The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century is all about obsession, the obsession with the feathers that lead to the crime being committed, and the obsession with the author determined to solve the crime and retrieve the feathers. This novel reads like three stories a history lesson, a bumbling heist story, and a an obsessive detective story, that all come together. The ridiculous nature of the crime got me to read this novel, a true story of a feather thief, this as you find out how much these feather’s are worth, in the thousands to the right person, and the risk minimal, it will get you to look at your grandmas old feathered hats a different way and museum displays of birds differently.

The Plot: Edwin Rist is a the age of 12 became obsessed with the intricate art of fly tying, it’s taking feathers and tying them in a way to resemble bugs on the water for fishing of salmon. Edwin has never fished in his life but was obsessed with the art form of making the flies, which can take up to 10 hours or more to build one. There’s a book from the 1800’s that built fly ties, using exotic and rare birds, some that are now endangered and some that are extinct, Edwin and other’s are obsessed with this book, and recreating the one’s displayed exactly in the book. Edwin is revered in the field and speaks on lectures and does demonstrations. He is also an award winning flute player, and gets excepted to an elite school in London when 18. In England they just happen to have one of the biggest collections of rare and exotic bird skins used for study, and Edwin decides to steal some. But there’s a mystery in exactly how much he stole and if anyone else was involved? After the authorities give up the author decides to answer these questions.

What I Liked: The structure of the story. It tells you the history of the birds and what went into collecting them, so when their lost, you know just how hard Wallace, the collector in the 1800’s that collected the bird skins for science, worked to keep the skins pristine. The theft is ridiculous and would be hard to believe if there wasn’t such detail. The author gets involved in the story, I’ve seen this not work, but it works here as you feel his frustration as the fly tying community shuts him out when trying to investigate. I liked the humor as he hires bodyguards for himself against these very nerdy feather collectors. The end was great, for a character you didn’t know you could trust, does have a conscience. I learned a lot about fly tying and the history of species collection.

What I Disliked: After the skins are stolen, we never hear about Edwin’s obsession again, this should be the height of it, since there’s no limits to his imagination, and it just seems like he was in it for the money. I wanted both sides to that story.

Recommendations: I think fan’s of Nonfiction will really enjoy this and where the story goes. I think True Crime readers will delight as the author tries to play detective. I enjoyed this novel it had be guessing and was happy to be led on this journey. I rated this 4 out of 5 stars. I do think this will be one of the top Nonfiction books of this year.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

  1. This has been on my TBR list since it came out. I plan on reading it soon. Really looking forward to it. I don’t really read true crime stories, but like you, the story was just so odd I had to take a look at it!

    Liked by 1 person

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