Publishers can't get enough of plants that change men's lives – the tulip, the camellia, the nutmeg, the potato. You can go into any bookshop and find a story about some growing thing that has driven men crazy, or made them rich, or turned out to be a panacea to cure a whole nation. Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief belongs to this new, hybrid genre.
This is a book with several themes: people, places and plants. It is a picaresque tale of John Laroche, alias Mr Encyclopedia or Crazy White Man – 'a late-sleeping, heavy-smoking, junk-food eating, law-bending type', with the posture of al dente spaghetti and a liking for life at the edge of