The Wager

Empire, class, treasure, shipwrecks, and many detailed journal keepers.

From the author of Killers of the Flower Moon, The Wager tells a historical recounting of a poorly planned British Naval voyage in the 1700s that resulted in castaways at the edge of the world. I appreciated how much of the content originated from first-hand accounts. History books that lean a little too much on storytelling, inventing thoughts of the story’s subjects, or imagining facial expressions as they witness events never sit right with me. I appreciate making history digestible, but stating that Winston Churchill grimaced while sipping a glass of scotch is a bit too much. David Grann does none of that. Nothing seems to be invented for the sake of immersion. All quotes appear to be actual quotes. Actions of the people involved are those recorded by quite a few personal journals. It results in the events of The Wager being that much more incredible, especially once the voyage is underway and the handful of castaways make their ways back home to tell their disparate tales. Untangling the different versions of events, each with its own motives, reminds me that nothing is new.

Empires preserve their power with the stories they tell, but just as critical are the stories they don’t–the dark silences they impose, the pages they tear out.

David Grann, The Wager

I frequently put the book down to look up different indigenous people of Patagonia, find pictures or maps of islands and passages, and watch videos about how British Man-of-Wars (Men of War? Mans of War?) worked. If I had a gripe, it would be that I wish more context were added to the surrounding events, but I’m not complaining. A book that can stoke curiosity is great. But seriously, now I really want to read about the different peoples of the la Tierra del Fuego.

This was my first book by David Grann, and he seems to be a great author on historical events. Based on this read, I think I prefer him to Erik Larson. It was a fine book. I will check out more of his work in the future.