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The Orchid Thiefby Susan Orlean
Synopses & Reviews
The orchid thief 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 American 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 people will 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.
"Artful...In Ms. Orlean's skillful handling, her orchid story turns out to be distinctly 'something more.' Getting to know Mr. Laroche allows her to explore multiple subjects: orchids, Seminole history, the ecology of the Fakahatchee Strand, the fascination of Florida to con men....All that she writes here fits together because it is grounded in her personal experience...acres of opportunity where intriguing things can be found." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"Orlean writes in a keenly observant mode reminiscent of John McPhee and Diane Ackerman....In prose as lush and full of surprises as the Fakahatchee itself, Orlean connects orchid-related excesses of the past with the exploits of the present so dramatically an orchid will never just be an orchid again." Booklist
"Orlean's hilariously reported, discursive narrative wanders off into Seminole history, real estate fraud, stolen flora, and the scary, swampy Fakahatchee Strand. Just when you fear you're lost in the Everglades, she returns to the flower at hand, and unleashes some delirious prose....Orlean shows great restraint and never adopts an orchid--readers may not manage to be so cold-blooded." Alexandra Lange, New York magazine
"The collecting mania that Susan Orlean has so painstakingly described is, like the orchid, a small thing of grandeur, a passion with a pedigree...Stylishly written, whimsical yet sophisticated, quirkily detailed and full of empathy for a person you might not have thorugh about empethetically...The Orchid Thief shows her gifts in full bloom." Ted Conover, The New York Times Book Review
"The best writers make you care about something you never noticed before. Susan Orlean is a perfect example...In a dry reporter's style, spiked with wit and charged with infectious enthusiasm, Orlean explains orchid biology and traces the history of orchid hunting, scattering surprises as she goes....An endearingly timid explorer who shudders each time she lowers herself into the teeming ooze of the Fakahatchee, Orlean is also an acute observer of the personalities and rivalries she encounters...Orlean allows accidental discoveries and encounters to dicate the book's peculiar, engrossing course." Anna Mundow, The New York Daily News
The orchid thief is John Laroche, a renegade plant dealer and sharply handsome guy in spite of the fact that he is missing all his teeth and has the posture of al dente spaghetti. This national bestseller follows him into the Florida swamp to relate his mesmerizing true story of beauty and obsession.
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orleans wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating tale of an amazing obsession.
From Floridas swamps to its courtrooms, the New Yorker writer follows one deeply eccentric and oddly attractive mans possibly criminal pursuit of an endangered flower. Determined to clone the rare ghost orchid, Polyrrhiza lindenii, John Laroche leads Orlean on an unforgettable tour of Americas strange flower-selling subculture, along with the Seminole Indians who help him and the forces of justice who fight him. In the end, Orlean-and the reader-will have more respect for underdog determination and a powerful new definition of passion.
Praise for The Orchid Thief:
“Fascinating . . . tales of theft, hatred, greed, jealousy, madness, and backstabbing . . . an engrossing journey.”
-Los Angeles Times
“Irresistible . . . a brilliantly reported account of an illicit scheme to housebreak Floridas wild and endangered ghost orchid . . . Its central figure is John Laroche, the ‘oddball ultimate of a subculture whose members are so enthralled by orchids they ‘pursue them like lovers. ”
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Artful . . . in Ms. Orleans skillful handling, her orchid story turns out to be distinctly ‘something more. . . . [Her] portrait of her sometimes sad-making orchid thief allows the reader to discover acres of opportunity where intriguing things can be found.”
-The New York Times
“Zestful . . . a swashbuckling piece of reporting that celebrates some virtues that made America great.”
-The Wall Street Journal
“Deliciously weird . . . compelling.”
-Detroit Free Press
Includes bibliographical references (p. -284) and a reader's companion including an interview with the author and topics for reading group discussion.
About the Author
Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. Her articles have also appeared in Outside, Rolling Stone, Vogue, and Esquire. She is the author of Saturday Night, a New York Times Notable Book of 1990, which, in the words of Entertainment Weekly, "calls to mind Damon Runyon, Evelyn Waugh, and screwball comedy." She lives in New York City.
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