The Orchid Thief is the true story of John Laroche, an obsessed Florida plant dealer willing to go to any lengths to steal rare and protected wild orchids and clone them, all for a tidy profit.
But the morality of Laroche's actions do not drive the narrative of Orlean's strange, compelling, and hilarious book. She is much more interested in the spectacle this unusual man creates through his actions, including one of the oddest legal controversies in recent memory, which brought together environmentalists, Native American activists, and devoted orchid collectors.
She follows Laroche deep into Florida's swamps, tapping into not only the psyche of the deeply opinionated Laroche but also the wider subculture of orchid collectors, including aristocrats, fanatics, and smugglers whose obsession with plants is all-consuming. Orlean portrays the weirdness of it all in wonderful detail, but, ultimately, the book is primarily about passion itself and the amazing lengths to which people will go to gratify it.
It's clear the author thought the main character morally bankrupt and suspect from the start, but me - not so much. Yes, there were parts that were interesting but none of it in depth enough to distract from the fact that rather than proving the man's character what I really got out of it was her biased opinion based on nothing clear. I wanted to find a rogue intellectual character, someone of intrigue - but mostly i heard about a guy she followed around with attitude who may/may not have been more interested in money than environmentalism. He wasn't perfect at all, but could just as easily have been seen as a man of many interests who sometimes didn't think things through... Maybe it was just me...but i felt there was not enough character or sense of intrigue. I didn't hate it. But I wanted/expected something a bit more that I didn't get. If she'd just gone on about the world of orchid collectors with more depth and mentioned a few scandals instead of focusing on this one guy it might have been a really interesting book, perhaps...but she failed to convince me of this guy's inherent evil or interesting nature.On the other hand, the characters in the general orchid "community" did smack of some interest - would have loved to have heard more about that.
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