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The Orchid Thief

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  9,682 Ratings  ·  989 Reviews
In Susan Orlean's mesmerizing true story of beauty and obsession is John Laroche, a renegade plant dealer and sharply handsome guy, in spite of the fact that he is missing his front teeth and has the posture of al dente spaghetti. In 1994, Laroche and three Seminole Indians were arrested with rare orchids they had stolen from a wild swamp in south Florida that is filled wi ...more
Hardcover, 284 pages
Published December 15th 1998 by Random House (NY) (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

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Mar 16, 2008 Cyrano rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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 17, 2007 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 25, 2010 Amelmag rated it liked it
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
Oct 02, 2007 Carrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Apr 19, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 30, 2007 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 21, 2007 Amy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Caitlin Constantine
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
Jun 27, 2007 Mirna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
The novel topped the movie,however,the latter is Avery good one...
Dec 08, 2008 Ileana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"There is nothing more melancholy than empty festive places."
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 09, 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
Jan 28, 2009 Eric_W rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kelly Ferguson
Oct 29, 2011 Kelly Ferguson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Aug 24, 2008 Ellen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
May 31, 2015 ☕Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 22, 2007 DumDum rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 17, 2016 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 05, 2015 Amar Pai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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)
Mar 25, 2015 Dale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are a student looking for a term paper topic, I have it: compare/contrast Percy Harrison Fawcett, the subject of David Grann's book The Lost City of Z to John Laroche, the person charged with the title crime in Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. Focused on events roughly 70 years apart, these two books, the two most recent I've read, feature characters that would seem to have little in common. Fawcett, a British military officer, member of the Royal Geographical Society, and leader of sever ...more
Kater Cheek
Sep 10, 2011 Kater Cheek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The adage "never judge a book by its movie" is true in the case of Susan Orlean's THE ORCHID THIEF. This book has nothing to do with screenwriting, Nicholas Cage, identical twins, or drug use. It has everything to do with orchids, international plant smuggling, Florida, wetlands, Seminoles, and people who get obsessed about a subject to an extent beyond what most of us can understand.

Orlean follows around John Larouche, an orchid expert and obsessive individual who has the tendency to become com
Cliff Hays
Just awesome! This book came onto my radar because of its starring role in Charlie Kaufman's 2002 film "Adaptation". There are four main reasons this book is great:

1. the primary subject John Laroche (to whom the book's title infamously but non-exclusively refers) is an extraordinarily interesting person

2. the author's description of Laroche's personality as well as of her interactions/dialogue with him are amazingly written and 100% engrossing

3. the secondary subject of the book is not orchids
Feb 06, 2015 hissi rated it it was ok

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,
Jan 09, 2009 melydia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 08, 2009 Heather rated it it was ok
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
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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.” 40 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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