The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

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The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

by Susan Orlean

Random House Publishing Group | January 14, 2000 | Trade Paperback |

3 out of 5 rating. 2 Reviews
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
 
A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean's wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating 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 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.
 
In this new edition, coming fifteen years after its initial publication and twenty years after she first met the "orchid thief," Orlean revisits this unforgettable world, and the route by which it was brought to the screen in the film Adaptation, in a new retrospective essay.

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle for author chats and more.
 
Praise for The Orchid Thief
 
"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

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 320 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: January 14, 2000

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 044900371X

ISBN - 13: 9780449003718

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– More About This Product –

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

by Susan Orlean

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 320 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: January 14, 2000

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 044900371X

ISBN - 13: 9780449003718

Read from the Book

The Millionaire''s Hothouse John Laroche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome, in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth. He has the posture of al dente spaghetti and the nervous intensity of someone who plays a lot of video games. Laroche is thirty-six years old. Until recently he was employed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, setting up a plant nursery and an orchid-propagation laboratory on the tribe''s reservation in Hollywood, Florida. Laroche strikes many people as eccentric. The Seminoles, for instance, have two nicknames for him: Troublemaker and Crazy White Man. Once, when Laroche was telling me about his childhood, he remarked, "Boy, I sure was a weird little kid." For as long as he can remember he has been exceptionally passionate and driven. When he was about nine or ten, his parents said he could pick out a pet. He decided to get a little turtle. Then he asked for ten more little turtles. Then he decided he wanted to breed the turtles, and then he started selling turtles to other kids, and then he could think of nothing but turtles and then decided that his life wasn''t worth living unless he could collect one of every single turtle species known to mankind, including one of those sofa-sized tortoises from the Galapagos. Then, out of the blue, he fell out of love with turtles and fell madly in love with Ice Age fossils. He collected them, sold them, declared that he lived for them, then a
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From the Publisher

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
 
A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean's wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating 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 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.
 
In this new edition, coming fifteen years after its initial publication and twenty years after she first met the "orchid thief," Orlean revisits this unforgettable world, and the route by which it was brought to the screen in the film Adaptation, in a new retrospective essay.

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader's Circle for author chats and more.
 
Praise for The Orchid Thief
 
"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 Jacket

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK

A modern classic of personal journalism, The Orchid Thief is Susan Orlean's wickedly funny, elegant, and captivating tale of an amazing obsession.

From Florida's swamps to its courtrooms, the New Yorker writer follows one deeply eccentric and oddly attractive man's 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 America's 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 Florida's 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. Orlean's 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

About the Author

Susan Orlean has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992 and has also written for Outside, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Vogue. She graduated from the University of Michigan and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She now lives in Los Angeles and upstate New York with her husband and son.


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Interviews

Q: If there were one question you wished an interviewer would ask, but never has, what would it be? A: There is no question I wish I had been asked. There is a question I wish I could answer: how does the creative process work? Often people will say, where in the world did you get the idea for that lead? And I wish I could answer it, because it is very intuitive, and I think it would be a comfort to imagine that it wasn’t sheer accident, that there was a very specific process by which writing took place, but there isn’t. Q: This book had its gestation as a report in a Florida newspaper article. Then you wrote a piece on the subject for The New Yorker. What was it that made you decide that it warranted 282 pages? A: When I originally went down to write about it for The New Yorker I felt like I was peeling an onion. Every aspect of the story seemed richer than I imagined. For instance, at the Fakahatchee Strand where the original poaching took place, I casually asked one of the rangers how long it had been a preserve and what had been there before it was a preserve, and I stumbled on an entire story of Florida land scams that I felt was fascinating. I loved the idea of taking a single event, something very specific and examining it thoroughly and deeply rather than a big, sprawling event. That’s a task, to take a very tight focus and make a book out of it. Q: Your published work is all based on actual happenings; it is reportage. Have you ever considered novelizing your experie
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From Our Editors

Deep in the swampy heart of Florida lurks an eclectic group of aristocrats, enthusiasts and smugglers who have one strange passion in common: they collect orchids. John Laroche is one of these people, a repulsive yet mesmerizing man who had a wild plan to steal some of the rarest orchids he could find and clone them, thus being able to sell them to ardent collectors for a tidy pile. Journalist Susan Orlean followed Laroche on his quest, unearthing the history of orchid collecting and plant crimes in Florida. After spending time with Laroche's partners, a tribe of Seminole Indians, the author wrote up her experiences in the bizarre and absorbing The Orchid Thief.

 

Editorial Reviews

"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 Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1) Is there a hero in The Orchid Thief? An anti-hero?

2) Is the book subjective? Objective? Or a different genre altogether?

3) Some people describe this as "literary non-fiction." Is that how you would characterize it?

4) Susan Orlean resists the temptation to feel possessed by the orchids but she is willing to undergo great trials in order to satisfy her passion for reporting. Is this passion evident in her writing?

5) The passion for collecting is described in the book as a means of infusing meaning into life, subjecting the vicissitudes to some order, acquiring the ability to mold and change the nature of things, i.e. create life itself. What other means do humans employ to achieve the same ends, and how effective are they?

6) John Laroche would not describe himself as an orchid person. To him the orchid is a temporary albeit very intense passion, a means to an end, not an end in itself. How would you analyze the difference between Laroche''s motives in collecting orchids and the regular orchid collectors we visit in the course of the book?

7) Laroche wrestles verbally with the thought that acting within what he considered the bounds of the law for his own immediate gain was ultimately an act of altruism. His rape of the Fakahatchee would force the law to be changed and close the loophole that allowed him to poach rare and wild orchids form an Indian reservation in the first place, thus protecting the species in the wild, and securing it for the marketplace at the same time. Is this the thought process of an amoral character? Or is he just an everyday charlatan? Discuss.

8) Laroche makes a very telling statement: "When I had my own nursery I sometimes felt like all the people swarming around were going to eat me alive. I felt like they were that gigantic parasitic plant and I was the dying host tree." Is Laroche playing the role of the victim, the martyr to a (preferably lost, but grand) cause or is he in control of his life by making a living off other people''s weaknesses, whether it be a passion for orchids or pornography? Discuss.

9) Orlean seems fascinated by the story of Darwin and the study of the orchid with the eighteen inch nectary and the moth with the eighteen inch proboscis to feed on it: the idea that two totally different life forms evolved specifically to serve each other; that neither could have existed without the other. What has the evidence of the orchid''s adaptability altered your perception of the theories of evolution?

10) Orlean interrupts her central narrative of John Laroche with stories of the orchid hunters of the past, the contemporary state for Florida and other histories. How does this affect the pace of the work?

11) Is the framework she has devised successful?

12) The Native Americans on the reservation are entitled by one law to remove protected species from their land. Is this law justified?

13) Orlean seems surprised by the abundance of sexual references to orchids in their book. Yet the flower is the prime sexual organ of most plants. Seek out a florist with a good representation of orchids. What alternative descriptions of these exotic flowers can you devise?

14) What is the real core, the central character, of the book: Laroche? Florida? Orchids? Native Americans? Darwin? Orlean?

15) As a reader, what did you expect from a book about orchids?

16) How did your experience for reading The Orchid Thief compare to what you expected?

17) The working title of The Orchid Thief was "Passion." What does that suggest about the themes in the book?

18) What, besides orchids, could generate a book like this?

19) Are there other subcultures or other objects of desire that might be as provocative?

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