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The Orchid Thief
 
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The Orchid Thief [Format Kindle]

Susan Orlean

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Orchidelirium is the name the Victorians gave to the flower madness that is for botanical collectors the equivalent of gold fever. Wealthy orchid fanatics of that era sent explorers (heavily armed, more to protect themselves against other orchid seekers than against hostile natives or wild animals) to unmapped territories in search of new varieties of Cattleya and Paphiopedilum. As knowledge of the family Orchidaceae grew to encompass the currently more than 60,000 species and over 100,000 hybrids, orchidelirium might have been expected to go the way of Dutch tulip mania. Yet, as journalist Susan Orlean found out, there still exists a vein of orchid madness strong enough to inspire larceny among collectors.

The Orchid Thief centers on south Florida and John Laroche, a quixotic, charismatic schemer once convicted of attempting to take endangered orchids from the Fakahatchee swamp, a state preserve. Laroche, a horticultural consultant who once ran an extensive nursery for the Seminole tribe, dreams of making a fortune for the Seminoles and himself by cloning the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii. Laroche sums up the obsession that drives him and so many others:

I really have to watch myself, especially around plants. Even now, just being here, I still get that collector feeling. You know what I mean. I'll see something and then suddenly I get that feeling. It's like I can't just have something--I have to have it and learn about it and grow it and sell it and master it and have a million of it.
Even Orlean--so leery of orchid fever that she immediately gives away any plant that's pressed upon her by the growers in Laroche's circle--develops a desire to see a ghost orchid blooming and makes several ultimately unsuccessful treks into the Fakahatchee. Filled with Palm Beach socialites, Native Americans, English peers, smugglers, and naturalists as improbably colorful as the tropical blossoms that inspire them, this is a lyrical, funny, addictively entertaining read. --Barrie Trinkle

Extrait

The Millionaire's Hothouse



John Laroche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome, in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth. He has the posture of al dente spaghetti and the nervous intensity of someone who plays a lot of video games. Laroche is thirty-six years old. Until recently he was employed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, setting up a plant nursery and an orchid-propagation laboratory on the tribe's reservation in Hollywood, Florida.



Laroche strikes many people as eccentric. The Seminoles, for instance, have two nicknames for him: Troublemaker and Crazy White Man. Once, when Laroche was telling me about his childhood, he remarked, "Boy, I sure was a weird little kid." For as long as he can remember he has been exceptionally passionate and driven. When he was about nine or ten, his parents said he could pick out a pet. He decided to get a little turtle. Then he asked for ten more little turtles. Then he decided he wanted to breed the turtles, and then he started selling turtles to other kids, and then he could think of nothing but turtles and then decided that his life wasn't worth living unless he could collect one of every single turtle species known to mankind, including one of those sofa-sized tortoises from the Galapagos. Then, out of the blue, he fell out of love with turtles and fell madly in love with Ice Age fossils. He collected them, sold them, declared that he lived for them, then abandoned them for something else--lapidary I think--then he abandoned lapidary and became obsessed with collecting and resilvering old mirrors. Laroche's passions arrived unannounced and ended explosively, like car bombs. When I first met him he lusted only for orchids, especially the wild orchids growing in Florida's Fakahatchee Strand. I spent most of the next two years hanging around with him, and at the end of those two years he had gotten rid of every single orchid he owned and swore that he would never own another orchid for as long as he lived. He is usually true to his word. Years ago, between his Ice Age fossils and his old mirrors, he went through a tropical-fish phase. At its peak, he had more than sixty fish tanks in his house and went skin-diving regularly to collect fish. Then the end came. He didn't gradually lose interest: he renounced fish and vowed he would never again collect them and, for that matter, he would never set foot in the ocean again. That was seventeen years ago. He has lived his whole life only a couple of feet west of the Atlantic, but he has not dipped a toe in it since then.



Laroche tends to sound like a Mr. Encyclopedia, but he did not have a rigorous formal education. He went to public school in North Miami; other than that, he is self-taught. Once in a while he gets wistful about the life he thinks he would have led if he had applied himself more conventionally. He believes he would have probably become a brain surgeon and that he would have made major brain-research breakthroughs and become rich and famous. Instead, he lives in a frayed Florida bungalow with his father and has always scratched out a living in unaverage ways. One of his greatest assets is optimism--that is, he sees a profitable outcome in practically every life situation, including disastrous ones. Years ago he spilled toxic pesticide into a cut on his hand and suffered permanent heart and liver damage from it. In his opinion, it was all for the best because he was able to sell an article about the experience ("Would You Die for Your Plants?") to a gardening journal. When I first met him, he was working on a guide to growing plants at home. He told me he was going to advertise it in High Times, the marijuana magazine. He said the ad wouldn't mention that marijuana plants grown according to his guide would never mature and therefore never be psychoactive. The guide was one of his all-time favorite projects. The way he saw it, he was going to make lots of money on it (always excellent) plus he would be encouraging kids to grow plants (very righteous) plus the missing information in the guide would keep these kids from getting stoned because the plants they would grow would be impotent (incalculably noble). This last fact was the aspect of the project he was proudest of, because he believed that once kids who bought the guide realized they'd wasted their money trying to do something illegal--namely, grow and smoke pot--they would also realize, thanks to John Laroche, that crime doesn't pay. Schemes like these, folding virtue and criminality around profit, are Laroche's specialty. Just when you have finally concluded that he is a run-of-the-mill crook, he unveils an ulterior and somewhat principled but always lucrative reason for his crookedness. He likes to describe himself as a shrewd bastard. He loves doing things the hard way, especially if it means that he gets to do what he wants to do but also gets to leave everyone else wondering how he managed to get away with it. He is quite an unusual person. He is also the most moral amoral person I've ever known.




I met John Laroche for the first time a few years ago, at the Collier County Courthouse in Naples, Florida. I was in Florida at the time because I had read a newspaper article reporting that a white man--Laroche--and three Seminole men had been arrested with rare orchids they had stolen out of a Florida swamp called the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, and I wanted to know more about the incident. The newspaper story was short but alluring. It described the Fakahatchee as a wild swamp near Naples filled with exceptional plants and trees, including some that don't grow anywhere else in the United States and some that grow nowhere else in the world. All wild orchids are now considered endangered, and it is illegal to take them out of the woods anywhere, and particularly out of a state property like the Fakahatchee. According to the newspaper, Laroche was the ringleader of the poachers. He provided the arresting officers with the proper botanical varietal names for all the stolen plants and explained that the plants were bound for a laboratory where they were going to be cloned by the millions and then sold to orchid collectors around the world.



I read lots of local newspapers and particularly the shortest articles in them, and most particularly any articles that are full of words in combinations that are arresting. In the case of the orchid story I was interested to see the words "swamp" and "orchids" and "Seminoles" and "cloning" and "criminal" together in one short piece. Sometimes this kind of story turns out to be something more, some glimpse of life that expands like those Japanese paper balls you drop in water and then after a moment they bloom into flowers, and the flower is so marvelous that you can't believe there was a time when all you saw in front of you was a paper ball and a glass of water. The judge in the Seminole orchid case had scheduled a hearing a few weeks after I read the article, so I arranged to go down to Naples to see if this ball of paper might bloom.



It was the dead center of winter when I left New York; in Naples it was warm and gummy, and from my plane I could see thick thunderclouds trolling along the edge of the sky. I checked into a big hotel on the beach, and that evening I stood on my balcony and watched the storm explode over the water. The hearing was the next morning at nine. As I pulled out of the hotel garage the parking attendant warned me to drive carefully. "See, in Naples you got to be careful," he said, leaning in my window. He smelled like daiquiris. It was probably suntan lotion. "When it rains here," he added, "cars start to fly." There are more golf courses per person in Naples than anywhere else in the world, and in spite of the hot, angry weather everyone around the hotel was dressed to play, their cleated shoes tapping out a clickety-clickety-clickety tattoo on the sidewalks.



The courthouse was a few miles south of town in a fresh-looking building made of bleached stone pocked with fossilized seashells. When I arrived, there were a few people inside, nobody talking to anybody, no sounds except for the creaking of the wooden benches and the sound of some guy in the front row gunning his throat. After a moment I recognized Laroche from the newspaper picture I'd seen. He was not especially dressed up for court. He was wearing wraparound Mylar sunglasses, a polyblend shirt printed with some sort of scenic design, a Miami Hurricanes baseball cap, and worn-out grayish trousers that sagged around his rear. He looked as if he wanted a cigarette. He was starting to stand up when the judge came in and settled in her chair; he sat down and looked cross. The prosecutor then rose and read the state's charges--that on December 21, 1994, Laroche and his three Seminole assistants had illegally removed more than two hundred rare orchid and bromeliad plants from the Fakahatchee and were apprehended leaving the swamp in possession of four cotton pillowcases full of flowers. They were accused of criminal possession of endangered species and of illegally removing plant life from state property, both of which are punishable by jail time and fines.



The judge listened with a blank expression, and when the prosecutor finished she called Laroche to testify. He made a racket getting up from his seat and then sauntered to the center of the courtroom with his head cocked toward the judge and his thumbs hooked in his belt loops. The judge squinted at him and told him to state his name and address and to describe his expertise with plants. Laroche jiggled his foot and shrugged. "Well, Your Honor," he said, "I'm a horticultural consultant. I've been a professional horticulturist for approximately twelve years and I've owned a plant nursery with a number of plants of great commercial and ethnobiological value. I have very extensive experience with orchids and with the ase...

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 381 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 368 pages
  • Editeur : Vintage Digital; Édition : New Ed (15 juillet 2009)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0031RSAG0
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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Amazon.com: 3.7 étoiles sur 5  224 commentaires
94 internautes sur 97 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 An engaging PEEK... 27 janvier 2000
Par DAMwriter - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
First, a few caveats (it's always best to be up-front about ones biases and assumptions): 1) I haven't read Ms. Orlean's 'New Yorker' article, so I have no basis of comparison between it and this book. 2) I have never lived in South Florida, and have only visited Miami Beach twice, so my ability to say what is "true" about Florida's history and culture is somewhat limited and I won't even bother to attempt to verify any of Ms. Orlean's assertions. Fact - or slightly modified fact - I don't know...
That being said, this book is a very enjoyable, engaging read. No, it does not have a particularly suspenseful or intriguing STORYline, especially if what you're looking for is an amazing-but-true mystery with high drama and a surprise ending. The author says, from the beginning, that she can only deal in the facts of the case - if she wants to keep this a non-fiction book, she's limited by real events. What she does, very successfully, however, is reveal the fascinating world of obsession and collecting - in this case, for a particular form of plant.
And she does this with amazing ease and grace. Like her guides in the swamps, Ms. Orlean takes us through lessons in history, evolution, geology and botany - subjects which could be incredibly dry in someone else's hands - and connects them neatly with her incredible descriptions of current orchid mania - the characters, the controversies, and the competition. Her ability to make those connections allows the reader to take a step further, and make their own, outside of what she has written. I constantly found myself saying, "Oh my, that's the (explorer/patron/flower) that (did this/went there/made that)." Personally, I love that - the making of connections, between what the author shows and the reader already knows. That's when you get grabbed by what you're reading.
And, again, the author's style is very engaging. Sure, she may repeat a fact once in a while, but that's only to reinforce the information she's given you about a set of fairly complex subjects - at least for the average reader (me). She takes you through her history lessons and personal experiences with arch wit and subtle humor (quote - somewhat bastardized: "I hate being in a swamp with machete-wielding convicts.") Some prefer anonymous journalism; Ms. Orlean injects her own experiences and thoughts into the story with a complete rejection of false objectivity; she's there, she's experiencing this, and the story is as much about her own voyage as anyone else's.
Bottom-line? A very enjoyable book. Take it for what it is - I don't think the author has served it to us with any pretenses, so we shouldn't take it that way.
112 internautes sur 118 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An original, quirky and entertaining book. 1 janvier 2003
Par E. Bukowsky - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief" is an intriguing look at people who are obsessed with collecting orchids. Originally, Ms. Orlean's main focus was to write a profile of John Laroche in "The New Yorker" magazine. Laroche is an offbeat character who spent a great deal of time and money amassing a huge orchid collection. When Laroche banded together with a group of Seminole Indians to steal orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand, a 63,000-acre preserve in southwest Florida, he was arrested and tried for his crime.

Orlean eventually expanded her article on Laroche into this book. She widened the scope of her research and came up with many interesting tidbits about orchids and those who collect them. For example, I learned that orchids often outlive human beings. In fact, orchids can theoretically live forever, since they have no natural enemies. Some orchid owners designate a person as an "orchid heir" in their wills, since the owners expect that their precious orchids will outlive them.

The author has a delicious sense of wonder, a beautiful and lyrical writing style, and an eye for fascinating details. She has the ability to place the reader in the middle of a swamp, at an orchid show, or on an expedition into the wilds of South America. Not only does Orlean provide the reader with little known facts about orchids, but she also explores some of the oddities of human nature. What causes people to become so passionate about collecting orchids that they risk their fortunes or even their lives to acquire rare species of this coveted plant? When does a passion for collecting orchids become an unhealthy obsession?

If you are tired of reading formulaic novels, you may want to join Susan Orlean on her exciting and memorable journey into the world of orchid collecting. You do not have to be a plant lover, a gardener or a botanist to enjoy "The Orchid Thief."
54 internautes sur 58 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Flower Power 25 août 2002
Par sweetmolly - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
"The Orchid Thief" is an expansion of an article written for "The New Yorker." It is well worth your while to read the book. The author enlarges on the history of collecting orchids, orchid hunters, and the flower itself. She is to be commended for her research on all and the Seminole Indians as well. Did you know the Seminoles are technically still at war with the United States? They are the only tribe that never signed a treaty.
The title character, John LaRoche is almost-but-not-quite worth the focus he receives. He has a quirky mindset, an enthusiasm that is catching; but his total self-absorption gets tiresome. His knowledge and keenness for the art and science of plants is entertaining. But hey, the guy is a small time crook, a trail of unrealized dreams, and a very poor friend. In spite of many denials, I think Susan had more than a mild crush on him; why else put up with all his inconsiderate nonsense?
The description of the various orchids is masterful, (How I wished for color plates!) and Susan was vivid in all interior and exterior moods in her depiction of Florida. So much so, I would state southern Florida is the underlying theme of the book. Her experiences and bravery in the beastly Fakahatchee Swamp, home of many wild orchids, are dramatic. Plunging into brackish water up to the waist, and having to toe around for submerged alligators on the squishy bottom is not for the faint of heart.
Part of the enjoyment of this fine non-fictional work is the very likeable Susan herself. She tends to be shy, hates the heat, is homesick, tired of driving all over, fears the swamp, but she persists. The end result is well worth her efforts.
35 internautes sur 36 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 The controversy swirls on...still a good read 21 octobre 1999
Par Dee Dixon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Susan Orlean has really done it this time. She has written a book about, "passion itself, and the amazing lengths to which people will go to gratify it." Is it any wonder that her readers feel so passionately about this book. Many orchid experts find fault with the book's facts and criticize the lack of passion for orchids from Ms. Orlean while lovers of a good story and that crazy world known as south Florida rave about it. For my part, I enjoyed reading the Orchid Thief. It reads like a novel, so while I did notice a horticultural error or two myself, I was not reading it as a reference book, but for entertainment. I didn't find it to be quite the page turner I was expecting, but the characters are memorable, the stories are interesting and Ms. Orlean's writing is a pleasure. I am an amazon.com associate.
22 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Some times you feel like a nut......... 24 novembre 1999
Par Laura Brown - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This book is about the orchid growing scene in Florida and goes on at length about smuggling of native plants from the local preserve as well as around the world, the big orchid shows held there, the feuds between the prominent growers in the area and the generally wacky demeanor of the various colorful characters involved in the activities of orchid "society" in this suspiciously hot and humid local.
If you have ever belonged to a specialty horticutural society and questioned your sanity when caught up in the thrall of your favorite plant, this book will make you feel like the very picture of placid normalcy when compared to orchid growers.
Humorous, and a quick read, I recommend this book to all those plant persons who are not afraid of seeing perhaps the tiniest fragment of themselves reflected in the fascinatingly consumed characters portrayed in this book.
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