The Orchid Thief

Version: Unabridged
Author: Susan Orlean
Narrator: Jennifer Jay Myers
Genres: Biography & Memoir
Publisher: Random House (Audio)
Published In: October 2002
# of Units: 8 CDs
Length: 9 hours
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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 Amer-ican 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 seven hundred 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 one of our most original journalists.

Reviews (5)

The Orchid Thief

Written by nab6215 from Altoona, PA on May 21st, 2017

  • Book Rating: 5/5

This book is more than it appears. It is a story about the obsession of one man, but Susan Orlean sneaks in the history of collecting orchids, the ecological history of Florida, a brief history of the Seminoles in Florida, and a smattering of mini-biographies in Florida's botanical world. She puts her heart into the book and her funny bone. This is a great read.

Languid Tale, Loopy Narration

Written by Michael Cala on April 24th, 2009

  • Book Rating: 2/5

First off, "Orchid Fever," which treats orchidomania in a similar fashion, is less draggy and repetitive than this otherwise informative book -- especially as it pertains to the tedious repetition of Latinate names or details of Floridian woodland and bog. What really sent me over the edge, however, was the narration: Jennifer Jay Myers, whose only SA performance this is, inflects sentences -- especially those expressing surprise or climax, or slangy constructions (e.g., "He was one creepy dude.") -- in loopy and annoying Midwestern teenager-ese (Think 1950s "Golly-gee-wow, Mom!"). Many were the times I wanted to pull the car over and...oh, never mind.

Primarily for Orchid Fans

Written by Peggy Stortz on August 7th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 3/5

Orlean succeeds in painting a fascinating picture of John Laroche. She is just superb in bringing her characters to life on the page, but the great majority of her book is devoted to information on orchids and orchid growers. Unless you are very interested in orchids, I would recommend that you just see this movie.

A Sweaty Swampy Hoot

Written by Katya from San Diego, CA on January 18th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 4/5

This highly original true story could be called Beauty and the Beast. Take a sophisticated female writer for the New Yorker magazine and add one weird dude copping illegal orchids in a government-protected Florida swamp and you have this book. It could also be titled 'Raiders of the Lost Ghost Orchid.' Writer Susan Orlean finds the uber plant man, John Laroche, a fascinating puzzle and slowly she becomes almost addicted to his high manic energy. In the end she claims all she wants from this life to to be able to care as much about something as flower fanatics do. She searches one more time in the muggy root-snarled swamp for the ever elusive Ghost Orchid and finds that she doesn't care QUITE as much as she had hoped. The audiobook is engrossing but longish. The 2006 movie was okay (it did tack on a ridiculous ending) but I liked hearing the author read her own words.

Orchid Thief

Written by Anonymous on August 18th, 2006

  • Book Rating: 5/5

An absolutely fascinating history of many aspects of Florida including land speculation and orchid growing. If you haven't seen the movie based on this book called "Adaptation" be sure to see it.

Author Details

Author Details

Orlean, Susan

SUSAN ORLEAN, a staff writer at "The New Yorker", is the author of four books, including "The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People."