Skip to Content

Discussion Guide and Book Club Questions for The Wager by David Grann

the_wager_book_club_questions

Book club questions and reading guide for The Wager by David Grann: what is truly important? This novel explores everything from leadership, survival, colonialism, & the clash between romanticized ideals and harsh realities in the 18th-century British Navy.

For a complete list of David Grann’s books in order, click here!

The Wager by David Grann
the_wager_book

I deeply enjoyed this book! It is a historical truth worth telling and reading, and as the book says, it’s mind-boggling how much suffering the human spirit and body can endure, as well as the physical and moral extremes humans will go to survive when starving.

About the Author | Book Club Questions | Additional Recommendations

Summary | Chapter by ChapterCharacters Explained

Discussion Guide

About the Story

The Wager is a true story that explores the 18th-century shipwreck of the British naval ship named the Wager during the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

The survivors, led by Captain David Cheap, find themselves stranded on an island near Patagonia, facing challenges like food shortages & internal conflicts. Tensions rise, leading to a mutiny orchestrated by John Bulkeley, a lower-ranking crew member.

The story unfolds with struggles for survival, clashes of authority, and encounters with Indigenous populations. It delves into themes of leadership, colonialism, and the impact of historical events on individuals.

About the Author

David Grann is an American journalist and author known for his investigative reporting and non-fiction writing. He was born on March 10, 1967. Grann has written for prominent publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, convering topics from crime, politics, as well as historical events.

David Grann author 1

He gained widespread recognition and acclaim for his books, particularly The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, published in 2009. This book tells the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon rainforest while searching for a mythical ancient city. The book was later adapted into a feature film in 2016.

Grann’s other notable work includes Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBI, published in 2017. This book investigates a series of murders of wealthy Osage Native Americans in the 1920s, which led to the formation of the FBI. This book received widespread critical acclaim and has been adapted into a film directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

Grann is celebrated for his meticulous research, compelling storytelling, and ability to uncover forgotten or overlooked historical events. His works often blend elements of true crime, history, and adventure.

Book Club Questions for The Wager

  1. How does the 18th-century geopolitical landscape between Britain and Spain shape the events in “The Wager”?
  2. In what ways does the author, David Grann, bring the historical setting to life? How does he balance historical accuracy with storytelling?
  3. Dive deeper into the challenges the Wager faced, particularly in navigating Drake’s Passage. How did these challenges contribute to the shipwreck, and could better preparation have prevented it?
  4. What motivations drive Captain David Cheap to join the navy and rise through the ranks? Do you sympathize with his character, or do you find his actions questionable?
  5. Consider Cheap’s decision to attack Spanish colonies despite the hardships faced by the crew. Was this driven solely by duty, or were there personal motivations at play?
  6. What did you think about Bulkeley’s qualities as a leader? How does his leadership style differ from Captain Cheap’s, and why did the crew rally behind him during the mutiny?
  7. How do Cheap’s leadership style and decisions contribute to the escalating tensions and mutiny on Wager Island?
  8. Analyze John Bulkeley’s character evolution throughout the story. What qualities make him a natural leader, especially in contrast to Captain Cheap?
  9. Discuss the ethical dilemmas Bulkeley faces during the mutiny. Do you agree with his decisions, and how do they reflect the challenges of survival and loyalty?
  10. What motivated Bulkeley’s decision to build a shelter and lead the mutiny to return to Britain? Were these actions driven more by survival instincts or a sense of justice?
  11. Explore the theme of “The Romance of the British Navy.” How does Grann depict the contrast between the romanticized ideals of a sailor’s life and the harsh realities faced by the crew of the Wager?
  12. How do the sailors’ expectations, fueled by stories of explorers like Sir Francis Drake, clash with the grim experiences on Wager Island?
  13. Examine Captain Cheap’s motivations for maintaining strict order, even resorting to violence. How do his actions reflect the mindset of a British naval officer during the 18th century?
  14. In what ways does Grann highlight the flaws and consequences of British Imperialism and Colonialism? Discuss the impact on both the colonizers and the indigenous populations encountered by the Wager survivors.
  15. How does the encounter with the Kawésqar people serve as an example of the negative consequences of colonialism?
  16. Analyze the mutiny led by John Bulkeley. Do you think it was a justifiable response to Captain Cheap’s leadership, or were there better alternatives for resolving the conflicts?
  17. Consider the court martial that follows the survivors’ return to England. Why do you think no one was held responsible for the shipwreck or the events on Wager Island?
  18. How does the narrative emphasize the power of storytelling? Discuss instances where characters, particularly John Bulkeley, use storytelling to control the narrative.
  19. In what ways do narratives influence public opinion, as seen in the court of public opinion after the survivors’ return to England?
  20. Explore the moral choices faced by the characters in their struggle for survival. How do the harsh conditions on Wager Island force individuals to make morally challenging decisions?
  21. Discuss instances of cannibalism and its portrayal in the novel. How does it contribute to the broader themes of survival and desperation?
  22. Discuss the psychological toll on characters who made difficult choices for survival. How did these experiences shape their perspectives and actions?Consider parallels between the European colonial mindset portrayed in the book and present-day challenges in understanding and addressing historical injustices.
  23. Discuss the representation of Indigenous cultures in the narrative. How does Grann navigate the portrayal of the Kawésqar people, and what impact does their interaction with the British survivors have on the overall narrative?
  24. Consider the impact of historical forgetting in the narrative. Why do you think the story of the mutiny on Wager Island was suppressed? How does this reflect on the reputation of the British Navy?
  25. Discuss the role of storytelling in preserving or erasing historical events. How does this theme resonate with contemporary discussions on historical narratives?
  26. Evaluate David Grann’s writing style. How does he engage readers in a true historical account while maintaining a compelling narrative?
  27. Consider the use of multiple perspectives in the storytelling. How does it contribute to a nuanced understanding of the events and characters?
  28. Grann’s journalistic background influences the narrative of this novel. In what ways does his expertise in crime and historical exploration shape the storytelling?

Additional Recommendations

The Boy From Block 66 by Limor Regev
the_boy_from_block_66_book

He has endured more than any child ever should, but now he must survive Block 66.

January, 1945. 14-year-old Moshe Kessler steps off the train at Buchenwald concentration camp. Having endured the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, lost touch with his entire family, and survived the death march in the freezing European winter, he has seen more than his share of tragedy.

Moshe knows only one thing about Buchenwald. Everyone knows it.

If you want to survive, you have to get to Block 66.

The Germans are cruel and determined – but they are not prepared for Buchenwald’s secret resistance, which rises up with one mission only: to protect the camp’s children from harm.

A War Too Far by David Lee Corley
a_war_too_far_book

The untold story of how the Vietnam War really began…

A skilled and ruthless sniper kills to keep America free and his fellow soldiers safe. He is a breed apart. When the crosshairs of his rifle’s scope settle, a life ends. He doesn’t miss. Missing is for shavetails and greenhorns. He can survive for weeks in the harshest jungle. Silent and invisible, his prey never sees him coming and never hears the bullet that kills them.

But this assignment is different – an unknowing chance to prevent a war and save millions of lives. His mission… hunt down Ho Chi Minh, the merciless leader of a rebel army.

Based on actual historical events and real people A War Too Far is the true story of the elite OSS Deer Team and their daring operation in the mountains of North Vietnam near the end of World War II. A gut-wrenching tale of the unbreakable bond between brothers-in-arms, bravery beyond reason, and an astonishing betrayal that would alter the world forever.

A War Too Far is the first book in the highly acclaimed Airmen Series – historical novels that read like a modern political thriller, full of exciting action, and larger-than-life characters. Each book reveals unforgettable events leading up to and during the war that changed America forever.

The Secret Life Of Sunflowers by Marta Molnar and Dana Marton
the_secret_life_of_sunfowers_book

When Hollywood auctioneer Emsley Wilson finds her famous grandmother’s diary while cleaning out her New York brownstone, the pages are full of surprises. The first surprise is, the diary isn’t her grandmother’s. It belongs to Johanna Bonger, Vincent van Gogh’s sister-in-law.

Johanna inherited Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. They were all she had, and they weren’t worth anything. She was a 28 year old widow with a baby in the 1800s, without any means of supporting herself, living in Paris where she barely spoke the language. Yet she managed to introduce Vincent’s legacy to the world.

The inspiration couldn’t come at a better time for Emsley. With her business failing, an unexpected love turning up in her life, and family secrets unraveling, can she find answers in the past?

Discussion Guide for The Wager by David Grann

Happy reading! ❤️