CRITICS CALL THE WAGER “A TOUR DE FORCE,” “A MASTERCLASS IN STORYTELLING,” AND PERHAPS “GRANN’S BEST BOOK YET”
THE WAGER has it all: shipwreck, survival, and a thrilling courtroom climax…. the most gripping true-life sea yarn in years. A tour de force of narrative nonfiction, Grann’s account shows how storytelling, whether to judges or readers, can shape individual and national fortunes – as well as our collective memory.
— The Wall Street Journal
“[Grann has] been your favorite writer’s favorite writer for decades. But with a thrilling new book and an unprecedented back-to-back collaboration with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, David Grann is poised to become the moment’s leading storyteller…He specializes in gripping historical chronicles and crime stories, filled with fearless explorers and ruthless killers, with twists and double-crosses so rich in intrigue that they would strain credulity in fiction. But Grann’s stories are all true, and because they actually happened, because every detail is invariably backed up by some unearthed court testimony or a dusty file plucked from a long-neglected archive, he’s become one of our culture’s leading sources of holy shit page-turners…Grann has managed to push the conventions of true crime and pop history into something more meaningful: THE WAGER is a story about a shipwreck, but it’s also about how the men who somehow made it off the island told their competing accounts, which became the sensational true-crime of their day, and watching Grann make sense of the tangle raises fascinating questions about how stories take on a life of their own.
“A thrilling account…Those who love yarns involving cannon fire, sea-chests, plum duff and mainmasts will find THE WAGER riveting, as will those less intrigued by the age of sail. In the hands of David Grann, the story transcends its naval setting. The author . . . is a master of exciting tales in far-flung places. He has produced a volume so dramatic and engrossing that it may surpass his previous books.
— The Economist
“Remarkable…finely detailed…a ripping yarn. Grann, the author of thinking-person’s adventures, has a rare gift for applying the rigors of narrative nonfiction to the stuff of myth and legend. Through tireless research and storytelling guile, he places the reader amongst a tempestuous collection of 18th-century British seamen, at war with the elements and, more fatefully, each other. As you read you feel the sting of freezing saltwater against the face, and the desperate pangs of hunger. Grann guides us step by step, storm by storm, man by man, in prose that the writers he references, including Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad, would appreciate.
— The Boston Globe
“An engrossing survival story…THE WAGER is a knotty tale of moral compromises and betrayal and a metaphysical inquiry into the elusive nature of truth and the power of stories to shape history and our perceptions of reality. For Grann, telling the story of the shipwreck and its scandalous aftermath was a chance to excavate not just a rousing adventure, but to explore how history is constructed, who writes it and what gets distorted or left out. After six years of research—including his own harrowing journey to the inhospitable island where the castaways washed up—Grann has delivered what will likely endure as the definitive popular account.
— The New York Times
“A masterclass in storytelling…A series of twists and turns worthy of a well-plotted thriller≥Grann has produced this riveting book so soon after the radically different but equally impressive “Killers of the Flower Moon” — a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Simply put, Grann is working to a three-part formula. One: unearth a tremendous story from within a forgotten haystack. Two: spend months and months and months researching it. Three: write the narrative with the artistry of a superb novelist…One, two, three. Grann makes it look easy, even while exploring how desperate people behave in life-and-death situations. Hint: not well. This book is a tour de force.
— Toronto Star
“David Grann knows a good story when he sees one…In THE WAGER: A TALE OF SHIPWRECK, MUTINY AND MURDER, he has found not just a good but a great story, fraught with duplicity, terror and occasional heroism.
…One trick Grann pulls off—again and again—is not showing his hand, and this review honors that accomplishment by not revealing the details of what happens next…Another Grann specialty is on full display— creating a cast of indelible characters from the dustiest of sources: 18th century ship’s logs, surgeons’ textbooks, court-martial proceedings… The story of the Wager is, like many of its antecedents—from Homer’s “Odyssey” to “Mutiny on the Bounty”—a testament to the depths of human depravity and the heights of human endurance, and you can’t ask for better than that from a story. Maybe you get seasick at the thought of a seafaring novel; make an exception in this case. THE WAGER will keep you in its grip to its head-scratching, improbable end.
— Los Angeles Times
“There were multiple moments while reading David Grann’s new book, THE WAGER, about an 18th-century shipwreck, when it occurred to me that the kind of nonfiction narratives The New Yorker writer has become known for share something essential with a sturdy ship. A vessel freighted with historical controversy, tangled facts and monomaniacal characters needs to be structurally sound, containing and conveying its messy cargo. It should be resilient yet nimble enough to withstand the unpredictable waters of readers’ attentions and expectations. Only an impeccable design will keep everything moving…Grann is so skillful…the consummate narrative architect…It’s the kind of inspiring chronicle that would make for a rousing maritime adventure. But this is a David Grann book, and so he gives us something more.
— The New York Times
“[Grann’s] meticulously researched stories, with their spare, simmering setups that almost always deliver stunning payoffs, have made him one of the preeminent adventure and true-crime writers…The Rashomon-like atmosphere is what gives THE WAGER the intellectual heft of a David Grann endeavor…He has mastered a streamlined, propulsive type of narrative that readers devour for its hide-and-seek reveals.
— New York Mag
“Grann tells the riveting tale of the British ship the Wager, which embarked from England on a secret mission against Spain in 1740. Two years later, 30 ragged men from the Wager landed ashore in Brazil. Six months after that, three more Wager sailors washed up in Chile. The two groups accused each other of mutiny, eventually going on trial in England. THE WAGER reads like a thriller, tackling a multilayered history—and imperialism—with gusto.
— Time Magazine
“From its first to its last page, THE WAGER never stops being jaw-dropping. Even a sidebar account – of how a ship in the squadron, the Centurion, made it to the Philippines and somehow sank a Spanish galleon – reads better than any thriller. It’s a book about the limits of human endurance but also about the power of Britain’s class system and naval codes, which held sway – almost – even on a deserted island thousands of miles away.
— The Globe and Mail
“One of the most masterful historical nonfiction writers working today, investigative reporter David Grann has turned his attention to a 1742 shipwreck off the coast of Brazil. [T]his centuries-old crime story feels as prescient and timely as today’s front page.
“Few writers of fact can spin a narrative as well as David Grann, whether it be the quest for a fabled place (The Lost City of Z) or unearthing gross injustices against oil-rich Native Americans in the 1920s (Killers of the Flower Moon). His gift for detail, drama, and insight is unmatched. THE WAGER, takes place in the 1700s and melds an adventure tale with a courtroom saga that is nothing less than riveting.
“Grann vividly narrates a nearly forgotten incident with an eye for each character’s personal stakes while also reminding readers of the imperialist context prompting the misadventure. A new account of the Wager Mutiny, in which a shipwrecked and starving British naval crew abandoned their captain on a desolate Patagonian island, emphasizes the extreme hardships routinely faced by eighteenth-century seafarers as well as the historical resonance of the dramatic 1741 event.
— BOOKLIST, starred review
“A rousing story of a maritime scandal…a brisk, absorbing history.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.
— KIRKUS, starred review
“Bestseller Grann (Killers of the Flower Moon) delivers a concise and riveting account of the HMS Wager. . . Grann packs the narrative with fascinating details about life at sea—from scurvy-induced delirium to the mechanics of loading and firing a cannon—and makes excellent use of primary sources, including a firsthand account by 16-year-old midshipman John Byron, grandfather of the poet Lord Byron. Armchair adventurers will be enthralled.
— Publishers Weekly