[A] propulsive, finely detailed seafaring saga ... This is a ripping yarn disguised as an acute study of group psychology, or perhaps the other way around. However you categorize The Wager, it is a remarkable book ... Grann guides us through this process, step by step, storm by storm, man by man, in prose that the writers he references, including Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad, would appreciate. The book invites landlubbers in with vivid descriptions of life at sea, peppered with explanations of phrases and idioms given us by that life.
The most gripping true-life sea yarn I’ve read in years ... A tour de force of narrative nonfiction, Mr. Grann’s account shows how storytelling, whether to judges or readers, can shape individual and national fortunes—as well as our collective memory ... The story of the Wager has the weight of myth ... Mr. Grann renders vividly the furies of the waters around Cape Horn ... The Wager is likely to cast a powerful spell on modern readers as well.
[Grann] has found not just a good but a great story, fraught with duplicity, terror and occasional heroism ... One trick Grann pulls off — again and again — is not showing his hand, and this review honors that accomplishment by not revealing the details of what happens next ... Another Grann specialty is on full display — creating a cast of indelible characters from the dustiest of sources: 18th century ship’s logs, surgeons’ textbooks, court-martial proceedings. What a fascinating, conflicted lot they are ... The other strength of the Wager’s story is that it just gets more and more improbable ... The Wager will keep you in its grip to its head-scratching, improbable end.
The material that Grann has to work with is again unwieldy. He sets up his story as a mystery ... It’s the kind of inspiring chronicle that would make for a rousing maritime adventure. But this is a David Grann book, and so he gives us something more ... Despite the evident deliberation that Grann put into setting up the story just so, the question of whether or not there was a mutiny quickly appeared to me, almost 300 years later, beside the point. Yes, everyone from the shipwreck had his particular tale to tell, whether out of vanity or self-preservation. But Grann is so skillful at describing the men’s physical ordeals at sea and on land that their quarrels over the naval code pale next to the startling fact of their survival.
The Wager is unadorned, almost pure, horror-filled plot, without the usual Grannian first-person moments, a tightly written, relentless, blow-by-blow account that is hard to put down, even as there are sometimes frustrating narrative gaps, a result of the limits of nonfiction grappling with 280-year-old events. For all the hours we spend with Cheap, Bulkeley and the others, they remain inaccessibly distant.
The story of the shipwreck and its aftermath features scenery-chewing characters, unexpected twists and an almost unimaginable amount of human misery. Grann...tells it with style. He manages to wring maximum drama out of the events and sketch out nuanced portraits of key players on the doomed ship. Journal entries made on the voyage gave Grann a window into their thoughts and fears.
Grann is one of America’s most meticulous narrative nonfiction writers ... Grann begins weaving into the story references to older forms of sea poetry and narrative, for reasons that don’t become fully clear until later ... The beauty of The Wager unfurls like a great sail. Grann’s book is not about romance but truth and he has prepared the reader. It’s a story about the stories we tell ourselves ... There’s an expectation, in reviewing a book like The Wager, to balance its strengths with some discussion of its flaws. But The Wager is one of the finest nonfiction books I’ve ever read. I can only offer the highest praise a writer can give: endless envy, as deep and salty as the sea.
Grann, who spent five-plus years working on the book, is expert at stitching together the available facts so deftly that we hardly notice the gaps. He draws on other contemporary seafaring accounts to round out the narrative and splices in his own atmospheric descriptions of quaking seas and creaking hulls ... Provides a valuable corrective, then, but not at the expense of a cracking yarn, with no shortage of jeopardy to bedevil its characters. Grann’s taste for desperate predicaments finds its fullest expression here, and it’s hard to think of a better author to steer us through the extremes.
Vivid ... Grann tells this story with a keen eye for arresting (and at times terrifying) details. Thanks to his sure-handed ability to create scenes with novelistic immediacy, it’s easy to feel the mounting desperation of the seamen as their numbers shrank in the face of relentless winter weather, disease and starvation ... His thrilling book is an admirable example of how that veil of ignorance can be pierced
A rousing story ... Grann mounts a chilling, vibrant narrative of a grim maritime tragedy and its dramatic aftermath ... Recounting the tumultuous events in tense detail, Grann sets the Wager episode in the context of European imperialism as much as the wrath of the sea. A brisk, absorbing history and a no-brainer for fans of the author’s suspenseful historical thrillers.
Concise and riveting ... hough the showdown between Cheap and Bulkeley is somewhat anticlimactic, Grann packs the narrative with fascinating details about life at sea—from scurvy-induced delirium to the mechanics of loading and firing a cannon—and makes excellent use of primary sources, including a firsthand account by 16-year-old midshipman John Byron, grandfather of the poet Lord Byron. Armchair adventurers will be enthralled.