The Wager

By David Grann,

Book cover of The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder

Book description

'The beauty of The Wager unfurls like a great sail... one of the finest nonfiction books I've ever read' Guardian

'The greatest sea story ever told' Spectator

'A cracking yarn... Grann's taste for desperate predicaments finds its fullest expression here' Observer



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Why read it?

10 authors picked The Wager as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

For me, this irresistible read is more than an incredible true story: It’s an exploration of how to choose between different versions of historical events.

The crew of the Wager became shipwrecked off the Patagonian coast after a disastrous attempt to round Cape Horn in 1741. The survivors quarreled. Did naval hierarchy still apply? Early in 1742, a starving group of survivors arrived by boat at a Brazilian settlement. Other groups would make their separate ways to safety.

I think the power of Grann’s writing lies not only in his ability to put us on that patched-together ship, and that…

One of the most incredible tales of survival.

The trials the men of the Wager went through were so extreme they bordered on incredulity. Starvation, injury, disease, murder, and cannibalism plague the survivors who live for months on a small deserted island near the Straits of Magellan.

And then, they set out for home and the adventure continues.

David Grann has a unique talent for getting granular with archival research and laying bare the true stories that read stranger than fiction. In this case, the voyage of The Wager was ill-fated from the beginning, and this tale of shipwreck, folly, and mutiny grows more absurd with each page.

It’s an absurdity that mirrors our own times and leads the reader to the realization that every era is as marked by its failures as much as its successes.

Talk about worldbuilding. Grann patiently zooms in and out of the historical contexts through which the story of the Wager plays…

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…

The book is about an 18th-century British secret mission to South America during the Imperial War with Spain. I love history and the way David Grann makes this an absolutely thrilling bit of narrative non-fiction.

You can feel the terror of the sea voyage and the storms, the anguish as the crew faces unbelievable odds and challenges, the hunger when there’s no food, and the rage as the crew looks for someone to blame for their misfortune.

It was a ripping yarn that wouldn’t let me go, right to the end, even after some managed to get back to England.…

Grann’s epic, true-life tale of shipwreck and mutiny has already been heaped with praise for its brilliant storytelling, so I will focus on a less-discussed aspect: the staggering research behind all those wonderful details about 18th-century navigation, British maritime law, scurvy symptoms, and the like.

This is a tour de force of archival reporting, my favorite kind of narrative nonfiction. It’s a singular achievement that makes for a great read—and a great listen, thanks to Dion Graham, the fast-paced, engaging narrator of the audiobook.

Although I don’t read much nonfiction, I heartily recommend this book.

The Wager was a British war vessel during a bizarre conflict with Spain (the War of Jenkins’ Ear). Grann’s book is non-fiction but reads like fiction. We encounter a number of strange characters (some rather despicable) as we read about their horrifying struggle for survival and the desperate measures some of the crew took to achieve it. 

I was impressed by Grann’s immense research, particularly with the details of the subsequent trial. Moreover, the court martial proceedings are remarkably suspenseful, even if one already knows the outcome.

I enjoyed…

I’ll start with this caveat: I generally could care less about 18th-century naval adventures. It just isn’t my thing. But I heard author David Grann give a radio interview about this book, and was sucked in by his storytelling abilities. And I was indeed sucked in: I read this book in a single day. I couldn’t put it down!

Sure, this book is the account of a shipwreck, but it transcends the boundary of that genre. This book weaves together geography, geopolitics, adventure, hubris, and weather into a life-or-death battle for survival. It’s a great choice for anyone who loves…

The Wager captivated me. I love nonfiction that has great detail, sharp storytelling, and a sense of moving forward throughout.

The story of the ship’s harrowing journey (and end) in the 1740s reveals the author’s knowledge of historical setting, ability to use varied viewpoints to personalize events, and skill with pacing.

I will never forget (though I wish I could) learning practices of the day, such as jettisoning any live animals on board before a ship went into battle. As to the shipwreck’s aftermath, I cannot fathom the courage it took to live each day in such dire conditions.


I was a fan of Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, and with the movie based on that book coming out very soon, I thought I’d give Grann’s latest book a read.

If you like history, maritime stories, or just a compelling look at human nature, then you’ll enjoy this story about a shipwreck and how the survivors devolved through desperation. Although not quite as good as Grann’s KOTFM, this is still definitely a worthwhile read. 

Mutiny on the Bounty meets Lord of the Flies in this harrowing tale of mutiny, treachery, and survival. David Grann, bestselling author and staff writer for The New Yorker, delivers a gripping, vivid, can’t-put-it-down read.

When the British man-of-war HMS Wager foundered near the remote southern tip of Patagonia in 1741, almost 150 surviving crewmen fought the elements – and each other – to survive on a desolate, uninhabited island. Grann recreates life inside the “wooden world” of a square-rigged Royal Navy ship in rich detail and uses sailors' memoirs and journals to chronicle how naval discipline broke down,…

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