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

Viking. Apr. 2018. 320p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781101981610. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101981627. CRIME
On June 24, 2009, a break in occurred at the British Natural History Museum at Tring. Nothing of value seemed to be missing, but several months later, the museum discovered that hundreds of rare birds, some of them collected by Darwin competitor Alfred Russell Wallace, had been stolen by fishing-lure aficionados. The author, a fly fisherman himself, stumbled on this story and found himself tumbling down a rabbit hole of obsessed Victorian fly-tiers, who need the feathers of now-endangered or extinct bird species to replicate the artistic lures created decades ago. The feathers themselves are worth a small fortune, and while the thief, American Edwin Rist, was captured, many of the birds' skins remained missing. Johnson took up the search within the secretive brotherhood of fly-tiers, tracking down new leads and interviewing wary or openly hostile members. The result is a mind-blowing account of a modern subculture and a riveting historical tour of the feather trade from the 1800s to the present. The resolution, however, is frustrating and demonstrates both the importance and difficulty of preserving our natural history.
VERDICT A different kind of detective tale that will appeal to lovers of natural history and criminal caper stories. [See Prepub Alert, 10/29/17.]
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