Book Review: The Feather Thief, by Kirk Wallace Johnson

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely amazing book! Here we have a three part well written book that gives one of the best pictures of the consequences of rampant human greed in the past from the historical perspective and in today’s obsessive cult-like behaviors as seen in the decorative fly tying world. I enjoyed ever facet of author Kirk Wallace Johnson’s journey as he went back into the early days of trout/salmon fly tying and documents the similarities and differences of making flies used for the different fish. I loved his descriptions of the epic journeys of the obsessive biologist Alfred Russel Wallace. The failures, successes and the conclusions he drew from his collections which paralleled those of Charles Darwin as to the origin of species. Then in Part II of the book, Johnson recreates and elucidates for us, from court and police documents, as well as interviews with numerous acquaintences, the 2009 theft of some of the rarest bird specimens on earth from the British Museum of Natural History in Tring, England. Following the theft and eventual capture of Edwin Rist for the crime. the author gives us excellent insight into the workings of the British system of justice and the kinds of pleas that can bring conviction or dismissal in such a case. This was simplly amazing to me. Finally in Part III of the book, the author does his best to follow up on the still hundreds of missing bird skins and feathers that are obviously still floating around the world within the fly tying community. Again an eye opener as to the methods of investigation, internet sleuthing and the closing up of ranks within the fly tying cult and rationalizations made to justify those who continue to deal in illegal feathers. All in all, I think anyone ages 15 through 90 would enjoy this book. A great one for a serious discussion on the whys and wherefores of the values that are portrayed by all concerned in the making of this work of art. Read, enjoy and discuss, you’ll love it!

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