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Publisher's Summary

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 700 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 a truly original journalist.

©1998 Susan Orlean (P)2001 Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Stylishly written, whimsical yet sophisticated, quirkily detached.... It shows Orlean's gifts in full bloom." (New York Times Book Review)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.5 out of 5 stars
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    66
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    81
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    65
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    33
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    18

Performance

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Story

  • 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Orchids are just the vehicle.

Yes, it's about orchids, but it's really about obsession, passion, collecting, and the meaning of life. Also theft, greed, bizarre collectors and explorers. This is the best book I've listened to in a couple of years.

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Would the real Susan Orlean please stand up

I listened to this in addition to reading the book in preparation for a book review. I was surprised at how sarcastic the narration came across in this audio version. It gave me a completely different view of the author and I can't help wondering what the book would have felt like if the author had preformed the audio herself and from which perspective she would present herself. As far as the writing went I appreciated the author's ability to share the diverse personalities, flaws and all, of her subjects and still present a friendly view of them. I learned a huge amount about florida, orchids, smuggling and the people attracted to all three. With so much detail to cover and many tangents to intigrate into the book Orlean's writing style is well suited to the material. The result is a very human view of a odd microcosim within our human family.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating story well told and narrated

I recently read this book after seeing the movie ADAPTATION which is exactly that, an adaptation of this book. It's a wonderful book about a man obsessed by orchids and it's about orchids, obsession, and also veers off into the history of Florida real estate to boot. I found it to be a fascinating 'journey' about things that don't usually interest me in the least. It's very well written and researched and it's also very unusual and hard to describe since it's not really a story but more of a quest to discover what motivates people. Highly recommended, it was exactly the kind of book that translates well into an audiobook, easy to follow and full of navigations off the beaten path. A real pleasure.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Maarten
  • oldenzaalNetherlands
  • 04-15-04

Nice Cover, Nice Story, Nice Trip

I've visited Florida, as a European at an age of about 25. It's now 15 years ago. The images come back: The enormous amounts of mosquito's in the everglades the damp heat and the threat of crocodiles, the weird feeling of nature versus human (or should I say American spirit) and my feeling of displacement there.
The story has a very realistic feel. I really love the narrator, I can see this astonished New York girl stomp through the swamp -Listen to HER say swomp- in her clean white shorts and sometimes be so very sweet in her astonishment. It's so honest. To me it was like a trip back, this time WITH well researched and well told background information AND guided by a lovely? girlfriend ? daughter?. Great!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Bl
  • 05-04-17

Bad Version of This Book

Chapter endings are cut off several seconds before they actually end.

The story itself is great though.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Joseph
  • East Aurora, NY, USA
  • 02-03-04

A passionless look at passion

Driven by a desire to understand great passion, the author delves into a bizarre world where the right plant is worth more than life itself. And yet despite her best efforts, passion exceeds her grasp and she is left to provide only a cold listing of scientific facts, historical essays and bland social interactions.

The most striking feature of this book is the absolute flatness of its narrative. Each fact is as important as the next and soon you realize that you have stopped listening and are thinking about what you might have for lunch. Fortunately, your lapse in concentration is without consequence as you can easily pick back up wherever in the story you find yourself.

This endless torrent of meaningless information reminds me of those hundred-word essays you had to write in grade school. You know the one where you might have said, "There were many orchids to choose from, a red one, a blue one, one with stripes, a green one that looked as if it had been made from frog skin, another blue one a little lighter than the first blue one..." Of course your teacher was taking a hundred-word nap, but hey, you did your part!

The best, and perhaps only, reason to listen to this book is so that you can more fully enjoy the movie "Adaptation".

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Linda
  • Tucson, AZ, United States
  • 02-04-13

Bad Execution, Full of Errors

Very bad edting made this a jarring read. Bits were cut off and the narraor read so fast I had to slow the replay to be able to tolerate lisening. The author does not know her botanical subject matter, and this part of the book is rife with error. There is also a marked underone of lack of respect for some of her subjects that in the end does her discredit, not the other way around. I don't think she cared about this book or the people she used , it was just a job, it could have been so much more.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Peter
  • Piedmont, CA, USA
  • 01-27-10

Great book, OK delivery

The reader's jaunty, affected delivery would be far more appropriate for a comic novel than a work of non-fiction. She is aided greatly by the quality of the text itself.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

great read

really good read.. quick and informative...well written and interesting even to someone like me who knew nothing about the subject

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Candidate for most irritating narrator ever

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

A fine story but I could not get past the squawking, nasal narration. Wish I'd known I could return at the time; definitely a better one to read yourself.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-02-18

good story, not best performance

A very interesting story and one I will pick up in hard copy. Unfortunately the audible version is strangely narrated. The narrator is inconsistent in tone and seems to rush through the book. The first quarter of the book the chapters do not merge well and end of sentences are lost.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Zak Beresford
  • 03-29-18

Good narration for a book I don't like

The Orchid Thief, like many flowers I've stuck in a vase of water and left by the window sill, died on me. Susan Orleans's New York Times bestseller has a lot of threads to follow. The main one, as I understood it, was of her following the titular orchid thief, John Laroche, around the time he was put on trial for stealing orchids with two members of the Seminole tribe. In between this main story arc are several other sub-threads that explore the Victorian era "orchid fever" and the story of an "orchid hunter", the community of orchid growers and buyers and disputes between the local Seminole tribe and the Florida government, among others. It was this openness to going off on tangents that left me confused a few times and I often yearned to hear "Laroche" so I, at least, knew if the author had decided to go back to the actual main character of the book or go off on another tangent.