History. True Crime. Nonfiction. HTML:From the #1 New York Times bestselling 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 on The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire. "A tour de force of narrative nonfiction.â? â??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 Majestyâ??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 â??the prize of all the oceans,â? 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 â?? 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-deathâ??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. Grannâ??s recreation of the hidden world on a British warship rivals the work of Patrick Oâ??Brian, his portrayal of the castawaysâ?? 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 Grannâ??s work, the incredible twists of the narr
Grann set the stage so well
Grann immersed me in these men's lives-- one of whom would be the grandfather of the poet, Lord Byron. (Yes, Byron's experiences were important in light of one of his descendants, but the crew member who had the most impact on me was the free Black man on the Wager, John Duck.) Grann also reminded me of the integral part sailors played in the history of our clothing and our language. However, the one thing that I enjoyed the most was how he exposed what was really going on and how the Wager's original assignment and the proceedings of the court martial at the end actually fit into the much larger world stage.
Any reader with an interest in ships, the sea, human nature, and government machinations should read The Wager.
(Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Net Galley)
It was a disaster. By the time they actually set sail, they were headed for the worst weather of the year around the Cape Horn. There were already problems before they got there, including scurvy, but by the time they got to the bottom of South America, the fleet had broken up and one of the ships, The Wager, ran aground. Mayhem and mutiny ensued, along with starvation and murder.
I don't know why I love these nautical disaster books so much. I'm a total landlubber. I can't even swim. I didn't even see the ocean until I was an adult. But for whatever reason, I love reading these books. This one definitely did not disappoint. It was full of drama and emotion, and the best part was that it was all true and taken from the accounts written by the actual survivors. If you like tales of shipwreck or disaster, add this one to your list. I raced through it and I'm so glad I did.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free copy of this book. This did not affect my review.
This book chronicles the adventures of the HMS Wager, and its crew,
The author paints an absolutely horrid picture of the experience aboard the Wager, and this was even before the shipwreck. Life aboard an 18th century sailing ship seeking to round the cape was certainly no picnic. Weeks of nonstop gale force winds and mountainous seas, coupled with freezing temperatures and monsoons added to the fun. Oh, and toss in widespread scurvy among the crew.
Once shipwrecked and marooned, starvation became a distinct possibility and claimed many crew members. Factions developed and mutiny ensued. I wonât spoil the ending, but only say, there were survivors.
The book is actually very short, only 260 well-spaced, large margin pages. Easily read in 3-4 sittings. A few photos are included.
I was eager to read this because I loved Grann's "Killers of the Flower Moon." Once again, Grann creates a meticulously researched work, with copious notes, which reads almost like a suspense novel. This book didn't grasp me quite as quickly as the previous work, because British history of that era is a little less close to my heart than 20th-century American history. However, once I acclimated myself to the maritime culture of the time, it became quite a compelling read, with a rather surprising ending. Recommended for readers who enjoy history and/or maritime tales.
I really enjoyed the little information about the indigenous people in that area too, and was sad to hear they are largely gone due to our greed and racism. I appreciate the modern tone the author took with regards to colonialism and racism when it cropped up, calling it what it was rather than trying to explain it away as part of the times.
In 1740, England was at war with Spain. The Wager was part of a
Grann describes the reality of life on the sea in the 18th c. The crowded conditions, the dangerous work, the vermin that carried disease. Sailors dying of âshipâs feverââtyphoidâand scurvy, described in chilling detail. The starvation when supplies run low. The endless upkeep of the ship to keep it seaworthy.
By the time the ship reached Cape Horn, the crew was already diminished in ranks and weakened by disease.
Storms and high seas kept the ships from rounding the Cape for months. Some turned back. Some disappeared. The Wager was shipwrecked on a desert island. With few supplies, the men gaunt and starving and in shredded clothes and shoeless, the rule of order broke down. Captain Cheap was determined to fulfill his command; they would repair the ship and keep going. The men only wanted to survive, and that mean turning back to Brazil. Cheap would not give in to the sailorâs demands. He shot a sailor, and the crew believed it made him unfit to be captain. The crew mutinied and left the captain behind with a few men loyal to him.
283 days later, 81 survivors showed up in Brazil. It took them three months, traveling in a cobbled-together and over-crowded ship.
Once they returned to England, their troubles continued. All of the survivors were guilty of some crime that would earn them the death sentence. The shipâs gunner John Bulkeley kept a personal log, which he published as a way of justifying their actions.
Captain Ansonâs forces had numbered 2,000, but only 227 men were left when they fought the Spanish galleon, thrillingly described. Ansonâs superior planning and organization won the day. The bountiful riches they seized surpassed any other ever taken, and made Anson rich.
Captain Cheap was rescued by natives and, five years after they had set out, arrived in England along with two of his loyal men, ready to defend his honor.
The admirals in charge of the investigation had to consider the rule of order but also the embarrassing war that cost more than Captain Anson had brought back with the Spanish treasure.
Grann shares the rich literary heritage of the Wagerâs story. One young crewman, who left the mutineers to return to Captain Cheap, was the grandfather of Lord Byron, who wrote about the trip in his poem âDon Juan.â Numerous accounts were written by crew members and by Grub Street hacks. The tale inspired later writers, including Herman Melville and Patrick OâBrien.
Empires preserve their power with the stories that they tell, but just as critical are the stories they donâtâthe dark silences they impose, the pages they tear out.
from The Wager by David Grann
The War of Jenkinâs Ear was over by the time the survivors returned to England. It was a horrible waste of men and ships and money. Grannâs book resurrects another gruesome and riveting scene from history.
I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
In addition, spend more than half the book building up the tension on the island and the various voyages home get a bit shorted. Historically the saga ultimately ended with a whimper and the book kind of does too.
The Wager the book chronicles the harsh conditions on board, the disease (including one of the best descriptions of the onset of
Highly recommended for all sailors, anyone interested in the history of the Age of Sail, anyone who feels they work for an unjust boss, and anyone wanting to examine how low man can descend and what men will do when exposed to extreme conditions when faced with the need to survive.
All goes well at first until a series of calamities befall the convoy including scurvy which enfeebles a great number of crew and officers. Next, the voyage around Cape Horn is extremely treacherous and very few of the ships survive the onslaught of wind, waves a freezing temperatures. The crews are decimated already when the Wager is shipwrecked on Misery Island at the tip of South America.
What I found compelling about the story is the excellent character development, the details regarding the structure of the ship, the command structure of the officer class and the living conditions aboard the ship. There is a mutiny as factions develop among the men, a murder by an officer and the deliberate marooning of some.
The fact that so many people survived and returned to England is a testament to the nature of the those who are mentally strong enough to endure these horrible living conditions.
The finale is a court martial which contemplates all sides and very promptly make a decision. The story ends abruptly at this point but we do hear about what happens to the main characters
The characters who are historical figures demonstrate the gamut of human emotions and an evolution of social mores. Without describing each character, Iâll point out that we meet a dominating captain with poor leadership traits. And, of course, we meet argumentative underlings who have smug independence. Then, we see ferocious workers and others with inherent leadership skills and charisma. All of the men are familiar with British naval order and ranking conventions. Yet, more hierarchies develop as the men struggle to survive and create social order. As the subtitle suggests, the fight for survival leads to becoming mutinous and murderous. Grann describes the basic human drives and terrors with admirable writing skills.
Writing, in the eighteenth century, was an honorable thing to do. The men onboard the Wager kept written logsâsome were required, and others were kept to document some of the mutinous decisions. David Grann had copious notes and records to use when piecing this story together. Rousseau and Voltaire cited the Wagerâs expedition reports, as did Charles Darwin and Herman Melville. The seafaring journalists quote the Bible, poets, and famous writers. It is incredible how learned they were. Grann uses his well-honed investigative and research skills to weave a beautiful story of what reportedly happened and the eloquent analysis by those who experienced it. Grannâs ability to combine first-person accounts of the expedition with his summation of the events provides fabulous text about the seafarers and their exploits. Each creative, descriptive section title structures the book and shapes the voyage with metaphoric summaries: The Wooden World, Into the Storm, Castaways, Deliverance, and Judgment are the main sections, and Gran used these to develop the book so that it reads like a novel and keeps the reader riveted. I highly recommend this narrative to everyone, even those who prefer fiction to nonfiction.