The Wager by David Grann

The Wager book cover

Rating: 2/5

What It’s About:

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.


Thank you to Doubleday Books and Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Review

When I read the synopsis, I was so excited to get my hands on The Wager! Reading more non-fiction is one of my reading goals this year and this will be my second non-fiction book of 2023. Non-fiction is not something I read often and I struggle to find titles that fit my reading interests. I feel like that is something I could share before I start my review.

Overall, The Wager was a hard for me to get through. The description of the book sounded interesting and I was curious to find out what happened on this ill-fated secret mission. I don’t know much about navy ships, history, and more specifically the Royal navy. The beginning of the book was wonderful. It described how ships were built and all the preparations that go into a getting ready for a voyage. I learned new things about galleon ships and all the different roles that each crew member had in sailing such a boat. All of the details about the living conditions on the vessels were fascinating.

I would say that I have thalassophobia, a fear of deep water, and reading about the storms and rough conditions that the sailors went through scared me…in a good way. I could only image the uncertainty and fear they felt trying to sail through such difficult conditions. Not to mention having a hard time navigating their course through treacherous waters.

Besides one AMAZING battle scene between two galleon ships, the rest of the book lost my interest. The politics of following (or not following) the chain of command slowed down the story for me. I wasn’t really interested in the different groups or factions that were formed as the crew tried to figure out the best way to get back home. I skimmed through a good chunk of the middle of the book where this occurred. Their story of survival was interesting at first, but then it got repetitive with each setback that the sailors experienced.

Final thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, I struggle to read non-fiction books and my experience with The Wager is mostly likely affected by my reading preferences. There are many positive reviews of The Wager on NetGalley. I’m happy that I learned new things about a topic that I knew little about and that I tried something different. but in the end, this book just wasn’t for me.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought.

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