The Wager Book Summary - The Wager Book explained in key points
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The Wager summary

A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder

4.4 (127 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

The Wager by David Grann is a thrilling true crime story that explores the mysterious disappearance of a man in the Arctic. It delves into the history of exploration and the lengths people will go to uncover the truth.

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    The Wager
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    A captain’s first voyage

    David Cheap longed to be a captain. But in September 1740, after spending much of his 40 years of life at sea, this goal remained just out of reach. He was, however, the first lieutenant aboard the HMS Centurion, which made him second-in-command. The Centurion was the 60-gun flagship of a squadron that consisted of five other smaller warships: the Gloucester, the Severn, the Pearl, the Wager, and the smallest of them all, an 8-gun sloop called the Trial. There was also one scouting sloop and two merchant vessels. Their aim was to sail around Cape Horn, at the very bottom of South America, then enter the Pacific, and disrupt Spanish colonies and trade routes.

    Since October 1739, Britain had been at war with Spain in what was known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear – so named after a British merchant who had his ear cut off by a Spanish officer who accused Jenkins of smuggling sugar. The War of Jenkins’ Ear had been mostly a failure for Britain thus far. It had done nothing to diminish Spain’s power and influence. But in 1740, the British Navy still had hopes of thwarting its rival. In fact, one of the objectives given to the squadron was to intercept and plunder a Spanish galleon ship known to be full of treasure for the purposes of buying silks and Asian spices.

    Still, finding crewmen for six warships wasn’t easy. The War of Jenkins’ Ear hadn’t exactly inspired a rush of volunteers. Instead, groups of men known as press gangs had to scour the dockyards and British shorelines for anyone who fit the bill. Boys as young as six years old were conscripted, as were the elderly and the infirm. Thieves and former prison convicts were also snatched. One admiral described the lot as “the filth of London.” Indeed, it was an unfortunate fact that many brought on board carried lice, which, unbeknownst at the time, were a primary cause of typhoid fever.

    The Centurion was hoping to set sail with 500 souls on board. One of the other warships, the Wager, carried 250 men. Among the Wager’s crew was a 16-year-old midshipman, John Byron, who was one of the few who came from a well-to-do family. He’d eventually be the grandfather of the famous poet Lord Byron.

    When the squadron finally set sail on September 18, 1740, they were all under the command of Commodore George Anson, who was captain of the Centurion. But after reaching Madeira, off the northwestern coast of Africa, one of the other captains wished to resign. So, a reshuffling took place, and David Cheap got the one thing he’d been dreaming of all these years: he finally became captain. The vessel under his command was to be the Trial. It was one of the smallest ships in the squadron, but he was now, officially, Captain Cheap.

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    What is The Wager about?

    The Wager (2023) recounts the unbelievable-but-true story of the doomed adventure taken by those aboard the HMS Wager. This Royal Navy ship was meant to sail the world and plunder Spanish treasure, but in 1741 it was shipwrecked while trying to sail around Cape Horn. This is the story of how a crew of hundreds dwindled to just a handful of survivors.

    The Wager Review

    The Wager (2022) by David Grann is a captivating true crime book that delves into the mysterious disappearance of a treasure hunter and the dangerous quest to uncover ancient artifacts. Here's why this book is worth a read:

    • With its meticulous research and detailed storytelling, it immerses readers in the high-stakes world of treasure hunting and leaves them on the edge of their seats.
    • Grann expertly weaves multiple narratives and timelines together, creating a compelling and suspenseful reading experience.
    • The book offers fascinating insights into human obsession, the lure of treasure, and the lengths individuals will go to achieve their goals, making it an enthralling and thought-provoking read.

    Who should read The Wager?

    • Fans of classic seafaring tales like Moby Dick and Mutiny on the Bounty
    • People who love death-defying stories of heroic endurance
    • Those interested in historical mysteries and conspiracies

    About the Author

    David Grann is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post. He’s also the author of the best-selling books The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon.

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    The Wager FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Wager?

    The main message of The Wager is the power of determination and resilience in overcoming adversity.

    How long does it take to read The Wager?

    The reading time for The Wager varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Wager a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Wager is a captivating read that offers a fascinating true story and explores themes of risk and determination.

    Who is the author of The Wager?

    The author of The Wager is David Grann.

    What to read after The Wager?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Wager, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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