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Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, [Paperback]

Donovan Hohn
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (28 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143120506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120506
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.1 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,060,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Moby-Duck A revelatory tale of science, adventure, and modern myth, "Moby-Duck" 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 after them. Full description

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Kali
This is a book that follows the journey of plastic ducks, turtles, frogs and beavers after the container they are in falls overboard and breaks open on impact with the sea. Moby Duck is fact that reads as good as fiction. The Author doesn't only traverse the world of escapee plastic toys but meanders his way through a factory in China that makes bath toys, gets on a ship that is on research mission even though he has a fear of open water and even ends in Alaska where the first plastic duck was found.

This is a great read, for anyone who likes a quirky book that tells a true story with wit, charm and gentle humour. Moby Dick is never far away in this book, only he has been transformed into Moby Duck, "and the True Story of the 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them."

THE JOURNEY SO FAR: (Taken from the Daily Mail 2007)

10 JANUARY 1992: Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean nearly 29,000 First Years bath toys, including bright yellow rubber ducks, are spilled from a cargo ship in the Pacific Ocean.

16 NOVEMBER 1992: Caught in the Subpolar Gyre (counter-clockwise ocean current in the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Siberia), the ducks take 10 months to begin landing on the shores of Alaska.
EARLY 1995: The ducks take three years to circle around. East from the drop site to Alaska, then west and south to Japan before turning back north and east passing the original drop site and again landing in North America. Some ducks are even found In Hawaii. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) worked out that the ducks travel approximately 50 per pent faster than the water in the current.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly talk and little Quack 2 April 2012
"Little boys, the thinking went, were naturally indisposed to bathing. Bath toys not only made hygiene boyishly fun; they helped over come the naughty urges that bathing tended to arouse: 'The baby will not spend much time handling his genitals if he has other interesting things to do,' one government-issue child-care manual advised in 1942. 'See to it that he has a toy to play with and he will not need to use his body as a plaything.' Enter the rubber duck." - from MOBY-DUCK

When reviewing a book, I normally don't bother with its subtitle. However, in the case of MOBY-DUCK by Donovan Hohn, I must: THE TRUE STORY OF 28,800 BATH TOYS LOST AT SEA AND THE BEACHCOMBERS, OCEANOGRAPHERS, ENVIRONMENTALISTS, AND FOOLS, INCLUDING THE AUTHOR, WHO WENT IN SEARCH OF THEM.


The book's front cover artwork shows three cute, yellow, plastic duckies riding the waves of the open sea. That, with the subtitle, strongly suggests the text will tell the story of a whimsical, perhaps quixotic, quest by a multi-disciplinary force to rescue the cute bath toys from some awful oblivion.

The story starts promisingly enough when Hohn indeed tells us that 28,800 bath toys - 7,200 each of red beavers, green frogs, blue turtles and yellow ducks - washed overboard into the Northern Pacific from the container ship "Ever Laurel" on January 10, 1992. The author learned of the story in 2005, and thus began his nearly three-year obsession with the subject.

MOBY-DUCK is divided into six "chases", the first being the author's personal attempt to find any of the toys washed ashore along Alaska's Inside Passage. Fair enough.
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5.0 out of 5 stars good read 31 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
gave to a freind of mine who found it very interesting and it has handy diagrams of sea flows as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Toy story heroes 4 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a title - and what an amazing story. All credit to the author for tackling such an intriguing story. I'd like one of those ducks in MY bath.
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  92 reviews
60 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended 24 Mar 2011
By Sean Dague - Published on Amazon.com
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.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Eclectic Tale, but Caught in Its Own Eddy in the End 6 Sep 2011
By H. Laack - Published on Amazon.com
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.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MacGuffins in Nonfiction 5 Jan 2012
By Ohioan - Published on Amazon.com
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. While I like many of his observations, particularly the ones he relates to American literature such as Moby Dick, the fact is that I as a reader am not there for these observations. I'm there for the ducks, of which we get precious little.

To bend over backward and be ultra-fair to the author, I will say that even if I had never expected this book to be about the rubber duckies, and had always expected it to be the observations and ramblings of the author, I would still give it three stars. It's just not that interesting. Yes, the oceans and the currents and ecology and the horrible use of the oceans as a dumping grounds for trash, all of these are serious concerns. But the way the author presents them, they seem like ramblings, not like analysis and not like a call to action. I was disappointed.
42 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A delightful, and far-ranging, read 25 Mar 2011
By Stephen Foster - Published on Amazon.com
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. Hohn opens the next paragraph discussing the Stockholm Syndrome, and how people tend to sympathize with the people they're with, but the rest of the paragraph is a description of the Unegkurmiut people, how utterly central the spruce trees were to their existence, and how future archeologists would curse the cleanup crew with the same breath used to curse Schliemann if their ATVs dragged garbage through the area. Sly.

Right now he's addressing his lifelong fear of water after watching "Jaws" at summer camp, and wondering if he has not somehow transmitted his fear into his young son by telepathy. At the same time he's also describing the run-in he's having with a certain recently-famous Alaskan governor, who vetoed funding for beach cleanup on State land because ... well, Alaska didn't PRODUCE the garbage, so it's not responsible for it...]

None of the other reviewers mention, but Hohn is also a genuine lover of words. Shortly after he boards a ferry for Alaska, we get: "I stand at the taffrail and think to myself 'taffrail,' enjoying the reunion of a thing and its word." That occurs on page 51, and I immediately relaxed into the book and literally put my feet up, secure that I was in the hands of a fellow-spirit.

Of course the story isn't about rubber duckies: the ducks are simply the fulcrum he places his lever on, the MacGuffin. He brings himself along as well: far better than dispassionate, invisible observer, he slips just a little of himself into the story, somewhat like John McPhee in The Control of Nature standing on a vibrating lava tube, looking down a hole onto the red flow itself, and admitting a fear-thrill a clear order of magnitude greater than any other in his life.

Hohn knows his science, but doesn't lord it over us; you get the sense of discovering things along with him. But perhaps the greatest joy of the book is how much a student of human nature he is. He's the sort of person who sits in a railway carriage and actually looks at the other people present, observes them, converses with them out of interest. I don't care who you are: you will learn plenty, reading this book.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Rubber Duckie 3 July 2011
By Dr. Wilson Trivino - Published on Amazon.com
Can one story capture the heart and imagination of a high school teacher? In Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcomers, Oceanographers, Environmentalist, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went In Search of Them by Donovan Hohn he chronicles one that just did.

On January, 10 1992, a freighter en route to Tacoma from Hong Kong encountered a storm in the North Pacific. As the massive ship lurched through three-story waves, its cargo, some of it lashed above deck in 20 foot long shipping containers, toppled overboard. Among the mission items: 28,800 plastic bath toys.

One toy being the popular rubber yellow duck, as made famous by the 70s television show puppet character Ernie belted out the song "my rubber ducky".
As these ducks (and beavers, frogs, and turtles) washed on shore around the world, Donovan, a high school teacher, went on a quest to find out the story behind the headline. His adventure turns into a near obsession Don Quixote journey.

This quest took him to the Chinese factories where these plastic critters were stamped then on onto a ride onboard a container ship to the actual site of the storm and countless boat rides to find the duck residue.
With humor, candor, and humility Donovan overcomes his fears as he weaves a thread on the environmental impact of one simple pleasure: a rubber ducky. [...]

Fast pace and told in rich detail, Donovan quest makes you more aware of the unintended consequence of our consumer western world wants and how small the world really is.

In the end, his adventure brings awareness of the frailty of the planet and how his expedition was more about preserving the world's environment for his son's future than finding out what happen to those darn ducks.
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