Hayley's Reviews > The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
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's review
Nov 13, 08

Recommended to Hayley by: John Loggins
Recommended for: Plant lovers, collectors of anything, Floridians, History lovers
Read in November, 2008, read count: 1

I didn't want to like this book at first, but I ended up liking it a lot.

The author would sometimes make big generalizations. For instance, she'd generalize about life is like in Florida--making it sound very backwoods and strange--and I know better having lived there. However, I had to accept in the end that she was showcasing a certain part of it and that's what she meant to do. Also, she's from New York. What can you do?

Anyway, she picked a fascinating subject, whether you take that to mean her human subject (John Laroche) or orchid craziness. Her human subject is someone I'd never really want to associate with, so I'm glad she did the dirty work of talking to him. However, it's a weird, debatable point whether this guy is really unique enough to deserve a book dedicated, in large part, to him (although there's a lot more in there than him, which is important). He's got an annoying personality that's fun to read about, and he keeps switching hobbies (orchid collecting being just one in a chain), but it's not as if he's the only person in the world who ever kept re-defining himself drastically. I think many people do that--they go through extreme phases.

What was nice about this book is her sensory descriptions. I tested those against my knowledge of what Floridian swamps and suburbs and other spots look and smell like. She was pretty good about depicting her surroundings.

The book had a lot of history, both about orchid collectors around the world and about early life in Florida. I found a lot of that fascinating, but her section on the history of orchid collection was LONG. It may have actually had TOO many examples...

Anyway, I got a kick out of the rivalries at these big orchid shows--people were really serious about it. But once again, I wouldn't say that attitude is unique to orchids or any plants...ever seen "Best in Show"? But the author does recognize the many non-plant flavors of obsessive behavior and she talks about them in general, so that's good.

Anyway, I may just really love this book because it reminds me of home (despite her portrayal of Florida as sort of...primitive and untamed in the late 90s). But I think that others will enjoy it too. It's pretty bizarre, and you don't have to love orchids. I think they're ok.

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