Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Kirk Wallace Johnson  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction Non-Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: , in West Chicago, Illinois

Illinois Connection

Johnson was born in West Chicago. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 2002.

Biographical and Professional Information

Kirk Wallace Johnson is the author of The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century. His 2013 memoir, To Be a Friend is Fatal: the Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind, covers his work coordinating the reconstruction of Fallujah and his subsequent efforts on behalf of Iraqi refugees as the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies.

His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, among other publications, and his work has been profiled by This American Life, 60 Minutes, the Today Show, and The List, a feature-length documentary that premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival.

As the founder of the List Project, Johnson’s advocacy led to the creation of a program for Iraqis that were imperiled as a consequence of working alongside U.S. diplomats and soldiers. His organization, which marshaled an army of pro bono attorneys to press their cases, helped nearly 2,500 Iraqi refugees reach America, where they are now citizens.

Prior to that, 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, the MacDowell Colony, and the Wurlitzer Foundation. Prior to his work in Iraq, he conducted research on political Islamism as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt. Johnson graduated from the University of Chicago in 2002.

He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, son, and daughter.


The Feather Thief Amazon Best Book of 2018 2019 Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award Nominee (Shortlist) 2019 Edgar Awards Nominee – Best Fact Crime Oprah’s 20 Best True Crime Books of All Time Goodreads Choice Awards Semifinalist Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee (Longlist) Buzzfeed Best Books of 2018 Outside Best Books of 2018 Popular 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 Oprah’s 20 Best True-Crime Books of All Time The Paris Review (Staff Pick) BOOKLIST (Starred Review) Kirkus (Starred Review) Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review) Bookseller (“Editor’s Choice, April 2018”)

Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability: No.

Selected Titles At Your Library

The feather thief :
ISBN: 110198161X. OCLC Number: 999407802

. .

"On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London's Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin's obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins--some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin's, Alfred Russel Wallace, who'd risked everything to gather them--and escaped into the darkness. Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man's relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man's destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature."--Page 2 of cover.

To be a friend is fatal :
ISBN: 147671049X. OCLC Number: 897777559

. .

This book describes how the author, as a USAID reconstruction coordinator, attempted to take his own life after failing in Iraq, an experience that led to his founding of The List Project, a seven-year mission to help Iraqis find refuge in the United States. In January 2005 Kirk Johnson, then twenty-four, arrived in Baghdad as USAID's (US Agency for International Development) only Arabic-speaking American employee. Despite his opposition to the war, Johnson felt called to civic duty and wanted to help rebuild Iraq. Working as the USAID's first reconstruction coordinator in Fallujah, he traversed the city's IED-strewn streets, working alongside idealistic Iraqi translators -- young men and women sick of Saddam, filled with Hollywood slang, and enchanted by the idea of a peaceful, democratic Iraq. It was not to be. As sectarian violence escalated, Iraqis employed by the US coalition found themselves subject to a campaign of kidnapping, torture, and assassination. On his first brief vacation, Johnson, swept into what doctors later described as a "fugue state," crawled onto the ledge outside his hotel window and plunged off. He would spend the next year in an abyss of depression, surgery, and PTSD-crushed by having failed in Iraq. One day, Johnson received an email from an Iraqi friend, Yaghdan: People are trying to kill me and I need your help. That email launched Johnson's now seven-year mission to get help from the US government for Yaghdan and thousands of abandoned Iraqis like him.