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

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In the middle of a June night in 2009, a twenty-year-old music student broke into the British Natural History Museum. He bypassed centuries-old treasures and artifacts to rifle through filing cabinets of bird carcasses, eventually stuffing hundreds into a large suitcase that he wheeled out of the museum and down to the train station.

When Kirk Wallace Johnson first heard about this infamous theft, he was flummoxed — why would someone risk everything to steal a pile of dead birds? His curiosity led him deep into the realm of Victorian fly-tying, a hobby that drives the black market demand for feathers from rare and endangered birds.

Written with all the suspense of a murder mystery, The Feather Thief explores an underground world, a sensational crime, and the motives of a young man thirsting for greatness.

“Crouched on top of the wall, he reached toward the window with the glass cutter and began to grind it along the pane. Cutting glass was harder than he had anticipated, though, and as he struggled to carve an opening, the glass cutter slipped from his hand and fell into the ravine. His mind raced. Was this a sign? He was thinking about bailing on the whole crazy scheme when that voice, the one that had urged him onward these past months, shouted Wait a minute! You can't give up now. You've come all this way! He crawled back down and picked up a rock. Steadying himself atop the wall, he peered around in search of guards before bashing the window out, wedging his suitcase through the shard-strewn opening, and climbing into the British Natural History Museum.”

Kirk Wallace Johnson is an American author and philanthropist. After serving in Iraq under the U.S. Agency for International Development, he founded The List Project, a nonprofit that aims to resettle Iraqi refugees who had helped U.S. forces. His books include To Be a Friend Is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind and The Feather Thief.

Published: 2018
Length: 320 pages
Set in: England, United Kingdom