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The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  12,584 ratings  ·  1,307 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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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…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)

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3.70  · 
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
Jill Mackin
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, orchids
I found the subject fascinating.
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
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
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).
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.
May 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: true-crime
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
Aug 22, 2007 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.
Ericka Clouther
The writing is great, especially for nonfiction. The people she writes about are fascinating, even when Orlean is writing about past people she hasn't met. She definitely manages to convey the excitement these people feel for orchids- all of the sudden I am super interested in orchids too and googling them. I really want a monkey orchid now, though I'm not good at keeping any plants alive so I probably shouldn't pursue that interest. Florida, in particular the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, ...more
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book might be titled “The Orchid Thief” but it is more than the recounting of the exploits of John Laroche. It is part biography part true crime. A biography of a place; the swamps, the flora and fauna of southern Florida. The author tells the story of mans history of living in, exploiting, and coverting its contents whether that is the native peoples or a guy with a passion for the orchids found there. We learn that Laroches passion for orchids is nothing unique or new. I should know as I g ...more
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Read during days 5-6 of a wildly aggressive infection while tossing feverishly in bed, so my impressions of this one are certainly odd and florid.

More a biopic than anything else, the author follows the zany, larger-than-life LaRoche through Florida swamps chasing rare orchids (particularly the ghost orchid). LaRoche was charged with stealing orchids from protected lands (a federal crime) with Seminole natives, three of whom were charged along with him.

A speedy, entertaining peek into the pecu
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
Diane Gihring
May 20, 2011 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
Jan 24, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: aborted-efforts
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
Jun 27, 2007 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
Eslam Abd Elghany
The novel topped the movie,however,the latter is Avery good one...
Richard Levine
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I first thought about reading The Orchid Thief many years ago when I saw the movie Adaptation (which is loosely - by which I mean just barely - based on this book), but only got to it now, inspired by a trip to Florida that included the Everglades. And even though the book is now 20 years old and perhaps somewhat dated, it was well worth the wait.

Ostensibly, The Orchid Thief is about an eccentric orchid obsessive, John Laroche, whom Susan Orlean meets when he's on trial for stealing rare ghost
Kate Forsyth
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I remember when The Orchid Thief came out in 1998, it caused a real buzz. It was a New York Times bestseller, a Barnes and Noble Discover book, a Borders New Voices selection, and an honoree in the American Library Association book-of-the-year selection. It also eventually inspired a movie called Adaption, starring Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean, which must have been a weird and wonderful feeling for the author. It is also credited with beginning – or at least propelling into wide popularity – the ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: over-rated
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
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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
“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.” 62 likes
“I suppose I do have one embarrassing passion- I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.” 25 likes
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