The Wager by David Grann

Not my normal sort of book to read but it appeared in a lot of Best of Booksfor 2023 so far that I thought I would give it a go.

It is the story of a ship, The Wager, in the 1700s and those who sailed on her. She had an adventurous time as did the sailors with scurvy, storms, eventual shipwrecking, mutiny and murder. Probably all quite normal for the times but this was different because the records kept were not just by the officers but also by one sailor who was not an officer and so we get a different point of view. The voyage turned out to be one of the longest castaway journeys ever recorded.

What I found interesting about the retelling of this story is the desire to tell it as it was, without the romanticising of the events. This is central to the story because at one point in some rough weather and seas the ship sets out to try and reach Robinson Crusoe Island. The sailors knew the story and felt that they would be safer there. Not so. There are links to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Moby Dick so this is a book about the stories that we weave so that we don’t look greedy, corrupt, unfit or that we enslave. In the case of The Wager, when the Captain had arrived back as well as Bulkeley, who had written his own book about the adventure to ensure his narrative was told first, the investigation held by the Admiralty didn’t venture into whether a mutiny had taken place or murder, just the events that saw the ship wrecked. Those in positions of authority also decided which events should see the light of day, and by implication, their cowardice was no different to other groups who wanted their story to be told. After all, is there only one truth and where does it lie?

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

Audiobook so no page numbers

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