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Enemy of All Mankind, Steven Johnson

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

Enemy of All Mankind

Steven Johnson (Ghost Map, How We Got to Now) is out with a new book in May called Enemy Of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt. The book combines the story of a pirate with the beginnings of global capitalism and the end of an empire in Johnson’s polymathic fashion.

At its simplest, Enemy Of All Mankind is the story of a rogue pirate and his sensational crime. While piracy is an ancient profession, the most famous pirates of history would not take the stage until two decades or so after the voyage of the Fancy. But that “golden age” generation — Blackbeard, Samuel Bellamy, Calico Jack — was very much inspired by Henry Every’s crimes and the legends that spun up around them. While Every is not as famous today as those iconic figures from the golden age, he had a more significant impact on the course of world events than Blackbeard and his peers. Enemy Of All Mankind is an attempt to measure that impact, to chart its boundaries. It tells the story of the individual lives caught up in the crisis that erupted after the mutiny of 1694, but also the stories of a different kind of character, one step up the chain: forms of social organization, institutions, new media platforms. One of those institutions was as ancient as piracy itself: the autocratic theocracy of the Mughal dynasty. The others were just coming into being: the multinational corporation, the popular press, the administrative empire that would come to dominate India starting in the middle of the next century.