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Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea & of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists & Fools Including the Author Who Went in Search of Them Paperback – February 28, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143120506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120506
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Whimsical curiosity begets a quixotic odyssey and troubling revelations about plastics polluting the seas in former high school teacher and journalist Hohn's charming account of what he learned searching for 28,800 rubber bath toys lost at sea in 1992. His curiosity, prompted by a student's quirky essay, begins in 2005 around Sitka, Alaska, where yellow "duckies," frogs, turtles, and beavers washed up after three-story waves buffeted a container ship traveling from China to America. Hohn, a senior editor at Harper's magazine, eventually tracks more rogue ducks bobbing up from isolated Gore Point, Alaska, to Maine beaches. The author's quest leads him to a research vessel trawling for degraded plastic in Hawaiian seas, to the Chinese factory where the toys were manufactured, aboard a container vessel traversing the same route as the original ship (a particularly hair-raising section), and finally to the high Arctic to study the science of oceanic drift. Packed with seafaring lore and astute reporting, this enthralling narrative is the Moby Dick of drifting ducks. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Like Bill Bryson on hard science, or John McPhee with attitude, journalist Hohn travels from beaches to factories to the northern seas in pursuit of a treasure that mystifies as much as it provokes. His quest is to determine what happened to a load of 28,800 Chinese manufactured plastic animals in a container that fell off a ship en route to Seattle in 1992. Hohn’s inquiry leads him to 10 Little Rubber Ducks (2005), children’s author Eric Carle’s idealized board-book version, and also to the plastic-strewn beaches of an Alaskan island, a Hong Kong toy fair, and the Sesame Street origins of the rubber duck’s popularity. By turns thoughtful, bemused, or shocked, Hohn finds the story growing beyond his wildest visions as he learns about the science of ocean currents and drift and the lure of cheap plastic in a consumer culture that has dangerously lost its way. The resulting book is a thoroughly engaging environmental/travel title that crosses partisan divides with its solid research and apolitical nature. Rubber ducks as harmless, ubiquitous symbols of childhood? Not anymore, not by a long shot. This dazzles from start to finish. --Colleen Mondor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Donovan Hohn's work has appeared in Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Outside, Agni, and The Best Creative Nonfiction, among other publications. He is the recipient of the Whiting Writers' Award and a Creative Writing Fellowship from the NEA. Moby-Duck, a national bestseller, was runner up for both the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Nonfiction Award and the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, as well as a finalist for the New York Public Library's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. At the time he began work on Moby-Duck, Hohn was teaching high school English. Before teaching high school English, he'd earned his living writing and editing for magazines. Since finishing Moby-Duck he has been, in the following order, senior editor of Harper's Magazine, features editor of GQ, and a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. After moving to Michigan, he and his family decided to stay. Hohn now teaches creative writing at Wayne State University in Detroit and is working on a second book.

Customer Reviews

Life is too short to waste your time reading this book.
Nancy L. Jensen
Unfortunately the book is larded with dilatory rambles into the author's personal life and character sketches of some not very interesting people.
Ronald Johnson
There is a passage in the book where Hohn begins each sentence with the word 'that'.
skigypsy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Sean Dague on March 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A couple weeks ago I went to a lecture by the author of Moby Duck, Donovan Hohn. I was interested in this because of a story that I remember reading a few years ago. The story was about a flotilla of 1000 ghost rubber ducks, bleached by the sun, about to invade the coast of the UK.

That story turns out to have been false, part of the growing myth surrounding the Friendly Floatees. Much like the white whale, a figment of the collective imagination.

This book tells the story, as best can be reconstructed, of these toys. They weren't made of rubber, and the ducks only accounted for 1/4 of the toys (lost in the creating of the myths were the turtles, frogs, and beavers).

The story is incredible. In an attempt to find the full lifecycle of these toys Hohn goes up and down the Alaskan coast looking for the toys cast upon the rugged north Pacific beaches. He goes to sea, many times, including joining scientific expeditions looking at the plastic content of the Pacific, meso scale currents in the North Atlantic, and crossing the North West Passage (now possible due to a rise of 5 degrees C at the poles) all exploring the possible tracks these toys could have taken. He even goes to China to find the birth place of these toys, and crosses the Pacific on a container ship not unlike the one the Floatees fell off of.

His style is very much like that of Bill Bryson, though his mind drifts and wanders in a really interesting way that gives you a sense of the drifting and wandering of these toys at sea. It's an incredible lens to look at our Oceans, a largely unexplored part of our earth, the impact we are having on them, as well as the dangers that still lie out to sea.

Highly recommended.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By H. Laack VINE VOICE on September 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This was a fascinating summer read, providing details on shipping, on Alaska beachcombers, on the Woods Hole MA oceanography work, even on toy making in China and some fascinating Sesame Street trivia. In the end, however, I can't bring myself quite to go above three stars in the rating. The author's quest to track a wayward shipment of plastic bath toys was an interesting one but, when he reaches the point where it appears the East Coast sightings that started his journey were false, he doesn't quite know how to wrap things up. The last pages were not necessarily dull; they just don't really fit in this story. Better that he might have taken this portion of the account and spun it off as a long Atlantic or similar magazine piece.

I was a little surprised to see that there are high school teachers who are assigning this book. While it was an enjoyable read overall, it does seem like something to dip into a little bit, skimming here and there and getting more involved in other sections. Somehow, the thought of having to somehow read and report on this as a specific assignment would make the book more difficult to take too.

For those of us who enjoy reading a broad span of nonfiction, this is a good but not outstanding choice. Maybe make it a beach book, with the plan to skim through areas of less interest than others.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Ohioan on January 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In fiction, particularly in film, a MacGuffin is a plot element which seems to drive the plot forward (a rare diamond, perhaps, because the main characters are chasing after it); but in reality, the MacGuffin used to get the reader into the story loses its importance as the story goes on, because the story is really about deeper, more meaningful concepts: love, glory, sacrifice, truth, and so on. Alfred Hitchcock is credited with making the concept of this mechanical plot device popular. In fiction.

With Moby-Duck, we enter the world of nonfiction. Here, a reader's expectations (at least my expectations) are different. If the author is writing about the Abominable Snowman, for example, he or she had better stay focused on and provide a lot of information on and insight into the topic. Or, he or she should make it clear up front that the book is not really about the Abominable Snowman at all: it's just a collection of thoughts. Some abominable, some not.

The subtitle of Moby-Duck, printed large on the front cover, is: "The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them."

Well, that is simply not what the book delivers. First of all, none of the beachcombers, oceanographers, or environmentalists mentioned in this book went in search of the bath toys. No. They were all doing something else, and the author bummed along on the trip so that he could search for the bath toys. Second of all, this is NOT the story of the bath toys lost at sea. That's what it promises to be, but it isn't. Instead, it is 400-plus pages of the thoughts and observations of the author, Donovan Hohn.
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42 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Foster VINE VOICE on March 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Donovan Hohn is new to me, and immediately joins the very small set of writers (John McPhee, Adam Nicholson, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian Frazier...) that merit an "automatic buy" of any non-fiction they write, literally even if the title be: "Toe-Jam."

[Update: I still haven't finished this book, having elevated it all the way to bathroom book, to prolong it longer: 20 minutes per day is a lovely dose. I'm realizing the author is more sly than he presents himself, but at this point I'm willing to forgive him anything.

But sly? At one point, a team he's with want to use ATVs to move several tons of collected plastic garbage across a wild, beautiful Alaskan isthmus so that it can be safely removed by boat. They're forbidden because archeologists complain that the ATVs might damage spruce trees that were "culturally-modified" by the ancient Unegkurmiut people. The team members rant on about how Spotted-Owl-ridiculous this all is, and make jokes about doing some "cultural modification" of trees using their chainsaws.
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