of Fly-tiers 55

6 The Future of Fly-tying 65

II The Tring Heist

7 Featherless in London 85

8 Plan for Museum Invasion.Doc 94

9 The Case of the Broken Window 102

10 "A Very Unusual Crime" 108

11 Hot Birds on a Cold Trail 115

12 Fluteplayer 1988 122

13 Behind Bars 127

14 Rot in Hell 131

15 The Diagnosis 137

16 The Asperger's Defense 141

17 The Missing Skins 148

III Truth and Consequences

18 The 21st International Fly Tying Symposium 155

19 The Lost Memory of the Ocean 163

20 Chasing Leads in a Time Machine 177

21 Dr. Prum's Thumb Drive 187

22 "I'm Not a Thief" 198

23 Three Days in Norway 211

24 Michelangelo Vanishes 230

25 Feathers in the Bloodstream 239

Acknowledgments 249

Notes 255

A Note on Sources 281

Bibliography 283

Index 291

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