Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt
Everyone likes a good swashbuckler, but Steven Johnson goes well beyond the mere action on the high seas. With artful narration the historian who brought us The Ghost Map does it again, turning the subject on its’ axis to view every facet before shifting the whole mystery in a whiplash twist at the end.
This story of the seventeenth-century pirate, Henry Every, brings together a body of scholarship typically reserved for the experts and lays it out in a fast-paced page-turner for the rest of us armchair historians. Johnson shows how a single event–the ransacking of a Mughal ship with women aboard–came with the unexpected timing of sensitive trade negotiations between two countries, sparking the very first global manhunt.
The sidebars of Johnson’s main thrust hold just as much interest as the central thread. His Emmy winning PBS/BBC series “How We Got to Now”, foreshadows his penchant for little details seemingly unrelated. For example, the word “strike” came to be applied to working men in solidarity; or when and how did cotton fabric originate. Johnson’s writing is peppered with these side notes without ever dwelling long enough to lose focus on the primary target: a mutiny, a race in the fastest ship on the high seas, an Indian princess who escapes with a pirate, the most wanted man in the whole world, the round-up of pirates, and the trial and shocking verdict amid a nation of pirates.
Johnson does not declare Every a hero or a scoundrel. This pirate pushes the edges of both ideals to their limits. Instead, he leaves us conflicting evidence to sort through for our own verdict just in time to watch the pirate disappear.
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