Sunday, May 10, 2020

Enemy of All Mankind

Enemy of All Mankind by Steven Johnson
Penguin Random House: 5/12/20
eBook review copy; 304 pages 

Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt by Steven Johnson is a very highly recommended account of Henry Every, the seventeenth century’s most notorious pirate.

"In the case of these two ships confronting each other in the Indian Ocean, those nearly microscopic causes will trigger a wave of effects that resonate around the world. Most confrontations like this one, viewed from the wide angle of history, are minor disputes, sparks that quickly die out. But every now and then, someone strikes a match that lights up the whole planet. This is the story of one of those strikes."

In September 1695, English pirate and mutineer Henry Every, captain of the Fancy, attacked and seized a Grand Mughal treasure ship returning to India from Mecca. This act, one of the most lucrative crimes in history (about $20 million today), had global ramifications and sparked the first international manhunt and the trial of the 17th century. Every's name is even somewhat disputed. It may have been "John Avery" but he also briefly went by Benjamin Bridgeman. It is agreed that he was born near Plymouth, in Devonshire, on the southwest coast of England in the late 1650s.

Johnson also covers the history of piracy before Every, starting with the Sea People in the Bronze Age, up to Every's act that triggered of a major shift in the global economy in the emerging power of the expanding British Empire, the East India Company, and the modern global marketplace. While the British Crown put a huge price on Every's head, only five of his crew were arrested, tried twice, and hanged. Every's daring piracy and escape also marked the spread of his fame as a working class hero. He and his crew became celebrities of a sort and legends, even inspiring a song.   

As expected, Enemy of All Mankind is a fascinating, well-researched, and thoroughly enjoyable account of a little known pirate and the repercussions of his actions. I completely enjoyed reading this detailed examination of how one act of piracy placed in a historical context reverberate across centuries and had far-reaching consequences. Like Johnson's other books, this narrative is highly readable making it interesting to both the curious and history buffs and shows how one event can result in lasting, far-reaching consequences.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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