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Publisher's Summary

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, 20-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.

©2018 Kirk Wallace Johnson (P)2018 Penguin Audio

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Sylvia
  • Valdosta, GA
  • 04-28-18

Unusual and true natural history mystery!

This is a fascinating book that not only explains about the particular theft of feathers and bird skins, but also about the function of museums and other institutions keeping actual collections of these and why people would want to steal these things. As I said, not just birds but also things like elephant tusks and turtles and all types of animals. The reason I gave the story only four stars is because the detailed theft story began but then diverged off into speaking about all these other topics marginally related to the actual feather theft. Once it got back to the actual feather theft, I was a little confused about who was who and the wheres and whens and so on. But I eventually got back on to the gist of things. Although I have a degree in biology and have both used and contributed to various collections myself, of reptiles/amphibians, not birds, I did not know a good number of things covered by this story. If you have an interest in biology or natural history or ecology or conservation or museums or even just history, I think you would enjoy this audiobook because it is rather unique and presents facts and stories that you may never have heard and relates them together in a way you may not have been aware that they relate. So I have spoken this into my phone rather than typed it and I hope that it makes sense to you. I enjoyed this audiobook. P. S. If you are interested in flyfishing or fly tying, you would probably really, really get into this book!!!

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A good author can write about anything.

Who would have thought there would be drama in fly tying! Highly recommend, if a bit obscure.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Surprisingly Riveting

I heard about this book on an NPR interview. Surprisingly riveting. the author takes subject matter that is relatively obscure and turns it in to truly interesting story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Weird, fascinating, & engrossing story!

I've fished, tried to cast with my son's fly-fishing rod, and admired some of the flies that he has tied, but I never imagined I could be so captivated by the story of a young man so obsessed with Victorian salmon-fly tying that he would resort to stealing hundreds of rare and exotic bird feathers and skins from the Tring Natural History Museum.

Truth really is stranger than fiction in The Feather Thief, and Kirk Johnson has written this weirdly fascinating story so well that I couldn't help but become immersed in it. He presents his research so the reader can understand the background and development of salmon-fly tying as an elite and expensive hobby in the 19th century. He also writes about Darwin's rival Alfred Russel Wallace and his quest to gather rare birds for scientific study and 19th century women demanding exotic birds and feather for their hats. On the surface, The Feather Thief is about exactly what its title states, but it's also about protecting endangered species and those who exploit those species for pleasure and money.

The author says that after he heard about the feather thief from a fly-fishing guide in New Mexico, “I became obsessed with the crime within moments. The more I found out, the greater the mystery grew, and my own compulsion to solve it.” I felt the same way about this engrossing book.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Plucked Feathers

I was really looking forward to this book after hearing it discussed on NPR. I had it ready to play when I set off on trip out of town. Unfortunately I did not make it very far in the book as the reader’s narration is so annoying. He is trying to add too much emphasis and excitement. It is like something for Saturday morning kids documentary. Very unfortunate. I have spoken with friends who have read the text version and absolutely loved it. If you want to listen, I would suggest pulling up the episode on fresh air.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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First half was good

First half was very interesting, but the second half didn’t have a point. Would have been better suited to a 10 page article.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Surprisingly Compelling, Being About Feathers

Super book overall. Drawn inside a sub-culture I didn't know existed - and was glad for the journey. Fascinating tale. Unfortunately, I think the author should have pulled in his line sooner as the last 15-20 minutes drag out in anti-climactic fashion and we seem to catch nothing new. Rather than wrapping up the main story, it felt like an author's confessional. However, I highly recommend this audio book. Narrator is terrific - and I'm a stickler for a good narration.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Terrible narration.

I flyfish and tie flies. I am also a reader. This is the sort of thing I'd like. However, (1) the narrator is so bad it is unlistenable. There is a difference between reading and acting. The narrator tries to act this, not simply read it. This is not a live Shakespearean play where overemphasis and breathlessness is necessary to make sure the cheap seats hear the emotion.(2) Also, it simply not well written. Kind of pedestrian writing, not bad, but not good, either. Bummer.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Evie M
  • FALLS CHURCH, VA, US
  • 09-24-18

Fantastic Story, Obscure Topics

I loved the subjects covered within this book--whole societies of people focused around a shared, often obsessively consuming hobby. the crime itself seems almost an invention, but it is SUCH a good, well-researched (very very well!) book and even though it is nonfiction, the surprises are enthralling. The narrator does an excellent job of affecting the moods and personalities of all the individuals in the book (there are plenty!!!) but I bristled a bit at his unfamiliarity with some words' correct pronunciations. for me, that is almost physically painful to hear, and I think if one is pursuing a career of any sort in narration, one really ought to become more familiar with pronunciation. still, it was a great enough book that those were fleeting distractions (there were five or six!).

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating, great narrator

an obscure topic made enthralling by writer and reader alike. who knew I'd be so hooked on a story about feathers