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Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 bath Toys Lost at Sea [Hardcover]

Donovan Hohn
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Feb 2012

When Donovan Hohn first heard the remarkable story of how 28,904 bath toys spilled into the Pacific en route to the US from China and have been washing up along beaches throughout the world ever since, he decided to find out more and assumed he would interview a few oceanographers, talk to some beachcombers and read up on Arctic science and geography. ‘But questions can be like ocean currents: wade in too far, and they carry you away.’

Setting out on a series of journeys to track the renegade rubber ducks, Moby-Duck is an adventure into the heart of the sea through science, myth, the global economy and some of the worst weather imaginable, and the riveting story of an accidental odyssey which pulled Hohn into the secretive world of shipping conglomerates, the daring terrain of Arctic researchers, the lunatic risks of maverick sailors, and the shadowy domain of Chinese toy factories.

With each new discovery, Hohn learns of another loose thread, and with each successive chase he comes closer to understanding where his castaway quarry comes from (and where it is heading…). In the grand tradition of Tony Horwitz and David Quammen, Moby-Duck is a compulsively readable narrative of whimsy and curiosity for anyone who is interested in obsession, travel, plastic, and that great American novel, Moby-Dick.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Union Books (1 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908526009
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908526007
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 301,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'at its core this is a fascinating story and Hohn makes a rare sucess of the difficult task of finding genuine human interest in the issue of global pollution'

(New Statesman)

'a whimsical eco-expedition'

(The Guardian)

'fine, well-written travelogue'

(The Spectator)

'humorous account...a sobering reflection'

(We Love This Book)

'a quixotic adventure around the world'

(Horatia Harrod The Daily Telegraph)

'a troubled philosophical consideration of man's relationship with the artifical and the natural...the journey is extraordinary'


"Hohn...proves to be a beguiling companion"

(The Mail on Sunday)

'part adventure, part travelogue...a quirky account becomes a wider story of environmental damage'

(Culture, The Sunday Times)

'he conjures a truly terrifying vision'

(Seven, Sunday Telegraph)

'Hohn's immersive investigation into the environmental, political and economic story behind this reads like a great seafarer's adventure.'

(Seven, Sunday Telegraph)

About the Author

Donovan Hohn is a journalist whose work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Outside and the Best Creative Nonfiction. The recipient of Whiting Writers’ Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship, he is currently a senior editor at Harper’s. He lives in New York with his wife and children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The big book of obsession... 28 Feb 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was sat in my car stuck in a late night traffic jam listening to BBC R4 when an interview with an author about his book on the loss of a container full of bath toys at sea came on. As the interview progressed, the more fascinating it became. The obvious enthusiasm and sense of self deprecating humour of the author shone through and his sense of the initial ridiculousness of the tale made me feel like going out to buy and read the book, which was of course Moby Duck.

What you get with this book is as described in the product description. It starts out with the comic idea of a container load of bath toys being lost at sea, bobbing about, and turning up in various locations and an author intrigued by the story. But it very quickly becomes more than that. Rather like a Dave Gorman series, as the story develops it takes on a life of its own and each twist and turn really does lead to other questions, which lead to others, and becomes a bit of an obsession as each lead is tracked down.

It would have been easy to write a short lightweight comedic piece and left it at that. However, within the subtext of the book, Hohn has explored the nature of human interaction with the planet and of human nature itself. There is a potential for the book to become overly weighty and bogged down in detail but it doesn't. There were a couple of areas where I had to reread to get the full import of where Hohn was going but it didn't detract from the flow of the book. This could be due to Hohn's experience as an editor.

I found this to be a thoughtful and engaging read and would recommend it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A diary of an obsession 20 Mar 2012
By Clockwatch VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A diary of an obsession
When he first heard about the container of bath toys lost overboard in the middle of the Pacific ocean Donovan Hohn thought with a bit of research he could write up the story as a "more detailed and whimsical account". I think that that book was what I was expecting to read. A light weight humorous story, with photos and a few maps. What Hohn ended up writing was a great sweeping adventure story encompassing the lost container along with everything else he learned along the way. There is a lot packed into this book. At the beginning Hohn states he has always wanted to be an "archaeologist of the ordinary", and it is an ordinary every day event, a container getting swept of a ship in the middle of the ocean, that he examines here in the tiniest detail. He is a good writer, a good journalist, and a good editor, so the book never gets bogged down in the obsession, and manages to stay interesting.

But, despite the book's spread and depth, I still found I wanted more. There are no photos in the book, not even of the bath toys. No photos of the eccentric main players in the story, no photos of the famous north pacific garbage patch for example. However with a bit of Googling I have found that Donovan Hohn has a website, with hundreds of photos, taken on his adventure, and organised to correspond to each of the book's chapters. Perhaps the publishers should put a sticker on the book directing readers to the website, as for me the lack of photos made this book a 4 star read.
Other than this, a better adventure story would be hard to find.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but over long 10 Oct 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I heard the author on radio four and he was very engaging - the book is too, but it is also very long and filled with all sorts of fascinating information but just a bit much to wade through. I could have done with some assertive editing. However, despite that - it is well worth picking up - even if you end up reading it in stages as I did. How much you enjoy it will depend upon how much you like the author being very much a part of the story - Hohn is very "there". I quite like that but I know others be be more in the "shut up and write" camp.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and detailed book 23 April 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If a book is supposed to be a true story I like it to be factual. Some reviewers have criticised it for being to detailed in this respect but that is exactly what I liked about it and thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating! 24 Oct 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating, well written book which combines true story, travel, science, a bit of biography and lots of literary references. The author was once a school teacher and I think this comes across, certainly in the fact that he is obviously well educated and also because of the literary references used throughout the book - I took this to be partly a nod to his previous career. The link to Moby Dick throughout is very clever, but I liked the references to Winnie the Pooh just as much!

There is so much I liked about this book, I was quite sad to get to the end, although sometimes the science content was a bit tough going. What a fascinating journey the author has taken to uncover more of the story of the rubber ducks! I was horrified by the sheer scale of rubbish collected on the very rural beaches of Alaska and the descriptions of the garbage patch at sea are frankly shocking, as is the thought of degraded plastic particles potentially becoming part of our food chain. It is a book that will stay with me for a long time I think. My only regret is buying the kindle version rather than the physical book. I haven't seen the book, but I imagine the reading would be enriched with photographs - there are some on the writers website.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Gotta be in the top 10 of why did the author bother .
This is without a doubt the worst book i have ever read . The only reason i could find for finishing it was so that i could write an honest review to warn others not to bother . Read more
Published 8 months ago by Joe
4.0 out of 5 stars unusual, clever and funny
very well researched and diligently examined with lots of visits to all sorts of places to examine the rôle of the sea in the risk of environmental damage. Read more
Published 11 months ago by LUCINDA
4.0 out of 5 stars Worrying
Quite an eye opener! There must be an attempt on a global scale to reduce trash in the seas. There is so much in the seas now, it will be impossible to remove. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Raymondo
5.0 out of 5 stars Moby-Duck
Bath toys lost at sea caught Donovan Hohn's imagination to such an extent that he gave up his job and went off on a pilgrimage to find out what happened to them and why they ended... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Damaskcat
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling eclectic tale for eclectophiles
H.L.Mencken coined the aphorism that "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong". Donovan Hohn proves Mencken's point. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mwmbwls
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasons not to ignore plastic.
This is really scary stuff in the long run. Ducks designed to float are not as bad, so it seems, as all those other plastics that are inexplicably found polluting the sea lanes. Read more
Published 20 months ago by M. Taplin
4.0 out of 5 stars Vast and remarkable
This is such a massive work it really does take some reading. It simply covers so much ground. Environment, industrial, social, oceanographical etc etc. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Totnes Nigel
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant: an inspiration to all of us who ever wondered why...
Have you ever wondered why? Why green potatoes are poisonous or why crevasses in glaciers are blue, or why do swallows keep flying up to the Orkney Islands when they could stop in... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Frances Bell
4.0 out of 5 stars A man looking for bath toys
A mad sort of book written after a American teacher discovers that a container spill at sea deposits 28,800 plastic bath toys at sea. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting - but overlong!
As other reviewers have noted, this is truly a fascinating concept-story: what happens when a shipload of rubber ducks is ditched into the sea and what does this tell us both about... Read more
Published 24 months ago by Setter man
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