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The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and…

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

by Kirk Wallace Johnson

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2501767,927 (4.03)35
  1. 00
    The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (schmootc)
    schmootc: This is another non-fiction book about natural history. It basically sketches out how a lot of those birds ended up being so scarce/extinct to begin with and scared the crap out of me at least about what's going to happen next.

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Some of my colleagues were't impressed at having to read about Wallace and Darwin and museum collections all over again, but I quite enjoyed it and found it was good context to put the perpetrator's actions in context. The author was striving for some reveal or resolution from all his sleuthing that wasn't really there, but everything leading up to it was exceptionally well told – an insight into a world most museum curators have never heard of. ( )
  adzebill | Mar 6, 2019 |
This was one weird nonfiction book. I had no idea this was a "thing" but apparently there is a small but dedicated group of men (at least there were no women mentioned in the book) who are obsessed with the Victorian art of fly tying. Fly tying, which I had never heard of, stemmed from the need for a lure for salmon, who will lunge at something floating on the water and be caught that way. So feathers were used and cut and tied in a manner to attract the fish. However, like other Victorian excesses, this turned into an art utilizing feathers from the rarest birds possible that were being discovered and brought back by explorers and naturalists of the time. Of course the obsession with birds and feathers was also a part of women's fashion and the Victorians quickly hunted many of these prized species to extinction. Today there is still a fringe group that covets the feathers of the extinct or nearly extinct birds so that they can create their fly ties (which they never even fish with).

So where does the "thief" part of the title come in? Well, a young flautist who also became obsessed with fly tying decides to rob a natural history museum and steals hundreds of birds to use and sell their feathers. This book is the author's obsession to figure out how this art of salmon fly tying came to be, whether this young man had an accomplice, and if he can recover any of the birds in the name of science.

This was an incredible story and quite fun to read, though I was rolling my eyes and shaking my head through much of it. It's hard to believe these fringe groups exist, but then again, the internet makes all things possible. My main annoyance with the book is that this is one of those nonfiction books where the author is a character - his quest for the truth and his personal issues color some of the writing. I didn't mind it terribly in this book, but I'd pretty much always prefer that authors not make it "all about them" when they write nonfiction.

Original publication date: 2018
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library kindle
Why I read this: read a review somewhere that piqued my interest ( )
  japaul22 | Jan 27, 2019 |
This was a well-done audiobook about the very sad theft of hundreds of historical bird bodies by a fly-tying enthusiast who wanted the rare feathers for his hobby. I think book lovers can relate. Imagine books of immense historical value stolen so someone can glue their pages together to turn them into furniture showroom art (yes, that often bothers me). If you are looking for a nonfiction book that’s hard to put down, this is it. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Jan 4, 2019 |
This was a solidly enjoyable piece of narrative nonfiction. To say that it has all the requisite elements sounds like faint praise, but I appreciate when an author does the necessary research to set the scene—especially if there are several topics that converge, as in this one—and then uses just enough of it to scaffold a good story. The fact that Johnson's obsession with solving the last pieces of the crime is never realized is both a little unsatisfying and humanizing; the book may be subtitled "the Natural History Heist of the Century," but this isn't a whodunnit that ties up all the loose ends before the last page, nor does it dig too deeply into the strange subculture of fly-tying. Rather, it's an entertaining yarn—the real fun is in the telling, as I realized when I had a second good time recounting the basic plot points to a friend a few days after reading it. ( )
3 vote lisapeet | Dec 9, 2018 |
Good book! I never knew feathers could be so interesting! Well written, easy to follow story of a young man obsessed with making fishing lures and gets himself involved in stealing exotic feathers.. The author goes into great detail about the history of many birds and the abuse and near extinction of many, ( )
  loraineo | Nov 26, 2018 |
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Man in seldom content to witness beauty. He must possess it. -- Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea 1979
For Marie-Josée: C'était tout noir et blanc avant que tu aies volé et atterri dans mon arbre
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By the time Edwin Rist stepped off the train onto the platform at Tring, forty miles north of London, it was already quite late.
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"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."--Page [2] of cover.… (more)

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