The Feather Thief


The Feather Thief

Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History
Heist of the Century

The choices we make in life are everything. Sometimes we go with perceived wisdom, other times the gut or heart. There will always be lessons to learn, for such is life. I’m a fan of taking serious leaps of faith, and when I see the inherent scars, blood, or bruises left behind, I find joy and amusement in them. I’m also a believer in unbridled passion for the endeavors and people who matter to us, but never at the sake of honesty and integrity. For Edwin Rist, a twenty-year-old professional flute player from England, the line of obsession was beyond blurred. He found himself standing along a wall outside of the British Museum of Natural History on a tenebrously dark night, with an empty suitcase.

Rist helped himself to scores of vintage rare bird collections while the night guard watched a soccer game on the office television, all in the name of tying the finest old school salmon flies possible, even though they would doubtful ever be fished. It makes some sense to me, for aesthetics of the natural world are both fascinating and captivating, and the neurosis of fervent coveting is nothing new. Although, mesmerizing flies that won’t ever see water, without loving hands to hold them, tie them on, as they line up at the edge of a riverbank? Bizarre. There are even people who fish without hooks―is this some higher Zen mode or perhaps a cry for help? Regardless, Rist was in a heap of trouble.

While on a guided river wade just north of Taos, author Kirk Wallace Johnson heard the strange tale of the heist, and it became his calling to unravel what happened over the next few years. Johnson illuminates the backstory of Darwin’s contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace, who collected many of these birds over 150 years before while on death-defying adventure expeditions to the Malay Archipelago, along with what happens to all who get connected and immersed in the aftermath of the crime.

The Feather Thief is a welcome and worthy summertime read for anyone who has some time on their hands, whether it’s for downtime escapism in a fireside tent along the river, or a sandy beach chair with gin and fresh lime on ice, it’ll take you for quite a ride. Here’s to the feathers in life that tickle our fancy, in hopes that we may all soar as free as a bird.

The Feather Thief is published by Viking and the 320 page hardcover retails for $27.00 and is available through


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