David Grann on the Wreck of the H.M.S. Wager

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David Grann is one of the top narrative nonfiction writers at work today; a staff writer at The New Yorker, he has previously combined a flair for adventure writing with deep historical research in acclaimed books including “The Lost City of Z” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.” His latest, “The Wager,” applies those talents to a seafaring tale of mutiny and murder, reconstructing the fate of a lost British man-of-war that foundered on an island off the coast of Patagonia in the 18th century. On this week’s podcast, Grann tells the host Gilbert Cruz that one of the things that most drew him to the subject was the role that storytelling itself played in the tragedy’s aftermath.

“The thing that really fascinated me, that really caused me to do the book,” Grann says, “was not only what happened on the island, but what happened after several of these survivors make it back to England. They have just waged a war against virtually every element, from scurvy to typhoons, to tidal waves, to shipwreck, to starvation, to the violence of their own shipmates. Now they get back to England after everything they’ve been through, and they are summoned to face a court marshal for their alleged crimes on the island. And if they don’t tell a convincing tale, they’re going to get hanged. I always think of that lovely line from Joan Didion, where she said we all tell ourselves stories in order to live — but in their case, it was quite literally true.”

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