Selected for multiple “best of” book lists, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century is a true-life crime story that is at once riveting and revolting. Anyone with a pair of binoculars who spends even five minutes a week checking out their neighborhood birds might find it difficult to read about the decimation of storied, feathered specimens, some of which were collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin.
Author Kirk Wallace Johnson presents as a righter of wrongs. The story begins as he finds his humanitarian work expediting Iraqi refugees to the United States stymied by bureaucratic paperwork and diplomacy. Finding release knee-deep in western mountain streams, he becomes obsessed with the fly-tying ‘underground’ and the 2009 burglary of the ornithological collection at the British Natural History Museum at Tring. Obsessed to the point of spending the next six years delving into all things feathers.
At times travelogue, history lesson, fly fishing guide, and biography, the mystery surrounding the Tring feather caper is captivating in its straightforwardness. The crime is already solved when Johnson embarks on his effort to recover the missing collection, yet he persists in following leads and creating hypotheses as to the why of the whole thing. With many threads running throughout the book, his conclusions are much more esoteric than expected. Not surprising, given the obscure and bizarre world into which he has plunged.
- Cathy Click
Announcing our new online book discussion group: Basalt Book Banter!
The Feather Thief is the March selection for Basalt Book Banter, an online book discussion offered in collaboration with Bookbinders Basalt. To join the discussion, visit the Basalt Regional Library Facebook page and join our Basalt Book Banter group. The Feather Thief is available to check out on Overdrive as an ebook or audiobook. We also recommend listening to this interview podcast with Kirk Wallace Johnson on This American Life. We hope you read The Feather Thief and join the discussion!
NB: Kirk Wallace Johnson’s visit to the Roaring Fork Valley, coordinated by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, is postponed. We look forward to hosting him at the Basalt Regional Library in the future.
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