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The Wager

A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder

by David Grann

The Wager by David Grann X
The Wager by David Grann
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  • Published:
    Apr 2023, 352 pages


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Tara T. (Carterville, IL)

The Wager
I found this book to be well researched, well-written and extremely easy to read. It was actually quite a thrilling read to be honest. It felt more like I was reading an adventure book than a nonfiction book. The beginning was slow for me to get into, but once the boats set sail, the pacing picked up immensely and I was hooked at that point. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.
Mary G. (Greensboro, GA)

Fans of Erik Larson will Love The Wager
Meticulously researched and deeply detailed, this is the story of an ill-fated British warship, the Wager. Although an entire fleet left England in 1740 on a secret mission against the Spanish, only one ship returned to England. A couple of ragtag groups of shipwrecked survivors, who endured unimaginable privation and hardship, also made it home more than two years after setting sail.

David Grann literally takes the reader onto the deck of the Wager. The reader is swept along as the crew weathers storms, scurvy, and finally, shipwreck. He focuses on the stories of a handful of the officers and seamen who played critical roles in the fate of the ship and its crew. Their thoughts, fears, and determination make for riveting reading.

The book is broken into four sections: pre-mission preparation, the disastrous voyage, the desperate struggle for survival after the shipwreck, and the improbable return of the few survivors to England. The conflicting accounts of the voyage and shipwreck by these survivors adds to the drama. Amazingly, after enduring great hardship to finally return home, the survivors are rewarded with a trial to judge their actions and, potential hanging.

While this is an absorbing and fascinating book, the story takes a long time to get going. There is an overabundance of detail on shipbuilding and the pre-trip preparation, as well as on the other ships in the fleet. However, once the fleet sets sail, the book takes off.
Anke V. (Portland, OR)

The Wager
Set in 1740, this is the story of the treacherous journey of six English warships, the Wager among them, with the secret mission of capturing Spanish silver and gold near the tip of South America. While rounding Cape Horn, and battling an outbreak of scurvy, the weather conditions turned atrocious, and the Wager became separated from the rest of the squadron. Shipwrecked on a desolated island, the surviving crew struggles against the elements, splitting into two groups: one that mutinied against their Captain, David Cheap, and a smaller group that remained loyal to him. Five months after the shipwreck, self-elected Captain Bulkeley and his mutinous group of 80 members set off in a schooner, losing and abandoning more than half of its crew on their on their way to Brazil, eventually arriving back in England at the beginning of 1943.

Here their troubles continued, as the survivors made it back with conflicting stories, knowing that they were guilty of some crime or another that would earn them the death sentence. To justify his actions, John Bulkeley even published his story based on his personal log as a way of justifying their actions. Five and a half years after setting out from England, Captain Cheap arrived back in England along with two of his loyal men, ready to defend his honor. In an attempt to determine the truth, the English admirals start a trial to investigate these contradicting versions of the truth, and a way to contain the catastrophic results and costs of this expedition.

Based on personal and detailed diaries of the captains and seamen, this book has elements of true crime and history. It gives you a true sense of daily life on a ship, the crowded conditions, the dangerous work, deaths due to typhoid fever and scurvy, the starvation when supplies run low, and what struggling to survive in an inhospitable land does to your psyche, all described in chilling detail.
Lois K. (Marana, AZ)

The Wager - A Voyage to Oblivion
David Grann's latest book, "The Wager," is an extremely well-documented tale about life and death in the 18th century British navy. "The Wager" is one of a group of British naval vessels sailing to Cape Horn in pursuit of the Spanish enemy, to hopefully, capture a Spanish galleon filled with treasure. It's a riveting, page-turning adventure, complete with shipwreck, mutiny and murder. What makes this book so compelling, is that it is fact-based. Grann carefully documents his sources (and there are many), from the archives of the British Navy to books published by actual participants in the tragedy. The story details the harrowing attempts of these sailors to survive in one the most dangerous areas of the world. The most thought provoking aspect of the book for me, is the insanity of war, all of the suffering and loss of life accomplishing nothing.
Iris P. (Des Moines, IA)

"Red sky at night, sailors' delight. Red sky in the morn, sailors' forlorn"
Meticulously researched and expertly described—with illuminating background details. David Grann newest book, The Wager, places the reader into the riggings and high onto the sails in 1740 as the ship sails from Portsmouth and round Cape Horn. The fight for God and Country. Life and liberty. And Honor. Measure their worth, if you dare, as you slog along with the crew for each day's survival. Magnificently resilient and triumphant? Or Survival at all cost. Or—at any cost?
Author David Grann makes You the Judge. Well done!
Suzanne B. (Merrimac, MA)

Great author-fabulous adventure
I am so happy to review this book, The Wager. Two months ago I just finished David Grann's book The Lost City of Z which I devoured and gave a 5/5 stars.

Grann is an engaging and amazing storyteller. I appreciated that this book was so meticulously researched and the author did a great job presenting the sides of each of the characters in the book so we could form our own decisions on what we deemed right/wrong (or simply who to cheer for). I had empathy for all the characters in this story due to the authors fair descriptions of the trials and tribulations each faced! I love a book that I can learn from yet, at the same time, is a page turner-which this hit out of the park!

What makes this story so fascinating is the story covers so many facets; it is not just a shipwreck story. The focus of the story changes to a mutiny (or is it even a mutiny if the ships is no longer at Sea), to a survival story, to a morale conflict story (who should be sacrificed and based on what) to a legal story (the court martial), and finally a good history refresher of this fascinating time in history.. My only challenge was in the beginning I feel I had read or watched shows with many of the scenes of illness/sickness/scurvy/survival of the ship and not a lot was new to me. But the last 2/3 of the book was amazing including the painful decisions that had to be made by so many; including the scene where 4 Marines had to be left on the island, to the Captain shooting a mutineer which was justified by him and others to preserve order..

There was so much action in this book. Even when a few of the ships landed safely there was the court martial event-and interesting on what decisions were made based on England's desire for the world to focus on their one huge win, the capture of the Spanish Treasure ship. Danger lurked as one of the men tried publish a book in which many others tried to stop the publishing due to the fear of the events making them look guilty and subject to a court martial. The story leads us to the different versions of books written by the different people from these ships, but ultimately what we choose what we want to believe as the reader.

I am so relieved I was never on a ship during those times and would be a horrible Captain-making tough decisions daily-I will continue to be a reader of these books only ;).

I cannot wait to read Grann's other book, Killers of the Flower Moon and any future books he writes!
Thank you!
Linda M. (Ocala, FL)

A Wild Ride
I have read two other books by David Grann so my expectations were high when I began to read The Wager. Coincidentally, I had just returned from a trip through the Strait of Magellan and the Drake Passage to Cape Horn so I have personally experienced the wind, sleet, fog, clouds rocky cliffs and raging seas that he so vividly describes. Reading this book swept me right back to this wild place. Grann is a skilled storyteller who is able to keep the reader engaged as he tells the story of a ship sailing in the 1700s when ships were barely seaworthy, and scurvy, fatal accidents, hunger and thirst were every day events. Unfortunately, shipwrecks were not an uncommon occurrence either. The descriptions of the storms, the land, the natives and the struggles of the crew in the extremely hostile environment keep the reader turning the pages. Grann educates and entertains the reader. My kind of book.
Dan W. (Fort Myers, FL)

Although the subject matter was not of great interest to me when I started reading the book, my opinion quickly changed when more of the narrative was developed. The author takes a maritime scandal and engulfs the reader in a suspenseful historical thriller! Although I usually avoid this genre of book, I suddenly was reading page after page with no thought of stopping.
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Beyond the Book:
  Cape Horn

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