Feather Thief (Johnson) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for THE FEATHER THIEF … then take off on your own:

m. Johnson reports that a fly-tier expert warned Johnson away from pursuing the story of the Tring theft. "I don’t think you want to write that story.… We’re a tight-knit community, fly-tiers, and you do not want to piss us off.” Johnson becomes frustrated by those who don't seem to grasp the seriousness of Rist's crime. Why is it such a serious crime?

m. What was Edwin Rist's motivation for his theft? Actually, is obsession a motivation?

m. What are your thoughts regarding Edwin Rist's legal penalty? Fair? Too light?

m. When the author interviews Rist, he shows little remorse for his theft. What do you think of Rist and his self-exoneration? He says at one point:

[A]ll of the scientific data that can be extracted from them has been extracted from them. You can no longer use DNA, because what you would want to do it for is to prolong and help living birds, which hasn’t really worked anyway, because they’re still going extinct, or will go extinct depending on what happens with the rainforests.

Is Rist correct? Or is that beside the point?

m. Follow-up to Question XXX: Juxtaposed to Rist's lack of remorse is the museum's science director who calls the theft a "catastrophic event," of "stealing knowledge from humanity." Is it catastrophic? What do the losses mean to science?

m. Talk about why the loss of the birds' identity tags is so devastating to the scientists.

m. In what way does the basic conflict at the heart of this book continue today? That conflict is the belief that nature is worth preserving for posterity vs. the belief that nature is put here for the use and betterment of humankind. In what other areas do we see this debate playing out, and where do you stand in regards to it?

m. Is The Feather Thief an important book or merely an entertaining book about an absurd obsession? Do we need care about what happened to the birds of Tring? What is their value to science? Johnson says that the curators had protected the specimens for years, because they "understood that the birds held answers to questions that hadn't yet even been asked." If the questions haven't been formulated by this juncture in history, are they really that important?

m. Of the three sections of the book—the story of the theft, the history of Alfred Russell Wallace and the Victorian era's "feather fever," the author's experiences researching this book—which do you find most interesting?

m. Alfred Russell Wallace once expounded on the importance of cataloguing the natural world:

[T]he individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this valuable record of the past.

Do you think he is right?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020