This has been my year of reading books about shipwrecks. Boats stove by a whale, or a yarn recounted by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I’m here for it. The Wager, the latest book by David Grann, is a seaworthy addition to this run of dramatic, gnarly, narrative non-fiction.
The year, 1741. The dream: win naval glory for king and country by causing mayhem for Britain’s enemy and colonial competitor, Spain. The reality: wrecked on a barren island on the south coast of Chile in pursuit of Spanish forces, HMS Wager’s crew is already depleted by terrible weather, malnutrition, and scurvy. The men quickly divide into factions. Things go downhill from here.
David Grann is the author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z. He excels at crafting engaging, cohesive narratives out of messy histories. The Wager is no exception—different survivors returned to England with vastly differing stories and agendas, yet Grann’s book lays these various threads out with entertaining (yet often horrifying) clarity. His writing is also notable among shipwreck narratives in that he repeatedly drives home the reality and brutality of the imperialist project, and often takes pains to explain shady motivations behind political decisions sporting a thin veneer of righteousness.
Take the right tack and pick up a copy!