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The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession
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The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  10,055 Ratings  ·  1,020 Reviews
The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean’s tale of an amazing obsession. Determined to clone an endangered flower—the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii—a deeply eccentric and oddly attractive man named John Laroche leads Orlean on an unforgettable tour of America’s strange flower-selling subculture, through Florida’s swamps and beyond, along with the Seminoles who help him and ...more
Paperback, 284 pages
Published January 4th 2000 by Ballantine Books (first published 1998)
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Mar 16, 2008 Cyrano rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those fascinated by passion
Number one: don't judge this book by the movie Adaptation, which is not a screenplay of the book, but rather a screenplay that contains pieces of the book.
Number two, my favorite quote: "The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world se
Will Byrnes
Oct 24, 2008 Will Byrnes rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This all began with a magazine article Orlean was writing about John Laroche, the title character. She headed down to Florida and spent months studying the guy and the environment in which he lived. It is an interesting tale. The book broadens from this introductory piece to cover other things Floridian. She examines the orchid community/sub-culture in considerable detail. There is much there to consider, not only in its contemporary expression but in the history of orchid acquisition and cultiv ...more
May 30, 2008 Cecily rated it liked it
The basis for Charlie Kaufman's film "Adaptation". It is the story of the orchid obsessive John Laroche, and of orchid obsessives generally, with some interesting biology and history of orchids.

There is far more detail about Florida land reclamation, Indian history and property scams than is relevant to the Laroche story that the book is supposedly about.

A disjointed collection of vaguely related essays, rather than a coherent book. I suspect I gave it 3* in part because I liked Kaufman's very
Sep 25, 2010 Amelmag rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Probably one of the most unique (bizarre?) books I have ever read. Here's the reflection I wrote after I read it:

I know absolutely nothing about plants. Nor do I really have an interest in ever knowing anything about plants. And yet, be that as it may, I found Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief, fascinating. How can that be?

First off, the book is not like any other book, and definitely not like any other biography, I have read. Upon reading the first chapter, it comes across as a fairly stra
Sep 17, 2007 Suzanne rated it really liked it
If you haven't figured it out by now, I like histories and I like learning how people--usually real people-- live their lives in their particular environment.

This has both: learn the history of the orchid and discover a subculture of crazed flower lovers in Florida. I knew nothing about orchids when I started reading this-- it made me want to know more. 'Why are people obsessed? ... Huh, that is kind of interesting... what an intriguing little flower!' It made me covet my own orchid (could I ke
Apr 19, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

A while back when I blogged about reading and enjoying WINGED OBSESSION, Jessica Speart ‘s compelling work of narrative nonfiction about an exotic butterfly collector and the fish and wildlife agent obsessed with bringing him to justice, a few people who commented wanted to make sure I’d also read Susan Orlean’s THE ORCHID THIEF. I hadn’t, but somehow, that book never rose to the top of my to-read list. I wasn’t all that into orchids, so I wasn’t sure it was for m
Sep 08, 2007 Carrie rated it really liked it
"This was the low, simmering part of the state, as quiet as a shrine except for crickets keeping time and the creak of trees bending and the crackly slam of a screen door and the clatter of a car now and then ..."

"We whipped past abandoned bungalows melting into woodpiles, and past NO TRESPASSING signs shot up like Swiss cheese, and past a rusty boat run aground on someone's driveway, and past fences leaning like old ladies, and then almost past a hand-lettered sign that interested Laroche, so h
Nov 26, 2008 Ileana rated it it was ok
"There is nothing more melancholy than empty festive places."
Caitlin Constantine
Apr 25, 2009 Caitlin Constantine rated it it was amazing
I adore this book. It's one of my favorites, not just because it's about two of my favorite things - plants and Florida - and not just because it's by one of my favorite writers, and not just because Charlie Kaufman made it into a totally kick-ass movie.

I adore it because it's so charming, because of sentences like "I suppose I do have one unembarrassing passion: I want to know what it feels like to be passionate about something," because Orlean writes about her human subjects with a bit of "Ca
Aug 27, 2007 Robert rated it really liked it
Like a lot of people, my entry point for this book was the film Adaptation. I assumed that the film deviated a lot more from the book than it actually did (of course, in the book the author doesn't really -spoiler alert?- have a clandestine drug-fueled affair with John Laroche that culminates in vehicular manslaughter), but all the really profound themes about obsession and longing remain intact.
I was pleasantly surprised that the presentation, essentially a New Yorker piece fleshed out to its m
May 15, 2007 Amy rated it did not like it
This book was too scientific for me. I had no idea how obsessed people are over orchid and how many varieties there are, but there were some chapters that were way too scientific for me and I had no interest in the book during those sections. I stopped reading it halfway through. Just had no interest in it.
Jan 28, 2009 Eric_W rated it liked it
Shelves: true-crime
Rex Stout’s fat detective suffered from orchidelirium. He would never vary his routine of working in his famous plant rooms on the top floor of the brownstone house no matter what the emergency, to Archie Goodwin’s consternation.
Like bibliomania, orchidelirium is a mania that involves collecting — unlimited collecting. The orchid is “a jewel of a flower on a haystack of a plant.” Orchids have evolved into the “biggest flowering plant family on earth,” and many survive only in small niches they
The Orchid Thief is a little odd, in that it covers so much: tracing not simply Laroche's theft of the wild ghost orchid, but the history of orchid collecting (with a call-back to Paxton who played a significant role in At Home: A Short History of Private Life), the science of orchid growing, the history and place of the Seminole tribe, and Florida's culture and environment.

Susan Orlean handles even that many topics with a deft hand, however, and even though the connecting thread of Larcoche's s
Mar 06, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Orchid collectors, real estate investors
You could summarize The Orchid Thief as "Florida is a crazy place, y'all." It's one of the better non-fiction books I've read recently, starting with a scheme by John Laroche, a not-precisely-likeable but still very interesting fellow whom the author interviews and follows around in the course of writing her book, but delving into Victorian orchid cultivation (they had no idea how to grow orchids, especially in England, but they were mad about them) and flower genetics, Florida endangered specie ...more
Diane Gihring
May 20, 2011 Diane Gihring rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had an amazing experience with this book.

It started with watching the movie "Adaptation" with Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage. It is a very wacky movie about a screen writer who is trying to write an adaptation of this particular novel. It was really funky and funny and interesting and so I was so curious if this novel really existed that was the basis of the movie. And to my delight it did exist:). So I had to get it...and it was really good.

I loved reading about this guy-Laroche-who is so in
Jun 27, 2007 Mirna rated it really liked it
If you've seen Adaptation, the movie was made based on this book. In the movie Susan Orlean was played brilliantly by Merryl Streep, one of my favorite actresses. I don't know if Streep had met Orlean in person or not, as Jolie made friends with Pearl before shooting a Mighty Heart.
The book is written in semi-journalistic narration, very easy to follow, filled with informations about another world out there that was pretty much mind-blowing for me. I appreciate several certain profession after I
Aug 22, 2007 DumDum rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Epiphyte/plant lovers
Shelves: readit
I enjoyed this book. The exploration of how an obsession can dictate a persons life is exceptional. That being said I must say I tired of the Horticultural explanations and descriptions. I did enjoy much of the history of the orchid.

I also enjoyed the movie Adaptation. Inspired by the book but in noway an actual book made into movie. The Nicholas Cage characters are pure fiction the other characters are true to the book if not the true story.
Eslam Mohammed
The novel topped the movie,however,the latter is Avery good one...
Mar 09, 2017 Sarah rated it really liked it
Instead of letting other people throw out a box of old books from the breakroom at work, I said I would donate them to the library. At my desk, I rifled through them - all romance novels, except for this one, The Orchid Thief. A co-worker was surprised, "You don't read romance novels?" with genuine sincerity. I sniffed with some contempt. "I stopped reading romance in elementary school." (Flowers in the Attic at age 12...nothing can top that level of inappropriateness, so I had to move onto othe ...more
Kelly Ferguson
Oct 10, 2011 Kelly Ferguson rated it it was amazing
I always assign an Orlean profile to my students. To date, she has never let me down. Orlean knows how to combine story, research and language in ways that appeal to the Obsessive Reader (me) and the Occasional-Never Reader (my students). Orlean works every time. Students always arrive to class with something to say and I always see something I didn't before. This quarter I assigned The Orchid Thief to my junior composition class.

I hadn't read the book since it was released, before I had my MFA
Jan 23, 2015 hissi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

the orchard theif: a book review

that book made me want to “own” an orchard, it made possessing orchard such a thrilling hobby.
i love orchards, they have such amazing varieties of shapes colors and sizes.. i was so fascinated by the vast information laying between the covers of that page. its like reading a documentary about them and the incident involving the stealing of the “ghost” orchard in the fakahatchee swamp in florida..
and just like a documentary, watching one may not be that thrilling,
Dec 27, 2008 melydia rated it liked it
Recommended to melydia by: florafloraflora
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 f ...more
I will never look at an orchid the same way. Susan Orlean was writing for the New Yorker when she heard about a man, John LaRoche, who was being brought up on charges of stealing Orchids from the Fakahatchee Swamp which is a state protected habitat. Orlean flew down to Florida to interview this man for a story for the New Yorker and ended up writing a book. The book covers everything from the survival instincts of the orchid to the men who died for the orchids.
In the 1800's there was money to be
Sep 04, 2009 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's not often that I force myself to read a book. If I start reading and can't get into it, I normally put it aside, never to finish. For some reason, I actually forced myself to read this book... for reasons I'll probably never understand. Maybe because it was on the NYT Bestseller List, or because it was widely acclaimed, or because there was even a movie based on it. Maybe I thought I was supposed to enjoy reading this.

The fact was, though, that I didn't. I wanted to enjoy this book; it was
Aug 17, 2008 Ellen rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I was really disappointed in this book. I saw the movie that was based on it, "Adaptation," and I really loved it, so I was looking forward to reading the book. But what I discovered is that I am not interested enough in orchids or orchid-growers to read a whole book about them. The original New Yorker article about John Laroche and his trial for stealing orchids probably would have been just about enough information for me, meaning that this book was about 270 pages more than I wanted to know a ...more
Apr 12, 2014 ☕Laura rated it really liked it
This is quite an unusual book that shouldn't have worked at all, yet somehow amidst all the minute detail about flowers and Florida and random vignettes about Pakistani picnics I found myself really entertained. The author's writing style is so engaging and the persona of John Laroche so intriguing that I just couldn't help myself. And along the way I learned more about orchids and the orchid subculture than I ever realized I wanted to know. I feel in some way improved for reading this book and ...more
Israel Montoya Baquero
La detención, y posterior juicio, de John Laroche, acusado de robar cientos de ejemplares de orquídeas de una zona protegida es la excusa que utiliza Susan Orlean para introducirnos en el apasionante mundo del cultivo y comercio de orquídeas. Un libro interesante, lleno de datos acerca de la orquicultura, que no llega a ser cargante, ni aburrido en ningún momento. Un libro, también, acerca de la obsesión...obsesión por las orquídeas de TODOS los personajes que pueblan esta no-novela, y a la que ...more
May 12, 2016 Stacy rated it it was amazing
Fascinating-- I never knew that world existed
Jul 27, 2013 Katherine rated it really liked it
An utterly fascinating look at orchids, their history, and the people who collect and/or breed them. Passion or obsession? I'm still unsure but this book makes for incredibly compelling reading.
Amar Pai
Aug 03, 2015 Amar Pai rated it really liked it
This book made me temporarily care about orchids, which I don't really care about at all. The mark of good non-fiction writers is their ability to do this. (See also David Foster Wallace and tennis)
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I'm the product of a happy and uneventful childhood in the suburbs of Cleveland, followed by a happy and pretty eventful four years as a student at University of Michigan. From there, I wandered to the West Coast, landing in Portland, Oregon, where I managed (somehow) to get a job as a writer. This had been my dream, of course, but I had no experience and no credentials. What I did have, in spades ...more
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“The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.” 43 likes
“I suppose I do have one embarrassing passion- I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.” 19 likes
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