The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder (Hardcover)
May 2023 Indie Next List
“The Wager is filled with the most questionable aspects of human nature, but is also a nod to the strength of spirit as it pertains to survival. This book is dramatic, well-researched, and perfect nonfiction that reads like fiction.”
— Stuart McCommon, Novel., Memphis, TN
From the author of Killers of the Flower Moon, a page-turning story of shipwreck, survival, and savagery, culminating in a court martial that reveals a shocking truth. The powerful narrative reveals the deeper meaning of the events of The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire. Brilliant!— Robin
“Riveting...Reads like a thriller, tackling a multilayered history—and imperialism—with gusto.” —Time
"A tour de force of narrative nonfiction.” —The Wall Street Journal
On January 28, 1742, a ramshackle vessel of patched-together wood and cloth washed up on the coast of Brazil. Inside were thirty emaciated men, barely alive, and they had an extraordinary tale to tell. They were survivors of His Majesty’s Ship the Wager, a British vessel that had left England in 1740 on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. While the Wager had been chasing a Spanish treasure-filled galleon known as “the prize of all the oceans,” it had wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Patagonia. The men, after being marooned for months and facing starvation, built the flimsy craft and sailed for more than a hundred days, traversing nearly 3,000 miles of storm-wracked seas. They were greeted as heroes.
But then ... six months later, another, even more decrepit craft landed on the coast of Chile. This boat contained just three castaways, and they told a very different story. The thirty sailors who landed in Brazil were not heroes – they were mutineers. The first group responded with countercharges of their own, of a tyrannical and murderous senior officer and his henchmen. It became clear that while stranded on the island the crew had fallen into anarchy, with warring factions fighting for dominion over the barren wilderness. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death—for whomever the court found guilty could hang.
The Wager is a grand tale of human behavior at the extremes told by one of our greatest nonfiction writers. Grann’s recreation of the hidden world on a British warship rivals the work of Patrick O’Brian, his portrayal of the castaways’ desperate straits stands up to the classics of survival writing such as The Endurance, and his account of the court martial has the savvy of a Scott Turow thriller. As always with Grann’s work, the incredible twists of the narrative hold the reader spellbound.
“The most gripping sea-yarn I’ve read in years….A tour de force of narrative nonfiction. Mr. Grann’s account show how storytelling, whether to judges or readers, can shape individual and national fortunes – as well as our collective memories.”
— Wall Street Journal
“Glorious, steely…a tightly written, relentless, blow-by-blow account that is hard to put down” — The Washington Post
“As much a rousing adventure as an exploration of the power of narratives to shape our perception of reality.” — The New York Times
“Propulsive….finely-detailed…a ripping yarn…remarkable.” — The Boston Globe
“Riveting...The Wager reads like a thriller, tackling a multilayered history—and imperialism—with gusto.” — Time Magazine
“The beauty of The Wager unfurls like a great sail…He fixes his spyglass on the ravages of empire, of racism, of bureaucratic indifference and raw greed…one of the finest nonfiction books I’ve ever read.” — The Guardian (UK)
“The story of the shipwreck and its aftermath features scenery-chewing characters, unexpected twists and an almost unimaginable amount of human misery. Grann, the author of the acclaimed “Killers of the Flower Moon,” tells it with style. He manages to wring maximum drama out of the events and sketch out nuanced portraits of key players on the doomed ship."
— Associated Press
“His dogged search through ships’ logs and other contemporaneous accounts of the disaster and its mutinous aftermath has turned up the kind of sterling details that make his writing sing; he is also interested in the way these events were recorded and then recounted, with many different people trying to shape the memory of what happened. Grann simultaneously reconstructs history while telling a tale that is as propulsive and adventure-filled as any potboiler.”
— The Atlantic
"A genre-defying literary naval-history thriller, part Master and Commander, part Lord of the Flies" — Vanity Fair
“A thrilling account…dramatic and engrossing.” — The Economist
“This astonishing tale of maritime warfare, mutiny and survival in the 18th-century Atlantic proves that a nonfiction book can be as thrilling as any summer blockbuster.”
"The Wager" is a soaring literary accomplishment and seductive adventure tale… enthralling, seamlessly crafted… ‘The Wager’ then, is an accomplishment as vividly realized and ingeniously constructed as Grann's previous work, on par with Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm. Welcome a classic.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Gripping … Combining impeccable research with exceptional storytelling powers, [Grann] spirits the reader aboard a creaking wooden ship trapped at the eye of a howling storm… No book that you’re likely to read either this year or next will prove more dramatic and enthralling than Grann’s magnificent story of life both at sea and out on the desolate, mist-laden island whose solitary peak the Wager’s unfortunate crew aptly named Mount Misery” — Financial Times
“A masterclass in story-telling…With a series of twists and turns worthy of a well-plotted thriller, the author of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ uncovers an epic sea-faring tale…Epic true story as told by a master… David Grann has produced this riveting book…with the artistry of a superb novelist.” — The Toronto Star
“[Grann’s] meticulously researched stories, with their spare, simmering setups that almost always deliver stunning payoffs, have made him one of the preeminent adventure and true-crime writers working today…[Grann] has mastered a streamlined, propulsive type of narrative that readers devour for its hide-and-seek reveals…David’s stuff reads like literature, but every detail, every quote, every seemingly implausible glimpse into a subject’s mind is accounted for”
— New York Magazine
“Your favorite writer’s favorite writer for decades…David Grann is poised to become the moment’s leading storyteller... [Grann] specializes in gripping historical chronicles and crime stories…so rich in intrigue that they would strain credulity in fiction…[Grann’s] become one of our culture’s leading sources of holy shit page-turners.” — GQ
“David Grann is one of the premier nonfiction storytellers of our time…Grann’s masterful new book…is at once an adventure on the high seas, a horror story, and a courtroom drama — a little bit Rashomon meets Lord of the Flies.” — Rolling Stone
“Not just a good but a great story, fraught with duplicity, terror and occasional heroism… the story of the Wager is, like many of its antecedents — from Homer’s “Odyssey” to “Mutiny on the Bounty” — a testament to the depths of human depravity and the heights of human endurance, and you can’t ask for better than that from a story...The Wager will keep you in its grip to its head-scratching, improbable end.” — Los Angeles Times