- Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books; 13th edition (January 4, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 044900371X
- ISBN-13: 978-0449003718
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 332 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – January 4, 2000
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“Stylishly written, whimsical yet sophisticated, quirkily detailed and full of empathy . . . The Orchid Thief shows [Orlean’s] gifts in full bloom.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating . . . an engrossing journey [full] of theft, hatred, greed, jealousy, madness, and backstabbing.”—Los Angeles Times
“Orlean’s snapshot-vivid, pitch-perfect prose . . . is fast becoming one of our national treasures.”—The Washington Post Book World
“Orlean’s gifts [are] her ear for the self-skewing dialogue, her eye for the incongruous, convincing detail, and her Didion-like deftness in description.”—Boston Sunday Globe
“A swashbuckling piece of reporting that celebrates some virtues that made America great.”—The Wall Street Journal
From the Inside Flap
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 with some of the world's most extraordinary plants and trees. Laroche had planned to clone the orchids and then sell them for a small fortune to impassioned collectors. After he was caught in the act, Laroche set off one of the oddest legal controversies in recent memory, which brought together environmentalists, Native Amer-ican activists, and devoted orchid collectors. The result is a tale that is strange, compelling, and hilarious.
"New Yorker writer Susan Orlean followed Laroche through swamps and into the eccentric world of Florida's orchid collectors, a subculture of aristocrats, fanatics, and smugglers whose obsession with plants is all-consuming. Along the way, Orlean learned the history of orchid collecting, discovered an odd pattern of plant crimes in Florida, and spent time with Laroche's partners, a tribe of Seminole Indians who are still at war with the United States.
There is something fascinating or funny or truly bizarre on every page of The Orchid Thief: the story of how the head of a famous Seminole chief came to be displayed in the front window of a local pharmacy; or how seven hundred iguanas were smuggled into Florida; or the case of the only known extraterrestrial plant crime. Ultimately, however, Susan Orlean's book is about passion itself, and the amazing lengths to which peoplewill go to gratify it. That passion is captured with singular vision in The Orchid Thief, a once-in-a-lifetime story by one of our most original journalists.
"From the Hardcover edition.
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Ms. Orlean is as much part of this story as anyone else: she's there, she's experiencing this, and her thoughts and curiosity take us through lessons in history, evolution, geology, botany, and current orchid mania - the characters, the controversies, and the competition. Her style includes much wit and humor which makes for somewhat light reading and a few laugh out loud lines.
Front and center are orchids - "a jewel of a flower on a haystack of a plant" - so evolved and diversified they've become "the biggest flowering plant family on earth because each orchid species has made itself irresistible." Orchids are "ancient, intricate living things that have adapted to every environment on earth." There are tens of thousands of varieties, and more being created by natural as well as man-made hybridization virtually every day. Orchids often outlive human beings. In fact, orchids can theoretically live forever, since they have no natural enemies.
Orlean describes some extreme personalities of orchid people as an amusing side story. Some orchid owners designate a person as an "orchid heir" in their wills since the owners expect that their precious orchids will outlive them. Another reviewer commented: “This book will make you feel like the very picture of placid normalcy when compared to orchid growers.”
“Laroche loved orchids, but I came to believe he loved the difficulty and fatality of getting them almost as much as the flowers themselves.” Laroche is a kindred spirit of those fellow orchid hunters of the 19th century who rescued fragile flowers in the midst of an erupting volcano in the Phillipines and a revolution in Columbia. An orchid from Burma was auctioned off in London “still attached to the human skull on which it had been found.”
Southern Florida is an underlying theme. Many of us remember the famous land-scams of the 1950s and 60s. “ Florida land is elastic: you can make more of it.” (pg 122) Any dank Florida cypress swamp can be drained and remade… to look like a Tuscan village or an English town. Interesting characters appear every few pages: Snake Boy, frog poachers, Miss Seminole, Lee More the Adventurer, the Ghost Grader, Lord Mansfield, etc.
The Fakahatchee Swamp is home of many wild orchids, Orlean comments wryly when plunging into brackish water up to the waist, and having to toe around for submerged alligators on the squishy bottom, "I hate being in a swamp with machete-wielding convicts."
Indian rights and the Florida Seminole tribe and business interests are another side story. The legal similarities between Chief Billie and the panther and Laroche and the ghost orchids have a fine distinction.
But the orchids! My thoughts are like the authors: “It’s like an explosion in a paint factory…” The flowers are interesting but the plant looks dead. “These flowers are poetic.” They are all so different. This one is speckled. “Here’s a weird shape. Look at this long tube.” The variety is overwhelming.
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 like you might expect, it is actually the state of Florida, and the author's descriptions/musings on Florida itself - its strangeness, contrasted nature, and uniqueness in particular - are wonderful
4. there is an underlying theme that ties the whole book together and arises naturally from Laroche, the other orchid collectors/thieves the author meets, as well as from the author herself: it is the nature of passion; and as a result the book is brimming with psychological insights and flashes of wisdom
Charlie Kaufman realized that this was more than just a book about flowers when he read it, and you will realize it too when you read it. Personally I could care less about flowers, but the flower that John Laroche was so passionate about - the ghost orchid - plays such an interesting and mysterious role in the book and is so elusive and sought after by even the author herself that by the end of the book I wanted to see one too!
I highly recommend you read the book and/or watch the movie (in either order), as this is a book wholly deserving of its starring movie role. Unlike any book/movie experience I've ever had.