The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean


9 Critic Reviews

Clearly Orlean is most intrigued by autodidact Laroche, not the world he temporarily inhabits, which unfortunately makes for a slim, if engaging, volume.
-Publishers Weekly


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

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About Susan Orlean

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Susan Orlean is a staff writer for The New Yorker and has also written for Outside, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Vogue. She graduated from the University of Michigan and worked as a reporter in Portland, Oregon, and Boston, Massachusetts. Orlean is the author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend. She now lives in New York City and can be reached via the internet at
Published July 20, 2011 by Ballantine Books. 322 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Biographies & Memoirs, Crafts, Hobbies & Home, Political & Social Sciences, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Action & Adventure, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Crime, Travel, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
Peak Rank on Feb 22 2015
Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for The Orchid Thief
All: 9 | Positive: 7 | Negative: 2


Above average
on May 20 2010

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.

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Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Dec 07 2015

Clearly Orlean is most intrigued by autodidact Laroche, not the world he temporarily inhabits, which unfortunately makes for a slim, if engaging, volume.

Read Full Review of The Orchid Thief | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

Entertainment Weekly

Above average
on Jan 15 1999

While she may have figured it out, however, at the end of her journey the reader hasn’t; the portraits in The Orchid Thief are finely drawn and certainly a pleasure to read, but ultimately they don’t lead anywhere. The effect is like standing too close to a pointillist painting.

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Book Buzz

Reviewed by Matt Eyer on Aug 07 2009

It’s a great read — a book showcasing Orlean’s own passion of writing and one I’d recommend to anyone.

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New York Magazine

Above average
Reviewed by Alexandra Lange on Mar 01 2015

Orlean's hilariously reported, discursive narrative wanders off into Seminole history, real-estate fraud, stolen flora, and the scary, swampy Fakahatchee Strand. Just when you fear you're lost in the Everglades, she returns to the flower at hand, and unleashes some delirious prose...

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Brothers Judd

Reviewed by brothersjudd on Sep 06 1999

This is a terrific book, Orlean wisely intersperses her reportage on the mercurial Laroche with the meatier segments on orchids, orchid hunters and other topics and she keeps the book short enough that we're done before our attention flags.

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Inverarity is not a Scottish village

Above average
Reviewed by inverarity on Mar 11 2012

I only skimmed the summary before I picked this book up, so I didn't realize it was non-fiction until I started reading it. I thought it was a crime novel about an orchid thief. In a way, it is, except that John Laroche is a real person, and The Orchid Thief is partly a biography of this intriguing scoundrel...

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She Treads Softly Blog

Reviewed by Lori L on Jan 01 2008

What The Orchid Thief is is an interesting look at obsession and collecting, along with some Florida history, Seminole Tribe background, court cases, and several other topics. I found The Orchid Thief extremely entertaining and I highly recommend it.

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Above average
Reviewed by Emmet on Oct 25 2010

The material is related in a familiar, clear conversational manner, her relationship with Larroche providing an excellent hook for the reader, as well as the nominal quest to find that most rare of flowers, the ghost orchid. Enjoyable and edifying.

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