Author(s): 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 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.
"A true-crime tale that weaves seemingly unrelated threads into a spellbinding narrative tapestry" -- Mark Adams, author of Turn Right at Machu Picchu "A captivating tale of an unlikely thief and his even more unlikely crime, and a meditation on obsession, greed, and the sheer fascination in something as seemingly simple as a feather" -- Paul Collins, author of The Murder of the Century "This is the type of book I absolutely love - one that takes a seemingly obscure topic and shines a brilliant and bizarre and endlessly fascinating light upon it. Kirk Wallace Johnson's portrayal of the crazy world of feather fanatics makes this an unforgettable read" -- Michael Finkel, author of The Stranger in the Woods "This gem of a book, is marvelous, moving, and transcendent. I can't stop thinking about it" -- Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara "This extraordinary book exposes an international underground that traffics in rare and precious natural resources, yet was previously unknown to all but a few. A page-turning read you won't soon forget, The Feather Thief tells us as much about our cultural priorities as it does about the crimes themselves. There's never been anything like it" -- Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs
Kirk W. Johnson is an American author and founder of The List Project, a not-for-profit foundation that helps Iraqi refugees who previously worked for the U.S. government during the Iraq War. He lives in LA.