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

Kirk Wallace Johnson. Viking, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-98161-0
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/13/2017
Release date: 04/24/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-101-98163-4
Library Binding - 500 pages - 978-1-4328-5317-4
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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