The Orchid Thief


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A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

About the Author

Susan Orlean became a staff writer for the New Yorker in 1992 and has also written for Esquire, Vogue and Rolling Stone. She is the author of three other books of non-fiction.


"Folding virtue and criminality around profit are [John] Laroche's specialty," Orlean writes of the oddly likable felon who's the subject of her latest book. But what could be virtuous about poaching endangered orchids, which‘not insignificantly‘are worth a small fortune? If exotic flowers were cloned, everyone could afford them, Laroche would say. It's just such "amoral morality" that compels New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Saturday Night) to relocate to Naples, Fla., in order to dig into an orchid-collecting subculture as rarefied as its object of desire. Orlean spends two years attempting to place maverick Laroche in the rigid strata of orchid society, the heart of which is located in Florida. The milieu includes "Palm Beach plant lovers" and international stars such as Bob Fuchs, a commercial breeder whose family has been in the business for three generations. Laroche, on the other hand, is a self-taught horticulturist, yet one who has enough expertise to convince the nearby Seminole Indians to hire him as plant manager for their nursery. With the promise of big profits, he launches a plan to reproduce the "ghost" orchid, using samples stolen from the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, leading to his arrest. Though she fills in a brief history of the $10-billion trade, Orlean's account of her orchid-land explorations, which include wading through a swamp in hope of spotting a ghost orchid (she doesn't see one) is not so much an exposé as a meandering survey of the peccadilloes of the local orchid breeders. Clearly Orlean is most intrigued by autodidact Laroche, not the world he temporarily inhabits, which unfortunately makes for a slim, if engaging, volume. Author tour. (Jan.)

The thief in question and offbeat genesis for New Yorker writer Orlean's book is ever-quotable eccentric John Laroche, whose craving for the rare orchid eventually lands him and three Indian accomplices in a Florida courtroom--and allows Orlean to write her appreciative and lyrically funny profile of obsession and Florida. (LJ 1/99) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"Like the orchid, a small thing of grandeur, a passion with a pedigree... The Orchid Thief shows [Orlean's] gifts in full bloom" New York Times Book Review "A lesson in the dark, dangerous, sometimes hilarious nature of sometimes don't want to read on, but find you can't help it" USA Today "Irresistable... 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 Tribute "Fascinating... Tales of theft, hatred, greed, jealousy, madness, and back-stabbing... An engrossing journey" Los Angeles Times "Artful... In Ms. Orlean's skillful handling, her orchid story turns out to be distinctly 'something more.' 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... [Her] portrait of her sometimes sad-making orchid thief allows the reader to discover acres of opportunity where intriguing things can be found" New York Times

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