Reviews for The Wager

by David Grann

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z returns with a rousing story of a maritime scandal. In 1741, the British vessel the Wager, pressed into service during England’s war with Spain, was shipwrecked in a storm off the coast of Patagonia while chasing a silver-laden Spanish galleon. Though initially part of a fleet, by the time of the shipwreck, the Wager stood alone, and many of its 250 crew members already had succumbed to injury, illness, starvation, or drowning. More than half survived the wreckage only to find themselves stranded on a desolate island. Drawing on a trove of firsthand accounts—logbooks, correspondence, diaries, court-martial testimony, and Admiralty and government records—Grann mounts a chilling, vibrant narrative of a grim maritime tragedy and its dramatic aftermath. Central to his populous cast of seamen are David Cheap, who, through a twist of fate, became captain of the Wager; Commodore George Anson, who had made Cheap his protégé; formidable gunner John Bulkeley; and midshipman John Byron, grandfather of the poet. Life onboard an 18th-century ship was perilous, as Grann amply shows. Threats included wild weather, enemy fire, scurvy and typhus, insurrection, and even mutiny. On the island, Cheap struggled to maintain authority as factions developed and violence erupted, until a group of survivors left—without Cheap—in rude makeshift boats. Of that group, 29 castaways later washed up on the coast of Brazil, where they spent more than two years in Spanish captivity; and three castaways, including Cheap, landed on the shores of Chile, where they, too, were held for years by the Spanish. Each group of survivors eventually returned to England, where they offered vastly different versions of what had occurred; most disturbingly, each accused the other of mutiny, a crime punishable by hanging. Recounting the tumultuous events in tense detail, Grann sets the Wager episode in the context of European imperialism as much as the wrath of the sea. A brisk, absorbing history and a no-brainer for fans of the author’s suspenseful historical thrillers. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.