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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  4,992 ratings  ·  858 reviews
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 outpos
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published April 24th 2018 by Viking
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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 ...more
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 ...more
Matthew Quann
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Deciding to read The Feather Thief should really come down to how much you want to know about birds. Birds are animals I'm perfectly willing to appreciate at a distance but, barring a series of childhood budgies, they've never been my particular thing. All the same, I've got mad respect for Darwin, Wallace, and their culture-rupturing scientific discovery made possible by tropical birds, so I thought this book would be up my alley.

The bad thing about this audiobook is that the first half seemed
Alice Lippart
Haven't read something so engrossing all year. What a fascinating and exciting book!
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 ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Reminds me of The Orchid Thief in its readability and theme.
Jamie Canaves
FANTASTIC Nonviolent True Crime
I had wanted to read this one for the nonviolent true crime roundup
I’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
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Trigger warnings: animal death, blood, a lot of bullshit around autism.

I've been hearing really good things about this book for the past couple of months, so when I stumbled across it in the true crime section of my library, I picked it up. I found it a struggle to get into, to be perfectly honest, and I can't quite pinpoint why. Maybe it's the fact that so much of the story revolves around making fishing flies and I genuinely cannot imagine being even vaguely interested in making fishing flies
Leslie Ray
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
What an adventure centered around the dedication of the author to try to rectify a theft from the Natural History Museum in Tring (England). The thief had an obsession with obtaining rare bird feathers for making fishing lures, but not necessarily to fish with. Apparently there is a group of people who will pay tons of money for the rarest of bird feathers to create these lures despite the fact that these birds are killed for this very purpose. There is a lot of history in this book on the destr ...more
Emily Goenner
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
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. :)
April Cote
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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!
The Captain
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Ahoy there mateys! This be one a true crime book about one of the greatest naturalist thefts of all time – of bird skins from the British Museum of Natural History. The reason – their feathers for use in fishing lures. Aye matey, ye did read that correctly. Fishing lures that aren’t even used to fish. Who would think that that would be a big business? Well this book looks into the theft of the birds by a 20 year old flutist studying in London. That part ended unsatisfactorily by me standards. Bu ...more
Lily Mason
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This story is unexpectedly engaging to the point where at times it feels like fiction. Who would have thought that a conservatory student would pull off the natural history heist of the century, all in the name of a niche hobby? Johnson is a great storyteller and his passion for the subject shines through. The only point where my interest waned was during the chapter on the history of feather use in women's fashion. Other than that, I was riveted from start to finish.
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bill
When I chose this book, I thought it was fiction. It is not. It's history. It's a mystery. It's true crime. It's very interesting and opens a world that I had no idea existed.
Seems the author acquired the obsession the people in the book already had.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I know nothing about fish other than my recipe for lime-encrusted cod loin and little more about birds other than that robins and blue-tits are adorable. Nevertheless, I found this book about fly-tying and rare bird feathers absolutely riveting.

This is Kirk Wallace Johnson’s account of one of the strangest heists in history. In 2009, a 20-year old American music student named Edwin Rist broke into the Tring’s Natural History Museum in Hertfordshire and stole a suitcase full of rare birds
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
My first true crime and I did enjoy it, but only up to an extent. The authors fascination with birds and Edwin Rist is contagious and I certainly enjoyed those bits. They were informative and as a student of Zoology, I didn't feel like an outsider to those terms.
The writing was good and the author went in-depth with everything including the tiny details of the actual theft and his subsequent investigation. The pace was extremely slow and other than my interest in ornithology, there was very litt
A very interesting true crime story that is different from the traditional violent ones. It’s a quirky story involving the small world of fly fishing and the fly tiers who make the feather flies to bait the hooks of the fly fishers. A bit boring in the beginning, for most I would guess, as the author goes into the science of the birds and lays the foundation. It picks up as we learn more about Edwin Rist, an American student studying music in London, with an obsession for beautiful feathers and ...more
I wouldn't exactly call it rollicking, but it is definitely thought provoking.

The dedication of the author to try to track down the lost birds and feathers, in contrast to the authorities and even the museum community is what is truly thought provoking. The police practice of giving up the search after they have a culprit and the museum practice of "writing off the crime" after the trial speaks volumes. It shouts to all of the feather traffickers that they can continue using and selling illegal
Robert Sheard
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So interesting! I had no idea about the world of fly tying. Total page turner...tight writing, so even the historical bits were fascinating. Can't wait to read the next on from Mr. Johnson.

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, such as the Resplendent Quetzal, the King Bird of
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
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 himself, seems to have no regret, other then getting c ...more
Kaylie (
Have you ever heard the saying, "Life is stranger than fiction?" That is the best way I can describe this book. It's one of the most fascinating true crime novels that I've ever read -- largely because it's the kind of story that if it were fictionalized, I would say "There's no way that could happen, this is just absurd."

Full review to come, but I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this one!
Anne Brown
Oct 06, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm a huge fan of true crime and I think this is the first book of true crime I've read that didn't inflict violence on a person in any way! However, there were victims! Johnson started out strong laying the groundwork for the crime and then continued a great read into the second part of the book. However, what was once a 4-5 star book for me lost its luster as the book turned more personal about Johnson's obsession with writing the book. I did learn a lot about natural history and how little it ...more
Dec 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf
I'd give this a 3.5 if I could. I took a long break from it because it got a little slow for me in the middle. Overall though, enjoyable look into a crime I knew nothing about, and a community of hobbyists who are certainly intense to say the least!
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
I haven’t read much about true crime “heists”, especially about this outlandish rare bird skin theft of the Natural History Museum of Tring in 2009. But this smart, fascinating dive into the world of bird hunting, fly-fish lure tying and the history of the Victorian naturalist shouldn’t be missed. I was captivated by this world. This book is part biography, history, true crime, and memoir. Definitely a great read! 4.5/5 ⭐ ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Carol
Shelves: audio
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.
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POBL Nonfiction B...: April Book Discussion - The Feather Thief 1 1 Jan 03, 2019 02:29PM  
Play Book Tag: The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson--5 stars + ♥ 12 21 Dec 12, 2018 02:27PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please correct page number 2 12 Sep 08, 2018 01:02PM  
Recommendations 1 10 Apr 19, 2018 05:45PM  
“In an era when women were expected to remain at home and had yet to be granted the right to vote or own property, the abolition of the feather trade was ultimately their work.” 1 likes
“This consideration,” he concluded, “must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man.” 1 likes
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