Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession” as Want to Read:
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  16,131 ratings  ·  1,708 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Orchid Thief, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Suzan K Harden I live, unhappily right now, in Florida. Living and working here is not at all like retiring here. There are truly two different worlds, and Orlean in…moreI live, unhappily right now, in Florida. Living and working here is not at all like retiring here. There are truly two different worlds, and Orlean interprets the world I cannot begin to understand. At the end, Orlean says she will never be a Floridian. I believe that to be true about myself as well, and I have lived here 14 years. For me, reading the book provided confirmation that my observations about people and life here are not purely figments of my imagination.(less)
Nevie Page 109 in the paperback version. In the chapter titled "The Good Life."…morePage 109 in the paperback version. In the chapter titled "The Good Life."(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  16,131 ratings  ·  1,708 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession
Mar 16, 2008 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
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned, non-fiction
This was originally a piece for The New Yorker, and I think it should've stayed that way. It had its interesting moments but felt a bit bloated and directionless at times. I was expecting something more narrative-based and eccentric like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Instead every chapter just sort of felt like an essay about something related to the orchid industry, with a very small throughline about John Laroche. 2.5 stars ...more
Nov 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, florida
Last year I read Susan Orlean’s The Library Book about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library. I found it well done and was able to read it over the better part of a day. I was curious to read more of Orlean’s books, but most of the subject matter was not appealing to me, so I settled on an early work of hers, The Orchid Thief. Later made into a movie called Adaptation, the Orchid Thief takes readers on a journey through a Florida sub-culture of exotic plants. With the weather growing col ...more
May 30, 2008 rated it liked it
From Investigation, through Article, to Book

This is based on Susan Orelan’s journalistic research in the early 1990s of the orchid obsessive John Laroche, the Seminole tribe he collaborated with, and of orchid collectors and breeders generally. The main plot concerns somewhat inept attempts to steal and clone rare Ghost Orchids to sell on.

Image: Dendrophylax lindenii, the ghost orchid, from Wikipedia

Orlean originally published the story as an article in the New Yorker, but later extended it to
Will Byrnes
Oct 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Mar 26, 2020 rated it liked it
When does passion become obsession? Certainly many of the orchid growers and collectors in this book have gone over the line. Set in south Florida, Orlean is brave and relentless in getting her story. She follows the bizarre John LaRoche into the murky swamps of the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in search of the elusive ghost orchid. This preserve is home to many alligators, poisonous snakes, sinkholes, and myriad bugs. Ugh! One has to admire her perseverance.

Orlean is an excellent nonfictio
I have not seen the movie Adaption which is based on portions of this book.

I picked up this book because I enjoyed an essay written by the author in The New Yorker. I had found it amusing and perceptive. The book has the feel of an essay, or rather a series of essays focused on the central theme of orchids. Orchid collecting, orchid theft, orchid hunting and orchid obsession are all covered. The writing does go off on tangents. Forays are made into related topics - exploitation of natural resou
Spencer Orey
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
I read this for descriptions of the swamp and was not disappointed. And I learned a lot about Florida and orchids along the way.
Caitlin Constantine
Apr 25, 2009 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
Karith Amel
Sep 25, 2010 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 08, 2007 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
Mar 06, 2012 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
Apr 19, 2012 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
Jill Mackin
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, orchids
I found the subject fascinating.
Nancy Oakes
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
more shortly, but I really enjoyed this book, which I read because it's my real-world book group's selection for September. It's sad that it got such low ratings because of people's expectations as a book of true crime, because it's so much more: obsession, passion, history, and an exploration of why people become so consumed by having something that they'll do anything to get it.

more coming soon.
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thought I had added this book to my “read” list along time ago, but discovered I hadn’t. I read this book back in 2002 on the recommendation of a friend. The book is non-fiction and recounts the various misadventures of a a gent whose calling in life is “orchid poacher“. In other words, he makes a living going into the hinterlands of the Everglades (Fakahatchee Strand) to find and harvest, often illegally, rare orchids for buyers willing to pay Big Bucks for these amazing plants. The Holy Grai ...more
Sep 17, 2007 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
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
"There is nothing more melancholy than empty festive places." ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, mount-tbr-2013
This is basically just a long New Yorker article about people who steal plants and are obsessed with Orchids.
~Theresa Kennedy~
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What can I say? One of the best books I've ever read, bar none. It is superlative and I cannot recommend it enough. ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A fascinating exploration of the obsession with orchids, The Orchid Thief is as much about its author as its subject. It is her story of writing the book: her observations and opinions of everyone she meets and the state of Florida. I preferred the sections not about her: the history of early orchid-hunters, the Victorian era orchid craze, international smuggling of plants and animals, and the local theft of plants. Some digressions, about the history of Floridian real estate fraud and the Semin ...more
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession is a fascinating, yet oddly meandering, account of journalist Susan Orlean's years-long investigation into the Florida covert orchid trade. The book began as an article published by Orlean in New Yorker magazine in 1995.
Orlean became acquainted with John Laroche, an orchid-obsessed caucasian Floridian, who had recently been charged with poaching native Polyrrhiza lindenii (ghost orchid) plants from the Seminole (Native American) preservation
Jan 28, 2009 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
Aug 27, 2007 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
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
gorgeous. susan orlean is the writer i strive to be.
Barbara K
It would be a mistake to categorize this book as "true crime" simply because of the word "thief" in the title. Rather, it consists of random, detailed observations on people who become, as the title indicates, obsessed with collecting orchids, and also on south Florida in general. There is a theft, and a central character, but neither were as interesting to me as they are to the author.

It is possible that I was more disappointed in the book than I would have been otherwise since I read it shortl
Jun 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Loved this book and, in an unusual twist, loved the movie based upon it even more, for Charlie Kaufman's inplausible but brilliant screenplay "Adaptation." I don't think you can properly appreciate what he did with the movie without first reading the book. Kaufman's innovatative and very post-modern treatment of the material gets 5 stars from me (and it's got Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage in it -- what more could you want). ...more
May 15, 2007 added 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.
˜”*°•.˜”*°• Sheri  •°*”˜.•°*”˜
In 1994, John Laroche and three Seminole Indian men, were caught leaving a Florida Wildlife Preserve with bags full of Ghost orchid (Polyrrhiza lindenii) specimens. They challenged the arrest on the basis of a law allowing Native tribes to violate the endangered species act. Susan Orleans, a columnist for The New Yorker went to Florida to get the story. She befriended the weirdly charismatic Laroche, gained entry to the bizarre world of orchid collectors, and ultimately expanded the article into ...more
Jan 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Overall, this is an informative and interesting book on orchids but I found that I had some problems with Orlean's writing style - and they were the same issues I had while reading THE LIBRARY BOOK. While there's a lot of interesting information, Orlean seems to want to include absolutely all of her research in the book and I felt like there could have been some editing. From some reviews I've read, they said that Orlean should have stopped with her New Yorker article and that the book goes on a ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
My Favorite Crime...: Orchids 2 3 Mar 26, 2021 07:24AM  
My Favorite Crime...: Passion 1 4 Mar 23, 2021 10:31AM  
My Favorite Crime...: Story Characteristics 4 6 Mar 22, 2021 02:43PM  
My Favorite Crime...: Heroes & Main Characters 4 7 Mar 22, 2021 02:28PM  
My Favorite Crime...: March book selection: The Orchid Thief 6 14 Mar 20, 2021 03:47PM  
My Favorite Crime...: John Laroche 1 5 Mar 20, 2021 08:26AM  
Cranbury Public L...: Feb 25 - The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean 1 3 Jan 31, 2020 09:14AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Fatal Bullet: The Assassination of James A. Garfield
  • The Feather Thief
  • The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy
  • The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird
  • Shell Shocked (Sanibel Island Mysteries #5)
  • The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish
  • Dirt: Adventures, with Family, in the Kitchens of Lyon, Looking for the Origins of French Cooking
  • Bye Bye Birdy (Sanibel Island Mysteries #4)
  • Spirits of the Civil War: A Guide to the Ghosts and Hauntings of America's Bloodiest Conflict
  • Papa Jack: Jack Johnson And The Era Of White Hopes
  • Jefferson's War: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805
  • The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies and Trade
  • The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits
  • Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention
  • Diagnosing Jefferson: Evidence of a Condition That Guided His Beliefs, Behavior, and Personal Associations
  • The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress
  • Reilly of the White House
  • City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York, 1900 - Present
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

Articles featuring this book

Susan Orlean, the author of The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession and staff writer for The New Yorker, is back on bookshelves...
75 likes · 14 comments
“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.” 85 likes
“I suppose I do have one embarrassing passion- I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.” 31 likes
More quotes…