The feather thief beauty, obsession, and the natural history heist of the century

by Johnson, Kirk W.,

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Summary
"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.
Contents
Prologue
Dead birds and rich men. The trials of Alfred Russel Wallace ; Lord Rothschild's museum ; The feather fever ; Birth of a movement ; The Victorian Brotherhood of Fly-tiers ; The future of fly-tying
The Tring heist. Featherless in London ; Plan for Museum Invasion.Doc ; The case of the broken window ; "A very unusual crime" ; Hot birds on a cold trail ; Fluteplayer 1988 ; Behind bars ; Rot in hell ; The diagnosis ; The Asperger's defense ; The missing skins
Truth and consequences. The 21st International Fly Tying Symposium ; The lost memory of the ocean ; Chasing leads in a time machine ; Dr. Prum's thumb drive ; "I'm not a thief" ; Three days in Norway ; Michelangelo vanishes ; Flowers in the bloodstream.

Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "*Starred Review* In the middle of the eighteenth century, naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace collected hundreds of specimens of birds in pursuit of proof of his theory of natural selection. Later, many of those specimens made their way to the natural-history museum in the town of Tring, England. In 2009, Edwin Rist, a young American flautist and expert in the art of fly tying, broke into the museum and made off with hundreds of rare bird specimens, including many collected by Wallace himself, which Rist intended to sell to fellow fly-tying enthusiasts. He was eventually apprehended, and a number of the stolen specimens were recovered, but a mystery lingered: What happened to the rest of the specimens? The author's relentless pursuit of a solution to that mystery not only breaks down the crime itself but also follows the eccentric histories of feather fever the Victorian fad that turned bird feathers into the height of fashion accessories and fly tying (which dates back at least to the Macedonians of the third century AD). Way more interesting than you'd think a book about a guy who stole some dead birds could possibly be, this is a remarkably compelling story of obsession and history and a man who so loved his art that he would break the law for it.--Pitt, David Copyright 2018 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Johnson (To Be a Friend Is Fatal) makes his true-crime debut with this enthralling account of a truly bizarre crime. In 2009, Edwin Rist, an American student at London's Royal Academy of Music, stole 299 rare and scientifically significant bird skins from the Natural History Museum at Tring, in Hertfordshire, England, plucked their feathers, and sold them for top dollar to men who shared his obsession with the Victorian art of salmon-fly tying. Johnson explores the expensive and exotic hobby of salmon-fly tying that emerged in the 19th century and uses that context to frame Rist's story, including his trial. Rist did not serve jail time after his lawyers successfully argued that Asperger's syndrome was to blame for his crime. In the book's final section, Johnson goes deep into the exotic bird and feather trade and concludes that though obsession and greed know no bounds, they certainly make for a fascinating tale. The result is a page-turner that will likely appeal to science, history, and true crime readers. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Natural History Museum (London, England)
Theft from museums -- Great Britain -- Case studies.
Zoological specimens -- Great Britain -- Case studies.
Fly tying -- Great Britain -- Case studies.
Electronic books.
Publisher [Place of publication not identified] :Penguin Publishing Group2018.
Contributors OverDrive, Inc.
Language English
System Details Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Format: Adobe EPUB eBook
Format: Kindle Book
Format: OverDrive Read
Requires Adobe Digital Editions or Amazon Kindle
Description 1 online resource
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 9781101981627
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