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


An Amazon Best Book of 2018; 2019 Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award Nominee (Shortlist); 2019 Edgar Awards Nominee – Best Fact Crime (Finalist); Oprah’s 20 Best True Crime Books of All Time; Goodreads Choice Awards Semifinalist; Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee (Longlist); Outside’s The Outdoor Books that Shaped the Last Decade“; Buzzfeed Best Books of 2018; Outside Best Books of 2018Popular Mechanics Best Sci/Tech Books of 2018; Forbes Best Books About Birds in 2018; Mental Floss Best Books of 2018; American Birding Association Best of 2018; BookPage Best Books of 2018; BookRiot Favorite Books of 2018; Outside’s The Contemporary Adventure Canon; Good Housekeeping’s 25 Best True Crime Books of All Time

“[A]bsorbing…though it’s non-fiction, The Feather Thief contains many of the elements of a classic thriller.”  NPR’s FRESH AIR

“[O]ne of the most peculiar and memorable true-crime books ever.”  CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR 

“Johnson has written a fascinating book—the kind of intelligent reported account that alerts us to a threat and that, one hopes, will never itself be endangered.”  WALL STREET JOURNAL

Johnson, like Susan Orlean before him, is a magnifier: he sees grand themes—naïveté, jealousy, depression, the entitlement of man—in, say, the plumes of the king bird-of-paradise, collected by the nineteenth-century naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace between bouts of fever in the Pacific. That vision makes a book about things like Victorian salmon fly tiers feel heavy as gold.­­”  THE NEW YORKER

“Clever, informative, and sometimes endearingly bumbling, this mix of natural history and crime opens up new worlds.” AMAZON’S BEST BOOKS OF 2018 (#3)

“It is all a bit mad. Johnson, a wonderfully assured writer, takes us on a curious journey into the past…The Feather Thief proves that the most obscure, “candy-ass” activities can be made interesting for the general reader. Johnson makes his tale as vivid and arresting as a quetzal’s tail.”  THE TIMES OF LONDON

“Within pages I was hooked. This is a weird and wonderful book…Johnson is a master of pacing and suspense. [I]t’s a tribute to Johnson’s storytelling gifts that when I turned the last page I felt bereft.”  THE SPECTATOR

“Fascinating…a complex tale of greed, deception and ornithological sabotage.” THE NEW YORK TIMES

“[A]n object lesson in humanity’s capacity for sheer, blind selfishness.” THE SEATTLE TIMES

“[A] remarkable story Johnson tells with novelistic skill.”  LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

“Charming…There’s a lot to Johnson’s book, and he ties it together well, reeling you into disparate historical subjects in a thrilling catch-and-release style. [W]orth its weight in exotic bird feathers, which you’ll learn are very expensive.” The Paris Review (Staff Pick)

“the kind of beguiling spiral of a non-fiction work which I adore…Our quester, a kind of plumalogical Philip Marlowe, struggles and squirms at his meetings with these people.”  THE SCOTSMAN

The Feather Thief is an uncommon book.  It could have been about nothing more than an ill person who did an odd thing.  But it’s not.  It entertains while it educates.  It informs and enlightens…we need more books like this one.”  SCIENCE

“[A] riveting read. It also stands…as a reminder of how an obsession with the ornaments of nature — be they feathers, bird eggs or ivory — can wreak havoc on our scientific heritage.” NATURE

“Way more interesting than you’d think a book about a guy who stole some dead birds could possibly be, this is a remarkably compelling story of obsession and history and a man who so loved his art that he would break the law for it.” BOOKLIST (Starred Review)

“[F]ascinating…a book about obsession, from the fly-tying community’s hunt for specific bird species to Johnson’s own need for justice and closure after the case is resolved. This is a gripping, multifaceted book about our need to possess beauty in the name of historical authenticity.” INDIE NEXT PICK: MAY

“a wide-ranging, captivating work…just like a master fly-tier, Johnson skillfully weaves these disparate strands into a scintillating whole.  I was more than happy to bite and be reeled in.”  LITERARY REVIEW 

“Everything the author touches in this thoroughly engaging true-crime tale turns to storytelling gold…Johnson’s flair for telling an engrossing story is, like the beautiful birds he describes, exquisite.  A superb tale about obsession, nature, and man’s ‘unrelenting desire to lay claim to its beauty, whatever the cost.'” Kirkus (Starred Review)

“[An] enthralling account of a truly bizarre crime…a page-turner”  Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

“You’ll never look at a feather in the same way again after reading this riveting detective story…[a] fantastical narrative which brilliantly weaves together Alfred Russel Wallace, the surprisingly shadowy history of fly fishing, conservation and the plumage of the most beautiful birds on Earth.” Bookseller (“Editor’s Choice, April 2018”)

“[A] thrilling read.”  Bustle (“The 9 Most Anticipated True Crime Books of 2018“)

“An adventure caper, a dose of true crime, and an obsession with the natural world fill this exciting spring release…fascinating from the first page to the last—you won’t be able to put it down.”  Southern Living (“Our Bookshelves Can’t Wait for these 2018 Spring Releases“)

“[A] batshit insane story”  Chicago Reader (“Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018“)

“[A] true crime caper recounted with relish.”  O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE. (May 2018 Issue)

“Riveting.” Goodreads (“40 of the Hottest Mysteries & Thrillers of 2018“)

"The Feather Heist"
The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind


“Devastating…”  Michiko Kakutani.  The New York Times.

“A truly incredible story.”  Ira Glass.  This American Life.

“A searing account.”  George Packer.  The New Yorker.

“It is difficult to imagine a book more urgent than this.”  Rayyan al-Shawaf.  The Boston Globe.

“Kirk W. Johnson’s rage-inducing account of government indifference is a tale of lost innocence that, in our American twilight, feels devastatingly allegorical.”  Megan O’Grady.  Vogue.

“This authentic patriot has written a must-read memoir.”  Trudy Rubin.  The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The well-written book – the author is an honest, engaging and indomitable guide – warrants a special place in nonfiction shelves.  He captures the tragicomedy of Iraq better than anyone else’s chronicle I have read so far.”  Kael Weston.  The Daily Beast.