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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
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    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!!!

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A good author can write about anything.

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

6 of 6 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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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best book of 2018

loved this book, it has everything: history, true crime, great writing and captivating tale. buying it for friends and family.

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

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.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Highly recommend! A must read!

An engaging and thought provoking “page turner”. Wonderfully written true crime drama that takes you through the annals of history to present day. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Surprising story about a dark side of angling arts

Who would have thought that the self proclaimed "Sport of Kings" considered by some to be an art form had its dark side. Well told story about how the theft of feathers became an ugly mark on an otherwise highly regarded craft of sportsman.

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Offbeat & Interesting

This is an amazing story that is both offbeat in its subject matter and extremely interesting in historical background. I have no particular interest in fly tying or fishing for that matter. However, the story is so well written and well narrated that I could not stop listening. It is a psychological thriller that delves into the complexity of obsession and in the process, poses quite a few profound questions about human nature. Kirk Wallace Johnson is a good writer and the story moves along at a fast clip. The ending was quite a surpise. I loved the historical background about the feather trade. Who knew?!? And who knew there is a whole sub-culture of people obsessed with tying flies never intended to end up in the mouth of a fish! A great read!

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Excellent

A captivating story! I have recommended this book to friends and coworkers looking for an easy, interesting read with purpose. Thanks to NPR for introducing me to this book.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • HT
  • 11-04-18

Parts Were Interesting

The parts about fly tying I found very interesting to learn about and the lengths people go to in getting feathers to recreate lures from the Victorian era. I kind of felt that the author involved himself a little too much into the story and that, to me, detracted from what it was about.