A New York Times bestseller for a reason. It is destined to be a classic remembered for years to come. David Grann provides an excellent account of the events and the tragedy that the crew of the HMS Wager endured.
"The Wager" opens at a British naval harbor in the 18th century. A fleet of British Man-o-wars prepares to depart on a secret mission to seek out a Spanish galleon holding an abundance of treasure. The galleon was last spotted off the Chilean coast; meaning that the British fleet will have to sail around the infamous Cape Horn. The Cape is home to some of the roughest seas in the entire world. Many ships have perished from the rough seas and the bone-chilling wind that often accompanies the Cape Horn.
We are then introduced to David Cheap, a Lietentient on the Wager's sister ship, the Centurion. When the captain of the Wager perishes, Cheap is promoted to captain by his superior officer Geroge Anson. Cheap longs for the chance to control a British warship, so this opportunity of becoming the Wager's captain means a lot to him. As a result, Cheap takes his job extremely seriously, constantly reciting The Articles of War to his men. Once the Wager sets out on her voyage, a cataclysm ensues and the ship becomes wrecked off the coast of Patagonia. The remaining men must find a way to survive, and what transpires is a story of mutiny and murder. Grann alludes to this in the prologue, where he details two groups of castaways arriving in England. Both groups are from the wrecked Wager, however, one group claims they escaped the clutches of their incompetent captain, while the additional group claims the other men are mutineers that left them for dead.
Right from the beginning of the novel, Grann transports you into life aboard an 18th-century British warship. I have never read a non-fiction book that so vividly immerses you in a story. Grann grips you from the beginning and doesn't let go for 260 pages. There was not one point throughout reading where I found the story boring or unnecessary. When writing a historical account of an event, it can be very easy to write as if you are teaching a lecture, Grann strays far from this. He details the accounts of the men like he is telling a story. He allows the reader to vividly picture what these sailors endured. For instance, here is an expert from chapter one where Grann depicts the figure of Geroge Anson as,
"Tall, with a long face and a high forehead, he had a remoteness about him. His blue eyes were inscrutable, and outside the company of a few trusted friends, he rarely opened his mouth."
This excerpt perfectly exemplifies the writing style of David Grann, detailed and done with intention. Anson’s remoteness plays a major role throughout the story. Grann’s talent does not relent to just the description of people, his talent also stems from the description of settings, particularly seascapes. His description of the Cape Horn will leave the reader baffled at the amount of horror these sailors tolerated. This section is so baffling, that I will not add an excerpt in this review so that you can experience it yourself when you read this book.
I definitely recommend that you read "The Wager". It will not only take you on a fantastic journey but transport you into the world of a sailor in the 18th century. The amazing story is complemented by David Grann's immaculate usage of imagery and his intriguing writing style. "The Wager" is a New York Times bestseller for a reason, and it is easily one of the best books that I have read this year. Go check it out!
The Wager By David Grann