The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck Review

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann goes over one of Britain history’s most brutal and ever forgotten shipwreck disaster during wartime. Having occurred in the mid 1700s, the author scours logbooks and journals that have been preserved through the times to brilliantly weave together a story that will scare just about anyone. What the author did here is actually no different from what historians and the typical run-of-the-mill publishers of that era did to initially capitalize on the frenzy of this wild tale at sea. Although a large part of the intrigue dealt with the miraculous survival of what little remained of the crew members of The Wager, it also spawned a following of public opinion on who was at fault for the shipwreck along with whether mutiny was involved. In a time when naval regulations were strict and at its earliest beginnings, just even thinking of committing that “m” word would strike fear into the hearts of seamen. But what happens when a shipwreck was involved and the crew members were no longer on a ship commanded by the captain? Who has the ultimate authority then?

Below forty degrees latitude, there is no law. Below fifty degrees, there is no God.

David Grann

What makes reading The Wager’s story so compelling is that till this day, new evidence haven’t been unearthed to make the decision of who was in the right and wrong any easier than it did during its time. As stated in the beginning of the book, it is the reader’s job to determine for themselves whether some of the crew members were right to deviate from the captain’s plan in the pursuit of their collective survival. After having finished the book, it’s still hard to judge. It may seem like an easy decision to make during certain acts, but the narrative can easily shift just as fast due to the rules and regulations of the navy that the author brings up from time to time.

“Persons who have no experienced the hardships we have met with will wonder how people can be so inhuman to see their fellow creatures starving before their faces, and afford ’em no relief. But hunger is void of all compassion.”


Regardless of whether mutiny was actually involved or not, the tales of shipwrecks and survival on desolate islands remains the same in any story: absolutely brutal. They don’t hail these tales of survival as miraculous for nothing. What these men and boys went through on Wager Island is enough to drive most to insanity and suicide. Even had the island provided more food and nutrients for the crew, braving the wild sea in what amounts to a canoe is unthinkable. I’m always in awe at how these little makeshift boats did not capsize during their escape.

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

David Grann

It’s easy to recommend The Wager to any fans interested in shipwrecks and wild tales of survival at sea. It’s nice to see this story getting turned into a full movie and directed by none other than Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo Dicaprio. I can’t wait to see how brutal some of the scenes depicted in this novel will look like on the big screen.


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