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

May 20, 2021 @ 4:00 pm 5:00 pm

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century
By Kirk Wallace Johnson (2018)


The Feather Thief tells the true crime story of Edwin Rist’s theft of hundreds of rare bird specimens from the British Museum of Natural History.  Rist was obsessed with rare feathers by way of his interest in the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying.  The book retraces the history of Victorian use of feathers as a status symbol in women’s hats and fishermans’ fly-tying, and the early conservation laws that resulted as many species declined due to those uses.  Johnson also describes the efforts of Alfred Russel Wallace, who gathered many of the British Museum of Natural History’s specimens in his pursuit of a theory of the origin of the species in parallel with Charles Darwin. The stories of Rist, Wallace, and Victorian feather fanatics converge in this fascinating page-turner, compelling contemplation of man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.

Co-sponsored by the CLA International Law and Immigration Section.

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