The Wager - David Grann

The Wager

By David Grann

  • Release Date: 2023-04-18
  • Genre: True Crime
4.5 Score: 4.5 (From 478 Ratings)


#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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 on The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire.

“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.


  • Wonderful True Story

    By SBonner
    This writing drew me deep into the story and was a book I could not put down. Having been a sailor it made me recall such horrific storms at sea and what must have been terrifying moments at sea. Well written!
  • Good story, soft ending

    By Mac197803
    All in all a good read. It had a buildup to a grand showdown ending that was a bit of a dull misfire.
  • Fascinating

    By CTIMiami
    A masterfully told historic adventure of sailors’ endurance in a quest round the Horn.
  • Excellent Story

    By GirlNextDoor3
    This book is truly a page turner. The depth and detail of life on a ship, during the mid 1700’s was incredible. I would highly recommend this book.
  • Fantastic

    By F D-A
    Great work
  • Best Book of 2023

    By cdarwin
    This was the most enjoyable read of the year. I found myself re-reading passages throughout the course of the text. Grann is a master of spiriting away the reader to another reader place and time. This will be one of 2023’s best and will be nominated for book of the year.
  • Great read

    By Nutsaboutdiving
    Reverting story. Easy flowing writing style
  • Outstanding in all respects

    By plfvic
    Seldom, if ever, will you read such an authoritative and well documented history that is simultaneously a compelling “page turner “. A must for anyone interested in naval or British history and a great read even if you’re not.
  • Absorbing Reading

    By Fishing Preacher
    Interesting and informative account of the HMS Wager affair.
  • An Extraordinary Story with an Incredible Historical Perspective

    By Handakina
    By far, one of the best books I’ve ever read. The writing is full of historical documentation that interestingly relates to the world today and how we “create history”. The story itself of “The Wager” brings you as close as possible to feeling like you are actually ship wrecked alongside these men. No food, nor shelter, no clothes, no nothing. How any of them survived is truly remarkable and the loss of so many lives so disheartening. Also riveting is their return to England and the story that unfolds from multiple perspectives. I can’t thank the Author enough for all the hours it took to bring this amazing story to light. This story goes way beyond a mere shipwreck. It explores the inner workings of humans when all is seeming lost.