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 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Susan Orlean writes like a dream. The Orchid Thief is a horticultural page-turner, quite possibly the first of its kind. But even if you couldn't care less about orchids, Orlean's tale stands as a riveting dissection of the collector's obsession, and the peculiar state of mind and nature that is contemporary Florida."
Between hardcovers, nobody but Carl Hiaasen can talk Florida to me the way Susan Orlean has in The Orchid Thief, which so richly captures the Sunshine State's bizarre personality, its fevered optimism, its hurricane whims of passion, the hard heat of those not always legal dreams that have made its citizens notorious. Orlean has crafted a classic tale of tropic desire, steamy and fragrant and smart and entertaining."
The Orchid Thief is the finest piece of nonfiction I've read in years: characters so juicy and wonderfully weird they might have stepped out of a novel, except these people are real. The Orchid Thief is everything we expect from the very best literature. It opens our eyes to an extraordinary new universe and stirs our passion for the people who populate the world. Susan Orlean is a writer of immense talent. I would follow her anywhere."
--James W. Hall
Hot orchids are the starting point of Susan Orlean's account of plants and people obsessed with them in the weird world that is south Florida. Along the way, she meets Seminoles, alligators, and a variety of crazy white men. The Orchid Thief provides further, compelling evidence that truth is stranger than fiction. In this case it makes most entertaining reading."
Susan Orlean's prose is always lucid, lyrical, and deceptively comfortable, but with The Orchid Thief, she's in danger of launching a national epidemic of orchid mania. The passion is infectious and addictive."
From the Hardcover edition.
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