The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

by Susan Orlean

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780449003718
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/04/2000
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 48,794
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.19(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Susan Orlean has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992 and has also written for Outside, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Vogue. She graduated from the University of Michigan and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She now lives in Los Angeles and upstate New York with her husband and son.


From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

John Laroche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome, in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth. He has the posture of al dente spaghetti and the nervous intensity of someone who plays a lot of video games. Laroche is thirty-six years old. Until recently he was employed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, setting up a plant nursery and an orchid-propagation laboratory on the tribe's reservation in Hollywood, Florida.

Laroche strikes many people as eccentric. The Seminoles, for instance, have two nicknames for him: Troublemaker and Crazy White Man. Once, when Laroche was telling me about his childhood, he remarked, "Boy, I sure was a weird little kid." For as long as he can remember he has been exceptionally passionate and driven. When he was about nine or ten, his parents said he could pick out a pet. He decided to get a little turtle. Then he asked for ten more little turtles. Then he decided he wanted to breed the turtles, and then he started selling turtles to other kids, and then he could think of nothing but turtles and then decided that his life wasn't worth living unless he could collect one of every single turtle species known to mankind, including one of those sofa-sized tortoises from the Galapagos. 

Then, out of the blue, he fell out of love with turtles and fell madly in love with Ice Age fossils. He collected them, sold them, declared that he lived for them, then abandoned them for something else--lapidary I think--then he abandoned lapidary and became obsessed with collecting and resilvering old mirrors. Laroche's passions arrived unannounced and ended explosively, like car bombs. When I first met him he lusted only for orchids, especially the wild orchids growing in Florida's Fakahatchee Strand. I spent most of the next two years hanging around with him, and at the end of those two years he had gotten rid of every single orchid he owned and swore that he would never own another orchid for as long as he lived. He is usually true to his word. Years ago, between his Ice Age fossils and his old mirrors, he went through a tropical-fish phase. At its peak, he had more than sixty fish tanks in his house and went skin-diving regularly to collect fish. Then the end came. He didn't gradually lose interest: he renounced fish and vowed he would never again collect them and, for that matter, he would never set foot in the ocean again. That was seventeen years ago. He has lived his whole life only a couple of feet west of the Atlantic, but he has not dipped a toe in it since then.

Laroche tends to sound like a Mr. Encyclopedia, but he did not have a rigorous formal education. He went to public school in North Miami; other than that, he is self-taught. Once in a while he gets wistful about the life he thinks he would have led if he had applied himself more conventionally. He believes he would have probably become a brain surgeon and that he would have made major brain-research breakthroughs and become rich and famous. Instead, he lives in a frayed Florida bungalow with his father and has always scratched out a living in unaverage ways. One of his greatest assets is optimism--that is, he sees a profitable outcome in practically every life situation, including disastrous ones. Years ago he spilled toxic pesticide into a cut on his hand and suffered permanent heart and liver damage from it. In his opinion, it was all for the best because he was able to sell an article about the experience ("Would You Die for Your Plants?") to a gardening journal. 

When I first met him, he was working on a guide to growing plants at home. He told me he was going to advertise it in High Times, the marijuana magazine. He said the ad wouldn't mention that marijuana plants grown according to his guide would never mature and therefore never be psychoactive. The guide was one of his all-time favorite projects. The way he saw it, he was going to make lots of money on it (always excellent) plus he would be encouraging kids to grow plants (very righteous) plus the missing information in the guide would keep these kids from getting stoned because the plants they would grow would be impotent (incalculably noble). This last fact was the aspect of the project he was proudest of, because he believed that once kids who bought the guide realized they'd wasted their money trying to do something illegal--namely, grow and smoke pot--they would also realize, thanks to John Laroche, that crime doesn't pay. Schemes like these, folding virtue and criminality around profit, are Laroche's specialty. Just when you have finally concluded that he is a run-of-the-mill crook, he unveils an ulterior and somewhat principled but always lucrative reason for his crookedness. He likes to describe himself as a shrewd bastard. He loves doing things the hard way, especially if it means that he gets to do what he wants to do but also gets to leave everyone else wondering how he managed to get away with it. He is quite an unusual person. He is also the most moral amoral person I've ever known.

I met John Laroche for the first time a few years ago, at the Collier County Courthouse in Naples, Florida. I was in Florida at the time because I had read a newspaper article reporting that a white man--Laroche--and three Seminole men had been arrested with rare orchids they had stolen out of a Florida swamp called the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, and I wanted to know more about the incident. The newspaper story was short but alluring. It described the Fakahatchee as a wild swamp near Naples filled with exceptional plants and trees, including some that don't grow anywhere else in the United States and some that grow nowhere else in the world. All wild orchids are now considered endangered, and it is illegal to take them out of the woods anywhere, and particularly out of a state property like the Fakahatchee. According to the newspaper, Laroche was the ringleader of the poachers. He provided the arresting officers with the proper botanical varietal names for all the stolen plants and explained that the plants were bound for a laboratory where they were going to be cloned by the millions and then sold to orchid collectors around the world.

I read lots of local newspapers and particularly the shortest articles in them, and most particularly any articles that are full of words in combinations that are arresting. In the case of the orchid story I was interested to see the words "swamp" and "orchids" and "Seminoles" and "cloning" and "criminal" together in one short piece. Sometimes this kind of story turns out to be something more, some glimpse of life that expands like those Japanese paper balls you drop in water and then after a moment they bloom into flowers, and the flower is so marvelous that you can't believe there was a time when all you saw in front of you was a paper ball and a glass of water. The judge in the Seminole orchid case had scheduled a hearing a few weeks after I read the article, so I arranged to go down to Naples to see if this ball of paper might bloom.

It was the dead center of winter when I left New York; in Naples it was warm and gummy, and from my plane I could see thick thunderclouds trolling along the edge of the sky. I checked into a big hotel on the beach, and that evening I stood on my balcony and watched the storm explode over the water. The hearing was the next morning at nine. As I pulled out of the hotel garage the parking attendant warned me to drive carefully. "See, in Naples you got to be careful," he said, leaning in my window. He smelled like daiquiris. It was probably suntan lotion. "When it rains here," he added, "cars start to fly." There are more golf courses per person in Naples than anywhere else in the world, and in spite of the hot, angry weather everyone around the hotel was dressed to play, their cleated shoes tapping out a clickety-clickety-clickety tattoo on the sidewalks.

The courthouse was a few miles south of town in a fresh-looking building made of bleached stone pocked with fossilized seashells. When I arrived, there were a few people inside, nobody talking to anybody, no sounds except for the creaking of the wooden benches and the sound of some guy in the front row gunning his throat. After a moment I recognized Laroche from the newspaper picture I'd seen. He was not especially dressed up for court. He was wearing wraparound Mylar sunglasses, a polyblend shirt printed with some sort of scenic design, a Miami Hurricanes baseball cap, and worn-out grayish trousers that sagged around his rear. He looked as if he wanted a cigarette. He was starting to stand up when the judge came in and settled in her chair; he sat down and looked cross. The prosecutor then rose and read the state's charges--that on December 21, 1994, Laroche and his three Seminole assistants had illegally removed more than two hundred rare orchid and bromeliad plants from the Fakahatchee and were apprehended leaving the swamp in possession of four cotton pillowcases full of flowers. They were accused of criminal possession of endangered species and of illegally removing plant life from state property, both of which are punishable by jail time and fines.

Table of Contents

The Millionaire's Hothouse3
Cloning the Ghost20
A Green Hell34
Orchid Fever42
A Mortal Occupation55
Gorgeous86
The Good Life103
Anyone Can Grow Orchids134
Plant Crimes153
Barbecued Doves184
Osceola's Head203
Fortunes244
A Kind of Direction262
Bibliography283

What People are Saying About This

Katherine Dunn

Orlean's prose is always lucid, lyrical, and deceptively comfortable, but with The Orchid Thief, she's in danger of launching a national epidemic of orchid mania.

Bob Shacochis

Orlean has crafted a classic tale of tropic desire, steamy and fragrant and smart and entertaining.

James W. Hall

The finest piece of nonfiction I've read in years: characters so juicy and wonderfully weird they might have stepped out of a novel, except these people are real.

From the Publisher

"Like the orchid, a small thing of grandeur, a passion with a pedigree . . . The Orchid Thief shows [Orlean's] gifts in full bloom."
—The New York Times Book Review

"A LESSON IN THE DARK, DANGEROUS, SOMETIMES HILARIOUS NATURE OF OBSESSION . . . YOU SOMETIMES DON'T WANT TO READ ON, BUT FIND YOU CAN'T HELP IT."
—USA Today

"IRRESISTIBLE . . . A brilliantly reported account of an illicit scheme to housebreak Florida's wild and endangered ghost orchid. Its central figure is John Laroche, the 'oddball ultimate' of a subculture whose members are so enthralled by orchids they 'pursue them like lovers.' "
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"FASCINATING . . . TALES OF THEFT, HATRED, GREED, JEALOUSY, MADNESS, AND BACK-STABBING . . . AN ENGROSSING JOURNEY."
—Los Angeles Times

"ARTFUL . . . In Ms. Orlean's skillful handling, her orchid story turns out to be distinctly 'something more.' . . . Orchids, Seminole history, the ecology of the Fakahatchee Strand, the fascination of Florida to con men. . . . All that she writes here fits together because it is grounded in her personal experience. . . . [Her] portrait of her sometimes sad-making orchid thief allows the reader to discover acres of opportunity where intriguing things can be found."
—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
   The New York Times

"DELICIOUSLY WEIRD . . . COMPELLING."
—Detroit Free Press

"ZESTFUL . . . A swashbuckling piece of reporting that celebrates some virtues that made America great. Here are visionary passions and fierce obsessions; heroic feats accomplished in exotic settings; outsize characters, entrepreneurs at the edge of the frontier, adventurers. . . . Orlean, an intrepid sociologist among the orchid fanatics, is also a poetic observer."
—The Wall Street Journal

Andrew Weil

Hot orchids are the starting point of Susan Orlean's account of plants and people obsessed with them in the weird world that is south Florida. Along the way she meets Seminoles, alligators, and a variety of crazy white men. The Orchid Thief provides further, compelling evidence that truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, it makes most entertaining reading.

Michael Pollan

Susan Orlean writes like a dream. The Orchid Thief is a horticultural page-turner, quite possibly the first of its kind.

Reading Group Guide

1) Is there a hero in The Orchid Thief? An anti-hero?

2) Is the book subjective? Objective? Or a different genre altogether?

3) Some people describe this as "literary non-fiction." Is that how you would characterize it?

4) Susan Orlean resists the temptation to feel possessed by the orchids but she is willing to undergo great trials in order to satisfy her passion for reporting. Is this passion evident in her writing?

5) The passion for collecting is described in the book as a means of infusing meaning into life, subjecting the vicissitudes to some order, acquiring the ability to mold and change the nature of things, i.e. create life itself. What other means do humans employ to achieve the same ends, and how effective are they?

6) John Laroche would not describe himself as an orchid person. To him the orchid is a temporary albeit very intense passion, a means to an end, not an end in itself. How would you analyze the difference between Laroche's motives in collecting orchids and the regular orchid collectors we visit in the course of the book?

7) Laroche wrestles verbally with the thought that acting within what he considered the bounds of the law for his own immediate gain was ultimately an act of altruism. His rape of the Fakahatchee would force the law to be changed and close the loophole that allowed him to poach rare and wild orchids form an Indian reservation in the first place, thus protecting the species in the wild, and securing it for the marketplace at the same time. Is this the thought process of an amoral character? Or is he just an everyday charlatan? Discuss.

8) Laroche makes a very telling statement: "When I had my own nursery I sometimes felt like all the people swarming around were going to eat me alive. I felt like they were that gigantic parasitic plant and I was the dying host tree." Is Laroche playing the role of the victim, the martyr to a (preferably lost, but grand) cause or is he in control of his life by making a living off other people's weaknesses, whether it be a passion for orchids or pornography? Discuss.

9) Orlean seems fascinated by the story of Darwin and the study of the orchid with the eighteen inch nectary and the moth with the eighteen inch proboscis to feed on it: the idea that two totally different life forms evolved specifically to serve each other; that neither could have existed without the other. What has the evidence of the orchid's adaptability altered your perception of the theories of evolution?

10) Orlean interrupts her central narrative of John Laroche with stories of the orchid hunters of the past, the contemporary state for Florida and other histories. How does this affect the pace of the work?

11) Is the framework she has devised successful?

12) The Native Americans on the reservation are entitled by one law to remove protected species from their land. Is this law justified?

13) Orlean seems surprised by the abundance of sexual references to orchids in their book. Yet the flower is the prime sexual organ of most plants. Seek out a florist with a good representation of orchids. What alternative descriptions of these exotic flowers can you devise?

14) What is the real core, the central character, of the book: Laroche? Florida? Orchids? Native Americans? Darwin? Orlean?

15) As a reader, what did you expect from a book about orchids?

16) How did your experience for reading The Orchid Thief compare to what you expected?

17) The working title of The Orchid Thief was "Passion." What does that suggest about the themes in the book?

18) What, besides orchids, could generate a book like this?

19) Are there other subcultures or other objects of desire that might be as provocative?

Interviews

Before the live bn.com chat, Susan Orlean agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q: What would you consider the biggest surprise you came across while researching this book? Where there any times that you questioned what you were doing while researching and writing The Orchid Thief?

A: What was the biggest surprise I came across when researching this book? There were so many surprises that I can hardly choose the biggest. The story itself was a surprise to me: I had never heard of the Fakahatchee Strand; I didn't know that orchids grew wild in Florida; I didn't know the Seminole tribe is still technically at war with the United States; I knew nothing about the history of orchid collecting; and most importantly, I had no idea that people were as passionate about orchids as they are, although I've since come to realize that people can be passionate about anything, as long as they value it. Like any writer, I questioned what I was doing through the entire time I was writing The Orchid Thief! I asked myself repeatedly whether it was a story that had any greater meaning beyond the peculiarities of its subject, and I questioned whether anyone other than a hard-core orchid fanatic could be drawn into the tale.

Q: What to you are a few of the unique characteristics of southern Florida, the backdrop of The Orchid Thief?

A: South Florida is boundlessly interesting and strange. Physically, it is almost amphibian -- half land and half sea -- and it can seem to shift from one form to another almost seamlessly. There are plants and animals growing in South Florida that simply grow nowhere else in the world, and certainly nowhere else in the U.S. But there's more to its uniqueness than the physical: South Florida is a kind of dreamscape, filled with people who have been drawn to it because it seems to offer a chance to reinvent yourself and live a very different life. So much of it is new or in flux that it has the feel of something imagined, something that can change in a moment's notice, and the people who come in and out of South Florida seem to embody that feeling. That's what makes it fascinating and a little maddening -- a little hard to pin down.

Q: Who would you list as your literary influences?

A: My literary influences come from both fiction and nonfiction. I consumed huge quantities of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Joyce in my time and was really inspired by their work -- and continue to be. My nonfiction idols (in no particular order) are John McPhee, Joseph Mitchell, Joan Didion, Roger Angell, Michael Herr, Tim O'Brien, and the entire New Yorker roster of greats, including Mark Singer, Alec Wilkinson, and Ian Frazier.

Q: What is your current relationship with John Laroche? Has he seen the book?

A: I've stayed in touch a bit with Laroche, because we had to correct a few legal issues and needed his help on that, and also because we are both consultants on the movie script that Jonathan Demme is producing of The Orchid Thief. I don't talk to him often, but he did call me the other day and told me he'd read the book and that he thought I'd done "a pretty good job," which from Laroche is like getting a Nobel Prize. I'd say we will always have some kind of connection, considering what doing a project like this means to my life, and I assume to his. He's quite a character. I'm curious to see what he'll be up to in the next ten or 15 years.


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Orchid Thief 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Madame-Bella-Bleuski More than 1 year ago
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).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
akblanchard on LibraryThing 20 days ago
I found this book to be overrated and disappointing. As another reviewer pointed out, it was more like a very long magazine article than a book. Orlean threw in a lot of information about orchids, orchid hunters, orchid obsessives etc., but to me it didn't add up to a coherent whole. The paragraphs were way too long and run-on as well.
izze.t on LibraryThing 20 days ago
This book was orginially a piece for The New Yorker. You can tell the author had trouble stretching the material. Lots o fluff and inconsiquencial details. It felt poorly written and lost my interest, regardless of the topic.
marysargent on LibraryThing 20 days ago
A wonderful, wonderful book. "A True Story of Beauty and Obsession" Such a good writer and about a subject I'm fascinated by: obsession. Very good at evoking a place: Florida. The swamps. Nicely structured.
cequillo on LibraryThing 21 days ago
There were places in Washington which I truly missed as I left to begin my journey in the Arizona desert. One of those places was a small plot of land encased in glass. This magical place belonged to my sister's husband and behind those walls of glass he nurtured and loved a wondrous collection of orchids. There were times of the year you could visit and as you walked through the door, your reality was transposed to color and light and the most fragile images, some orchids sat suspended with their flowers reaching through the air like a promised whisper. Other's would strut boldly from their austere homes with the confidence of soldiers. It is understandable that while reading "The Orchid Thief", I was often taken back to the memories of this small, enchanting plot of land and I emerged with greater understanding of his love for same. It is seven years from seed to the first bloom of an orchid plant, this can only be the patience which loving something well bestows. When The Orchid Thief first came to the shelves of bookstores, I was intrigued with its premise, but at the same time, leery of its promise. It seemed at once to be a tale of an eccentric orchid collector, but also a textbook of botany and orchid history. It was the last impression which made me keep sidestepping around this book, not sure that such formula would work to keep my interest. I finally gave in to my curiosity and picked it up, and from page one there was no turning back. This is not a book of botany, it is not merely a book about orchids, it is so vast in its scope and offerings that it is many things at once and most of all, it is truly fascinating. In the hands of Orlean, those things which would seem mundane take on a force all their own. It opens the world not only to orchids, this in itself an engrossing subject, but also to human obsessions and the lengths to which we'll stretch to meet them. Orchids have caused as much grief as they have joy through the centuries. They have caused human beings to commit murder in pursuit of rare species, to catapult headlong into the collection of same, forsaking everything else to this one pursuit. Susan Orlean takes you to Florida, and there she introduces you to some of the most prominent people in the orchid industry, the orchid moguls. As well, she doesn't fail to overlook the dreamers, who seem to live on just that, a dream of owning that one very rare species which will transform their lives to one of wealth and fame. But she doesn't stop there, within all these pieces, she also weaves a history of Florida, its native peoples, the land, its fauna and flora. She does this so well that there is never a prosaic moment in this book. I truly found it difficult to put down and always eager to get back too. Interspersed with all the history are tidbits which delight, such as the fact that Darrow, the creater of the world famous boardgame Monopoly, was himself an avid collector of orchids who took his Monopoly money and at the age of 46, retired to devote himself to his orchids. Florida remains today one of North America's largest producers of orchids. Many still grow wild within the confines of the Fakahatchee Strand, but are now protected under the Endangered Species Act. Though the craze of the late 1800's seems to have waned, there is still big business in orchid smuggling and big prices paid for the rarer species. It's early in the year, and I've lots of books to go, but at this point in time, The Orchid Thief is easily slotted for a Top Ten read. I recommend this, you won't be disappointed.
mojomomma on LibraryThing 21 days ago
In her quest to find out more about orchids, author Orleans finds the characters and personalities that keep the floral economy spinning. She becomes a bit smitten herself in her quest to find a blooming "ghost orchid" in a Florida swamp. Lots of history about the growth of orchids worldwide and how 19th and early 20th century Americans and Western Europeans pretty successfully raped the tropics of many species.
melydia on LibraryThing 21 days ago
When my pharmacist caught sight of this book, he asked if it was a thriller. That is one thing this book is not. It is, however, a slew of other things. Though it began more or less as Orlean's interest in the trial of one John Laroche, a Florida man caught poaching ghost orchids off park land with a trio of Seminole Indians, it rapidly blossomed into a full-scale investigation of the orchid-loving life. Evidently people go mad for these plants, sort of a "gotta catch 'em all" attitude for the floraphile set. And considering there are tens of thousands of orchid breeds, many costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars and meticulous care, it can become quite the costly and timely pursuit. Sound boring? Surprisingly, it isn't. Perhaps the most fascinating part for me was not the unexpectedly vehement passions of orchid enthusiasts, but rather Orlean's bald-faced judgementalism. It said a lot about her attitudes, and rather than being an impartial observer, she was clearly flabbergasted by the entire orchid culture - indeed, about any passion of that magnitude for anything. Without that air of "OMG look how weird this is" permeating throughout the story, this would have been rather dull. I didn't know the orchid world was so cutthroat, but after you've spent time with sports fanatics and anime fanboys, you realize that there are many things in this world that interest people far more than they do you, and nothing is too unusual to obsess over.
melissavenable on LibraryThing 21 days ago
This was an unexpected find - set in South Florida with lots of history about the area, the Seminole Tribe, and how this part of the State came to be populated. Also a thorough lesson on orchids - cultivation, varieties. The author reports on her time in Florida spent with avid collectors (one in particular started the whole thing by making the news trying to take orchids out of a protected area), experiencing their own particular culture, and searching for the elusive Ghost Orchid.
keywestnan on LibraryThing 21 days ago
This is a great work of nonfiction -- though, even though I gave it four stars, I do think it worked better as a magazine story than as a full-length book. But the four stars recognize 1) Orlean's excellent reporting and writing skills in teasing out both the historical weirdnesses of orchid mania and the contemporary weirdnesses of orchid collectors and 2) her truly excellent capture of South Florida weirdness, something that is often done cartoonishly (Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen) but rarely straight-up.
mamzel on LibraryThing 21 days ago
At one time in my life I had the orchid bug. I belonged to the local orchid society and rescued sad immature plants from supermarkets to see what they might produce. I read, I studied, and I visited my plants daily to check on their condition. I so understand the characters in this book (though I never in my life stole a single plant).I listened to the audio version read by Jennifer Jay Myers while painting my bathroom. Primarily the story is about a man obsessed with obtaining and propagating a rare orchid found in the Florida Everglades, but the reader learns about the history of manic collectors and hunters and how orchid nurseries grew in popularity in the U.S. One also learns a lot about the fascinating orchid: why the incredible range in colors and shapes, where they are found, and most of all, how people become passionate orchid growers.Some of the information about hunters and collectors reminded me of a book I read about the Lord God Bird, one of many species of birds hunted to extinction or the brink thereof for their feathers used to ornament women's hats. This was another example of man's using nature for his own benefit without considering the impact on nature. Naturists will enjoy this book.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing 21 days ago
This is a great story of survival. So many of the characters are fighting for their survival; be it from domestic violence, mental illness or personal demons. The characters come to life off the pages, some to love, some to hate, it is a great mix of both. I did think the story to be a bit wordy at times, it seemed some of the narrative could have been cut out without hurting the story. This would be a very interesting title for a book club as there are many topics to discuss.
debnance on LibraryThing 21 days ago
This writer could make a cracked sidewalk an interesting subject. I know almost nothing about plants, but I quickly became drawn into this story of the people who are deeply passionate about orchids. Recommended.
TanyaTomato on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I would have thrown this book down in boredom if my friend hadn't kept telling me that it gets better, and that it has a lot of twists. Oh wait - she saw the movie that was completley different.
enfjfox on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Susan Orlean comes off as a pretentious author. The Orchid Thief¿s prologue is a (literal) interview with herself about the film, Adaptation. She tries to be funny, but frankly she is not. In a later interview, assuming not just with herself, the interviewer inquires about Orlean constantly portraying herself as the subject in her books. She admits to this and states ¿well, I am in my stories.¿ She has written another novel about her world travels called My Kind of Place. Maybe her novels simply do not tailor to my liking, but I do not think I am the type of person who lives vicariously by reading a novel that is actually an ego-booster for a novelist who loves writing about herself. Then again, I am just assuming, and I have not even read the book yet. Nor do I plan to.My apologies; I am here to review books, not authors.My boyfriend and I were wandering through Borders when he recommended The Orchid Thief because I am an orchid lover. It is about a man named John Laroche who tries to poach the rare and endangered Ghost Orchid from the Fakahatchee swamp in Florida to clone in a Seminole nursery. The novel also includes stories and histories of orchid hunters, collectors, and major orchid companies. Orlean does a good job making these facts interesting, especially since her writing is vivid in its descriptions of both settings and characters, and her voice is consistent and usually witty. However, her writing is not exactly captivating, but has more of a fairy-tale reporter quality. She also has a habit of repeating character descriptions. For example, she points out how breeders have different ideas on breeding orchids: either mutating the orchids to look more intriguing or breeding them to closer resemble their ancestors. She mentions this observation two or three times, somewhat reminiscent of an old man who constantly repeats the same story to the same person.If there is one word to describe the book, it is ¿interesting.¿ Orlean makes the stories interesting, but that is all the book has going for it- definitely not a page turner. In the Orchid Thief, the author concludes that hardcore hobbyists immerse themselves in their interests to give order to a cluttered and constantly changing universe. Like certain phenotypes, however, Orlean¿s theme is not very pronounced throughout the novel. Though the subjects are interesting, the novel itself is extremely overrated and is not anything special.
bookheaven on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Very interesting peek into the world of people obsessed with orchids.
jaybee2008 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
quite possibly the most boring book i've ever read.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I never expected to like this book, let alone love it as much as I did. Orlean's story, which forms the basis of the Nicholas Cage film "Adaptation," is a celebration of beauty as much as it is a search for it; Orlean finds the most fascinating character, and follows him in his dark search for the most beautiful orchid.
jennyo on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I've read Orlean's book The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, so I sort of knew what to expect from this one; clear, precise, often witty writing about fascinating people and things.I never knew orchids were such a big deal. I learned so much when reading this book. Not enough to make me want to trudge through a swamp, but enough to make me want to Google some orchid images for a few hours. I really like books about obsessions. Like mlbish, I was a big fan of Word Freak (Stefan Fatsis). Another book along those same lines is Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. It's fascinating to me that people can build their lives around something I find rather mundane.
JBD1 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The inspiration for "Adaptation," Orlean's book grew out of a 'New Yorker' article on the theft of various rare orchids in Florida by the too-strange-to-be-fictional John Laroche. It is a fabulous study of orchid culture and "orchid people," and a richly detailed fun read.
sasyone More than 1 year ago
So many interesting facts about orchids and an unusual cast of characters. The history of these beautiful flowers, the state of Florida and orchid poachers tells of lost orchids due to greed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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+.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago