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Description - The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean first met John Laroche when visiting Florida to write for the New Yorker about his arrest for stealing rare ghost orchids from a nature reserve. Fascinated both by Laroche and the world she uncovered of orchid collectors and growers, she stayed on, to write this magical exploration of obsession and the strange world both of the orchid obsessives and of Florida, that haunting and weird 'debatable land' of swamps and condos, retirement communities and real-estate scams. The world of the orchid hunters, breeders and showmen, their rivalries, vendettas and crimes, smuggling, thefts and worse provide the backdrop to a fascinating exploration of one of the byways of human nature, the obsessive world of the collector, and the haunting beauty of the flowers themselves.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099289586
ISBN-10: 009928958X
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 23mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 4-May-2000
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

UK Kirkus Review » Staff writer for the New Yorker Orlean first encountered John Laroche's name in a 'short but alluring' newspaper item which alerted all her journalistic instincts. Laroche had been arrested for stealing wild, endangered orchids from a Florida swamp. He was apparently addiction-prone and orchids were his latest mania. This snipped led the author into a bizarre, sometimes frightening, world. Orlean writes with the crisp clarity of a journalist but the sensitivity of a poet and the book is packed with 'stories' about Florida itself, its other horticultural excesses and its very independent American-Indians. You don't have to be a plant person to be riveted. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Expanded from a New Yorker article, this long-winded if well-informed tale has less to do with John Laroche, the "thief," than it does with our author's desire to croft a comprehensive natural and social history of what the Victorians called "orchidelirium." Orlean (Saturday Night, 1990) piles anecdote upon detail upon anecdote - and keeps on piling them. Laroche, who managed a plant nursery and orchid propagation laboratory for the Seminole tribe of Hollywood, Fla., was arrested, along with three tribesmen, in 1994 for stealing rare orchids - "endangered species" - from the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. He had intended to clone the rarer ones (in particular, the so-called "ghost orchid") and sell them on the black market. Always a schemer and an eccentric hobbyist (old mirrors, turtles, and Ice Age fossils all fascinated him), Laroche figured he'd make millions. Found guilty, he was fined and banned from the Fakahatchee; the Seminoles, ostensibly exempt under the "Florida Indian" statute concerning the use of wildlife habitats, pled no contest. But Laroche's travails form only the framework for Orlean's accounts of famous and infamous orchid smugglers, hunters, and growers, and for her analyses of the mania for "the most compelling and maddening of all collectible living things." She traces the orchid's arrival in the US to 1838, when James Boott of London sent a tropical orchid to his brother in Boston. That collection would eventually be housed at Harvard College. Orlean includes passages on legendary hunter Joseph Hooker, eventually director of the Royal Botanical Gardens; on collectors, such as the man who kept 3,000 rare orchids atop his Manhattan townhouse; and of other floral fanatics. Enticing for those smitten with the botanical history of this "sexually suggestive" flower. As for everyone else, there's little or no narrative drive to keep all the facts and mini-narratives flowing. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Susan Orlean

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.

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