Book Review: The Wager

The Wager 

by David Grann

Review by Harriet

At the height of imperial naval exploits in the 18th century, ‘The Wager’ sets off for Cape Horn as part of a fleet of British warships, on a murky mission to exert dominance over Spain and seize their ill-gotten treasure. What follows is a relentless onslaught of bad weather, scurvy, starvation, violence and mutiny. Grann is a master at capturing the tension between the men’s desire to survive and make it home alive, and their adherence to a rigid Naval hierarchy and colonial class system, which even in such foreign circumstances so very far from home, govern their every move. His meticulous research and clear-eyed empathy bring into razor-sharp focus, the monumental and tragic disregard of lives and resources in the name of empire building. This is a cracking good read – even for those with no previous interest in maritime history. Also, how on earth did they keep their precious record books dry?!