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.
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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
"Folding virtue and criminality around profit are 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 expose 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.