I’ve got a review of Donovan Hohn’s Moby Duck: 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 in this weekend’s Weekend Australian. As the review hopefully makes clear I liked it quite a bit, not least because despite the silly title (and the sometimes irritatingly digressive style) it’s a book that’s grappling in genuinely interesting ways with a series of questions about what Nature actually is, and perhaps just as importantly, how we should think about ideas such as wilderness and preservation in a globalised world.
These aren’t new questions, of course. There’s a growing body of theoretical work exploring them, and even in a more popular context recent years have seen the publication of books such as Bill McKibben’s Eaarth and Mark Lynas’ The God Species, but what makes Hohn’s book so refreshing is his interest in using the reality of the contemporary natural world to ask quite difficult questions about many of the assumptions underpinning environmental thinking. Some of these relate to what we actually mean by natural in 2011: there’s a great moment where he hikes through a rainforest only to realise when he hears a popping underfoot that it’s rooted in a great mound of old plastic bottles. But others are political, such as his argument the corporate-funded Keep America Beautiful campaign was less about cleaning up the environment than about transforming the public perception of litter and waste from a responsibility of polluting companies into something connected to personal conduct.
The book’s also interesting because it deliberately avoids the pieties of so much nature writing. Hohn isn’t interested in the chiselled prose and watchful reverence of Barry Lopez or Peter Matthiessen or Robert MacFarlane, instead he adopts a more contemporary (and more garrolous) style, one that allows him to write as lucidly about Chinese factories as vast, submarine gyres.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying there’s a lot to like about the book, and if you get a chance it’s well worth checking out. As I say, the review’s in The Weekend Australian, and you can find links to buy the book on Booko.