The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder

Written by:
David Grann
Narrated by:
David Grann , Dion Graham

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
April 2023
8 hours 28 minutes
#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.

A Best Book of the Year: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, TIME, Smithsonian, NPR, Vulture, Kirkus Reviews

“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.
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Katarina B.

David Grann’s account of this notorious shipwreck whose equally fascinating and haunting tale has been largely forgotten in the annals of history, makes the reader forget that they are indeed reading historical non-fiction rather than an addictive Kt gripping novel, filled with timeless themes of bravery and betrayal, loyalty and hypocrisy, and the ever-present drive in man to survive and overcome. I highly recommend this to any reader/listener, to not only learn about a uniquely harrowing historical event, but will moreover be forced to consider one’s own nature and what they would do in a survival situation thousands of miles from their familiar jurisdiction of law and order.

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James R.

The book is a fascinating account of seafaring Brits in the 1740s, seeking riches but ending up shipwrecked in South America. Author David Gramm performs an admirable task, writing an engaging narrative from logbooks and journals, with vivid characters and many twists. He pads the books with varying levels of success by including commentary by other authors like Voltaire and Lord Byron. Sometimes it's interesting, though sometimes it feels like filler. But the Narrator is unforgivable. He (and the Director of this AudioBook, I suppose) doesn't trust the material. Sooo over-the-top from the very beginning, he has no place to go when genuine climaxes merit that breathless level of intensity. I'll give him credit for his good diction and resonant voice that made him understandable, though annoying. I hope I don't encounter him again. But high praise to author David Gramm.

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It took me several attempts to get through the first half. Narration is over the top, too theatrical and dramatic. Writing is ok, story goes down rabbit holes several times. Stuff that has nothing to do with the story. I finally gave it another go and finished but the Narration was tormenting

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I assume the book is good, but I couldn't get past the first 20 minutes. The narrator sharply inhales every few seconds. these inhalations are as loud as the words he speaks. he's also way too dramatic for an audiobook narrator. especially non-fiction, he speaks in a breathless manner. it's good for short bursts of tension but he infuses this tension into every single word he speaks. just too performative.

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The book was interesting and well-researched. At times the narrator could be distracting with his overly dramatic reading but overall I enjoyed the story.

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Mike H.

It was not my favorite, and for some reason, I was not fond of the narration either. It didn't flow well, and the book was choppy. Of course, the book is put together based on a bunch of old accounts and the writer did their best to make it enjoyable. It is fascinating how in the world those sailers survived. I am sorry for the less than flattering review, but it just didn't excite me to listen to it.

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Grann does a great job of telling a compelling story, clearly using limited source material. The narrative starts very slowly with detailed descriptions of ship building, provisioning, and manning. Many readers will have trouble getting past that minutia. Toward the end of the book, one does come to appreciate the value of that background information. But it can be a tough slog. The human side of the story is fascinating— the routine loss of life to disease and accidents during this era, and the deprivations and degradation of shipwreck survivors, are compellingly told. However, the thumbnail of the book doesn’t prepare the reader for how quickly the story is wrapped up. Overall an interesting insight into one aspect of the European colonial powers’ conquest of the “New World.”

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Dillon S.

cool story. good narration

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It took me a bit to get into. But once I gave it a chance it was a great story. Made me intrigued to do more research

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Braydon W.

great listen

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David Grann is a master of picking a story and bringing it to life. His commitment to research went to the lengths of traveling to the desolate island that this book took place. Would be great to see this book turn into a movie or tv series.

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A splendid tale mangled by awful narration.

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Old world adventure that takes one along the thrilling adventure of a British ship full of sell swords that plans to hijack and steal the massive Spanish treasure ship. This is a true story, a real vision quest that is hard to put down. vision quest across the far seasexcites

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Norma U.

Great historic novel - you can feel the boat move !!! Reader is perfect !!

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Jack B.

An amazing story of survival against the sea, the elements and bad leadership. Followed by massive coverup by the powerful.

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Todd N.

Great audiobook

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Excellent story and narration

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