In June 2009, twenty year old Edwin Rist performed in a concert at the London Royal Academy of Music. Later that night, he boarded a train to visit the British Museum of Natural History at Tring which holds one of the world's largest ornithological collections. Armed with a glass cutter and a large duffel bag, Rist broke into the museum and stole the skins of 299 tropical birds. By the time Rist was caught months later, more than half the skins had been sold (at exorbitant prices) to fly-tiers around the world. For those not familiar with the art of fly-tying (I had never heard of it), it is the process through which people craft artificial flies to catch fish. The world's best fly-tiers will go to extreme lengths to access rare, colorful feathers. The most beautiful flies sell for hundreds of dollars and are never used to catch fish.
As fly-tying continues to intrigue Americans, certain birds commonly used in fly tie patterns have become increasingly difficult to find. To this day, many patterns call for feathers of birds that are either endangered or extinct. It was this desire to access the world's most beautiful (and rare) feathers that drove Edwin Rist to break into the museum on that summer evening in 2009. The Feather Thief reads like a true crime novel. The first two sections move relatively quickly, but I found the last section pretty tough to get through. The book should be shorter than it is. That said-- fascinating topic. I learned a lot about pretty birds and the men (yes, mostly men) who are obsessed with pretty birds.