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Read the book all of Arlington Heights is talking about - The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This riveting true-crime adventure was selected as the 2019 One Book, One Village title by a first-time community vote.

One Book, One Village, now in its sixth year, invites the community to read the same book at the same time and share in the experience through related programs and book discussions. OBOV 2019 will culminate with a visit by the author on Thursday, October 10. 


Truth is stranger than fiction in this captivating story of a bizarre and peculiar crime. In 2009, a 20-year-old American music student broke into the Tring Museum of Natural History in London, stole 299 dead birds and disappeared into the night. How did he do it and why?

Author Kirk Wallace Johnson investigates the unusual case and discovers an underground world where rare bird feathers are worth staggering amounts of money. Filled with strange encounters and unlikely occurrences, The Feather Thief is a fascinating exploration of greed, obsession and man's destructive instint to harvest the beauty of nature. The book is a highly entertaining page-turner you won't soon forget.

Absorbing…Though it’s nonfiction, The Feather Thief contains many of the elements of a classic thriller.” –Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

Copies of The Feather Thief are available in the library's Marketplace, at the Senior Center and on the bookmobile.


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An Evening with Lisa Genova
An Evening with Author Kirk Wallace Johnson
Catch author Kirk Wallace Johnson in Arlington Heights and go beyond the pages of The Feather Thief. Join Johnson for an engaging conversation, Q&A and a book signing following his talk. Copies of The Feather Thief will be available for sale. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library.
Thursday, October 10, 7–9 p.m.
Forest View Auditorium, 2121 S. Goebbert Rd. 
Registration is full. There is a wait list for this event; sign up here.  
Captivating...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 Reviews, Starred Review
About Kirk Wallace Johnson
Born and raised in West Chicago, Kirk Wallace Johnson is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, and the author of To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, among others.
Prior to the List Project, Johnson served in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Baghdad and then Fallujah as the Agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction in the war-torn city.
He is a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and the recipient of fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Wurlitzer Foundation. Prior to his work in Iraq, he conducted research on political Islamism as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt. Johnson received his BA from the University of Chicago in 2002.
He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
In the summer of 2000, while in college and working as an ice cream truck driver in the Chicago suburbs, Kirk Wallace Johnson could never have imagined years later he’d return to Arlington Heights as an author and the investigative force behind a much-celebrated work of nonfiction, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century.
The true-crime adventure, named a 2018 Amazon Best Book and an Edgar Award nominee, was selected as the library’s 2019 One Book, One Village title by a community vote earlier this year.

We talked to Johnson from his home in Los Angeles. The West Chicago native spoke about writing, the surprising allure of feathers and his upcoming author event in Arlington Heights on October 10.

What was your reaction when you found out The Feather Thief was selected for One Book, One Village?
Over the moon may sound cliché, but it’s an accurate description. There are many dark, despairing moments when you’re working on a book.…so it’s an incredible affirmation and tremendous honor that the book was selected, and I’m doubly excited to come back to my home state.

You first heard about this strange heist and a kid who stole dead birds from a London museum for the feathers, did you have any idea where the story would lead?
I didn’t know anything about this when I started out. I couldn’t describe a feather, I didn’t really know much about birds…In some ways, following this story was like going through this secret door into this unknown world. Every twist and turn of the investigation made it a crazier and crazier story.

In addition to being a true-crime thriller, what else is the book about?
The core themes in the book are the pursuit of status, obsession with beauty and human greed. So much about this story is greed and the many faces it wears. It’s impossible to read this book and not see ourselves or question our own place in the world. What is our connection to nature? What are the things we obsess about? Do those obsessions create any moral blind-spots? Do those obsessions create any moral blind-spots?

What can someone expect who attends your author event?
When I talk about the book, I love to introduce it by way of photos and videos that didn’t make it in the book…but my goal is also to work as efficiently as possible to the point where I can have a conversation with the audience. Then I love to have a conversation and hear from the audience. There’s something about this story that causes hands to shoot up with the most charged and animated questions.

It’ll be an honor to meet with readers and honestly, I’m counting down the days.

One Book Programs


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