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The Orchid Thief

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3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  7,535 ratings  ·  811 reviews
Orchid Thief : A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean. Ballantine Books, Inc.,1998
Paperback, 284 pages
Published December 15th 1998 by Random House (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Cyrano
Mar 16, 2008 Cyrano rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
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
Suzanne
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
...more
Carrie
"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
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Cecily
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
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Robert
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
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Amelmag
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
...more
Kate
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
...more
Mirna
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
...more
Amy
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.
Ileana
"There is nothing more melancholy than empty festive places."
Diane Gihring
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
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Kelly Ferguson
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
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Marie
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
...more
David
Mar 09, 2012 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
...more
Rebekkila
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
...more
Becky Trombley
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
DumDum
Aug 22, 2007 DumDum rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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.
Eric_W
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
...more
Kater Cheek
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
...more
Jessica
This seems like the kind of thing I might really go for, but I found its style completely unreadable. Maybe if I'd had the patience to get through the first few pages I'd have changed my mind, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out. This is the first thing by Susan Orlean I've ever tried to read, and it'll probably be the last, unless someone makes even a limp a case for why I should be more open-minded and give her another shot. I think this felt like Joan Didion on ecstacy, trying t ...more
Karen
Excellent book! I love Susan Orlean, and I look forward to seeing her next month (Cabin event, Tuesday, March 11). THE ORCHID THIEF is recommended by Robert Root for its focus on place, and the book also has a great story and wonderful detail. I hope to participate in some of the pre-author visit activities, like the discussion at the Cabin, the orchid show, and the movie Monday, March 10, at BSU. Google "Read Me Treasure Valley" for a calendar of events.
Ellen
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
Mmars
I loved this book. Not because it was great or anything. I loved the way Orlean totally immersed herself in the "Orchid" culture and story. Riding the backroads of Florida with backroad characters and meandering through orchid shows displayed by orchid fanatic families. Ever since I read this, every time I see an orchid or a photo of one, or even hear the word I stop what I'm doing and look, listen & sniff. Who'd have thought those little prom flowers once (and to some extent still) drove pe ...more
Hank Stuever
For so long (and somewhat still), this is the book we all held up as an example of how to pursue a subject singularly, whether or not you have the story assignment figured out; how to trust your curiosity; how to bring the reader along with you without getting in the way. And, as with all overpraised works of journalism, it turns out to have its factual flaws. See this: http://www.sptimes.com/News/101099/Fl... Even in this regard, "The Orchid Thief" is instructive to non-fiction writers: Don't g ...more
Leanda Lisle
God I wish I had written this book - its wonderful. Enjoy.
Steph
I really love flowers. But this book isn't quite about flowers, it's about the culture surrounding orchids and orchid collecting. And it's far less interesting than I want it to be.

When I was fifteen (before I had goodreads to hold me accountable for finishing books) I attempted to read The Orchid Thief, and abandoned it. At least this time I actually finished it, with a bit of skimming. It's just a shame, because Orlean is a really good writer, and flowers are magnificent things. This book shou
...more
Michelle
This book was JAM PACKED with all kinds of information on the plant world you would never imagine. Not only the plant world but flowers and orchids specifically. There is a whole black market underworld going on with these collectors I could have never comprehended. That being said the book does drag a little with side stories and info. After a while I was learning a lot more then I cared to about the flowers but I understand the author was emphasizing the "obsession" part. Overall i thought it ...more
Mae Sands
Initially, I was going to rate the book a 3 because of the endless amount of orchid description. However, the conclusion ties everything together so well and is written so eloquently I have to rate it a 4.
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45374
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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“I suppose I do have one embarrassing passion- I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.” 17 likes
“Sometimes I think I've figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida” 11 likes
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