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The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

Average Rating 3.5
( 18 )
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Sprawling New Yorker Stuff

As screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in the movie Adaptation, Nicolas Cage is frustrated with the assignment of adapting The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. 'It's that sprawling New Yorker 'stuff'' Cage complains, yet he admires the book for its beauty and longing and truth...
As screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in the movie Adaptation, Nicolas Cage is frustrated with the assignment of adapting The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. 'It's that sprawling New Yorker 'stuff'' Cage complains, yet he admires the book for its beauty and longing and truthfulness. Well, Cage/Kaufman was right on all accounts. The Orchid Thief 'not accurately represented in the movie, in case you were wondering' is sprawling, and beautiful. Orlean wrote herself into the story of John Laroche, who was caught stealing orchids and other rare plants out of Florida's Fakahatchee State Preserve, and Kaufman follows suit by writing himself into the movie. Orlean took a very minor event and investigated it as thoroughly as possible, taking several detours throughout the book to further examine the history of orchid obsession, shady Florida land deals, and the Seminole Indian tribe as well as various infamous historical figures of same. Orlean's writing style is that of a chatty but extremely well-informed friend. Run-on sentences and extremely long paragraphs -- I saw more than a few that were over a page long -- are the order of the day, thick with historical research and a wacky cast of characters that rivals anything set to print by Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen. Orlean's rambling style and frequent diversions from course were distracting to me, but it was marvelous how she kept it interesting and pulled everything together with the theme of what we do in the name of passion. Like Dan Brown's celebrated efforts on Christian History, I never knew orchids could be so interesting.

posted by Anonymous on December 19, 2007

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

A fascinating look into the world of orchid lovers

I really didn't realize that this book was non fiction. I was just going by the scenes I had seen from the movie and assumed it was fiction. To the folks that are not into orchidelirium, the people that are probably are stranger than fiction. Since I have a small orc...
I really didn't realize that this book was non fiction. I was just going by the scenes I had seen from the movie and assumed it was fiction. To the folks that are not into orchidelirium, the people that are probably are stranger than fiction. Since I have a small orchid collection but refuse to pay more than $50 for one, this world of obsession where a collector will pay thousands of dollars for a rare speciman, is even beyond my comprehension. The book is based on the authors reading an article in a Florida newspaper about a case of 4 people trying to steal ghost orchids off of Seminole reservation property. Why? Because a man named Larouche wants to clone them and make millions of dollars while at the same time show the US Park Service that they need to take better care of the orchids. Keep them safe from poachers like him. Some times this reminded me of Carl Hiaasen's writing of the quirky characters of south Florida. Murder, mayhem, theft, adultry, threats, and strange animals and reptiles all smuggles in via underwear. So, we get quite a bit of Seminole history, history of Florida, history of the settling of Florida and at times, that becomes tedious. But as an orchid lover who will drive several hours to an orchid show or wholesaler, I thoroughly enjoyed understanding more about the world of orchids and the uniqueness of its world (both plant and human).

posted by Madame-Bella-Bleuski on June 2, 2009

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  • Posted June 2, 2009

    A fascinating look into the world of orchid lovers

    I really didn't realize that this book was non fiction. I was just going by the scenes I had seen from the movie and assumed it was fiction. To the folks that are not into orchidelirium, the people that are probably are stranger than fiction. Since I have a small orchid collection but refuse to pay more than $50 for one, this world of obsession where a collector will pay thousands of dollars for a rare speciman, is even beyond my comprehension. The book is based on the authors reading an article in a Florida newspaper about a case of 4 people trying to steal ghost orchids off of Seminole reservation property. Why? Because a man named Larouche wants to clone them and make millions of dollars while at the same time show the US Park Service that they need to take better care of the orchids. Keep them safe from poachers like him. Some times this reminded me of Carl Hiaasen's writing of the quirky characters of south Florida. Murder, mayhem, theft, adultry, threats, and strange animals and reptiles all smuggles in via underwear. So, we get quite a bit of Seminole history, history of Florida, history of the settling of Florida and at times, that becomes tedious. But as an orchid lover who will drive several hours to an orchid show or wholesaler, I thoroughly enjoyed understanding more about the world of orchids and the uniqueness of its world (both plant and human).

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Buy a Reference Book Instead

    This book is, if anything, misleading.

    A book titled "The Orchid Thief" that begins with the trial of Laroche (said orchid thief) should actually be about this man, his obsession, his story, or what he represents to our culture. What this book really is, is a history of orchids, orchid growers, Seminole Indians, orchid families, and orchid cloning. Each snippet of history is chopped up, interjected, segmented, and cut off abruptly before leading into the next piece of poorly written "history."

    This style of writing, which contains more sidetracks than actual story, keeps you from being able to connect with any character, and leaves you wishing this book was ACTUALLY about Laroche. The author uses his interesting character as an excuse to spout out whatever research she had to do about orchids and talk about how she feels in Florida. Admittedly, there were some interesting factoids and observations, but you would get better information in a more logical manner from reading an encyclopedia, or an actual botanical history.

    This book is riddled with grammatical errors, the most irritating of which are run-on sentences and lists that go on for (literally) pages at a time. I found that by the time I reached the end of a list (often of people or things that were never brought up again), I had forgotten what the author was saying altogether.

    The story contained in this book could have easily been contained in a nice feature article. I may have even enjoyed it. But as it is, this book was about 200 pages too long, impossible to sift through, and fell frustratingly short on the story that supposedly drove the whole book in the first place.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2007

    Sprawling New Yorker Stuff

    As screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in the movie Adaptation, Nicolas Cage is frustrated with the assignment of adapting The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. 'It's that sprawling New Yorker 'stuff'' Cage complains, yet he admires the book for its beauty and longing and truthfulness. Well, Cage/Kaufman was right on all accounts. The Orchid Thief 'not accurately represented in the movie, in case you were wondering' is sprawling, and beautiful. Orlean wrote herself into the story of John Laroche, who was caught stealing orchids and other rare plants out of Florida's Fakahatchee State Preserve, and Kaufman follows suit by writing himself into the movie. Orlean took a very minor event and investigated it as thoroughly as possible, taking several detours throughout the book to further examine the history of orchid obsession, shady Florida land deals, and the Seminole Indian tribe as well as various infamous historical figures of same. Orlean's writing style is that of a chatty but extremely well-informed friend. Run-on sentences and extremely long paragraphs -- I saw more than a few that were over a page long -- are the order of the day, thick with historical research and a wacky cast of characters that rivals anything set to print by Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen. Orlean's rambling style and frequent diversions from course were distracting to me, but it was marvelous how she kept it interesting and pulled everything together with the theme of what we do in the name of passion. Like Dan Brown's celebrated efforts on Christian History, I never knew orchids could be so interesting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2014

    I had high hopes for this book but ended up skimming the last ha

    I had high hopes for this book but ended up skimming the last half.  The information about orchids is fascinating as are the descriptions of the Florida swamps and the people who are in the orchid game.  However, the book reads more like an extended article in the New Yorker.  I'm not sorry I read/skimmed it,.  It's a solid C+.

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  • Posted May 22, 2012

    Interesting

    Not very organized, but very interesting information about orchids, Seminole history, south Florida culture, etc.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004

    A Really Great Read

    Although I myself am mostly a lover of fiction, Orlean's almost 'New Journalism' style, along with the amazing story of orchids and their obsessive owners and hunters, creates a great read which I had as much trouble putting down as Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. It's worth whatever this website is charging to get yourself a copy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2004

    orchidelicious

    It's eloquent really.. I'm not much of a history buff as my friends but I was intruiged by the history of orchids and how mankind is involved with them. I would be lying if I said I finished the book but so far it's splendid. I saw the movie Adaptation and knew I had to read this book. It hasn't disappointed me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2004

    a textbook on orchids

    dry and dull -- reads like a textbook on orchids.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2003

    A GREAT HISTORY LESSON

    I HAVE LIVED IN S. FLORIDA FOR OVER 30 YEARS AND WAS AMAZED TO LEARN SO MANY INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THIS AREA FROM THIS BOOK. I WANT TO GIVE IT TO EVERYONE I KNOW. THIS TRUE STORY IS AS THRILLING AS ANY FICTION I HAVE READ.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2003

    It doesn't always have to be about something big...

    If you know good writing when you read it, you should appreciate this book. Framed around the eccentricities of a man you've never heard of and wouldn't necessarily ever befriend, the author reveals a cult of sorts - that of orchid growers/collectors, and along the way shares fascinating information, including but not limited to, the history of Florida from it's wild stages to it's rapid and enveloping development. She becomes almost as obsessed as her subjects, trying desperately to lay eyes on something she has been convinced is true beauty. Althoug at times long and tedious, the story is rewarding in its telling of a tale of self discovery, and not just the author's. A good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2003

    BRILLIANT

    What can i say? IT WAS AWESOME

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2002

    AN ARTICULATE, ARTFUL READING

    Consummate voice performer Jennifer Jay Myers gives an articulate and artful reading of this tale of passion and obsession. New Yorker staff member Susan Orlean expands on a previously published article to offer an always fascinating, sometimes hilarious true story of John Laroche, a swindler and con man, who plotted to steal rare orchids form Florida's Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. His intention was to clone them and make mega bucks selling them on the black market. But, even the best laid plans go awry - Laroche and three Seminole tribesmen were caught with their fingers in the plants, so to speak. Avid reporter that she is Orlean follows not only Laroche's trails and trials but also relates the stories of others suffering from orchid fever. She traces this symbolic plant from its early 19th century emergence in the U.S. to the homes of collectors who value a rare species above all. For the detail minded facts and figures abound. For all there is a unique and compelling story told.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2001

    An Orchid-Lover's Dream

    I enjoyed this book very much. Being a plant- and orchid-lover myself, I loved all the historical information about orchid poaching & hunting in the 19th century. Also - I had no idea that orchid poaching was still going on in Florida, and this book was an eye-opener about what PASSION people have for collecting orchids and to what lengths they will go to expand their collections. A very well-researched book with lots of insight into the world of crazed orchid lovers. Highly recommended to fellow flower enthusiasts.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2001

    More aptly titled 'The History of Orchids'

    I was expecting the book to concern the theft of the ghost orchids and the ensuing court case. Instead, the book traces the discovery and cultivation of the present-day orchid. Good history lesson, but not what I expected.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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