When you think of a theft, you're typically thinking of the standard items - money, gold, jewels.
You're not thinking of feathers. But that's the story that's told in Kirk Wallace Johnson's truth-is-stranger-than-fiction book, The Feather Thief.
The author himself, Kirk, is a fascinating individual: he served in served in Iraq with USAID in Baghdad, Fallujah as the first coordinator for reconstruction, then returned to the United States and started a nonprofit, The List Project, to help translators, civil engineers and others who aided the United States during the Iraq War to be resettled in America. With the immense pressures on his shoulders and urgent requests coming in from refugees every day, Kirk took up fly fishing as a way to experience nature and relax.
One day, Kirk's fly fishing guide Spencer Seim shows him a vintage Salmon Fly. Fascinated by the striking colors and designs, Kirk is stunned to hear the story of Edwin Rist, one of the best contemporary young fly-tiers who broke into the British Museum to steal dead birds for flies.
Fascinated by this twist on a classic crime caper, Kirk is driven to try to seek out the why and wherefore behind Edwin's story.
To do so, he must first outline why these dead birds are so valuable. Kirk takes us back to the 19th Century, the era of Charles Darwin and his lesser-known but extremely influential contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace.
In the mid 19th Century natural history notoriety land-grab - when the rush to discover and classify new species was a way to make one's career - Wallace was determined to make his mark. Beset by extreme difficulties on his lengthy expedition to South America that forced him to lose all of his meticulously-gathered work on birds, monkeys and more, Wallace had to find additional creatures that captured people's imaginations and that were so remote geographically as to allow him the chance to be the first to rigorously study them scientifically.
His choice? Birds of Paradise.