Steven Johnson argues with verve and conviction in his thoroughly engrossing Enemy of All Mankind ... Because Enemy of All Mankind offers, among its many pleasures, a solid mystery story, it would be wrong to reveal the outcome. But it’s surprising. So, too, are the many larger themes that Mr. Johnson persuasively draws from his seaborne marauders. It is possible that readers may not be eager to learn about 17th-century metallurgy, or the coalescing of nation-states, or the rise of world-wide commerce in the era; but they will be glad they did once they encounter these matters here. All the author’s more surprising suppositions are not merely stapled onto the narrative but seem to have grown there effortlessly during the course of a spirited, suspenseful, economically told tale whose significance is manifest and whose pace never flags.
... [a] page-turner of a book ... we can thank Johnson for combing the archives, describing in vivid detail the life of pirates that we thought we knew—most likely through motion pictures—when in truth we didn’t ... Enemy of all Mankind covers lots of territory, including the beginnings of the British Empire, and it’s a good read, made all the better by Johnson’s clever storytelling and an unforgettable pirate named Henry Every.
Johnson is one of those polymath writers who links events and subjects most of us wouldn’t see as related, always to enlightening effect ... intriguing...relevant to our own world. Johnson doesn’t just write about the heyday of piracy; he connects it to the growth of nation-states, the history of the first multinational corporation, the origins of democracy and the birth of the tabloid media, among other things ... an amazing story, but the real one Johnson tells in Enemy of All Mankind is even more so.
... despite his subtitle — A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt — [Johnson's] detailed account of Every’s exploits and the attempts to bring him to justice is not a straightforward narrative of crime and punishment on the high seas. Johnson instead uses Every’s remarkable story as the organizing principle for a kaleidoscopic rumination on the ways in which a single event, and the actions of a handful of men with no obvious access to the levers of state power, can change the course of history ... Johnson is here less interested in the story of Henry Every than in its implications, and its part in a wider meta-narrative. As a result, we are treated to often fascinating digressions on the origins of terrorism, celebrity and the tabloid media; the tricky physics of cannon manufacture; and the miserable living conditions of the average 17th-century seaman. At times, this approach proves a hindrance to being swept away by the tale of the world’s 'most wanted man,' and is complicated by the thinness of the historical record and disagreement about what really happened and to whom: Much of the book is given over to debate and conjecture about what did occur ... Nonetheless, the story Johnson tells is populated with concepts and consequences that resonate across the centuries — not least for Britain, a country that, even in a predigital era, relinquished its territorial and political responsibilities to a powerful private corporation with its own transnational ambitions. Eventually, Johnson also makes a convincing case that the events he describes constitute “a stretch of history’s river where small perturbations can determine which way it ultimately runs” and that but for the choices made by a single, mysterious pirate on the deck of his ship in 1695 the world might have turned out to be a very different place.
Johnson salvages his subject from the dustbin of history and puts his brief swashbuckling career in the context of the era’s historical currents. It is the perfect book to cozy up to during a pandemic ... In addition to providing captivating 'yo ho ho and a bottle of rum' action, the author examines the geopolitical and cultural implications of Every’s spasm of violence ... Johnson skillfully ushers the reader into the peculiar world of Every and his crew...The author ably documents the radical egalitarianism of pirate culture.
The polymath American journalist and popular historian is an old hand not only at retelling fascinating stories but also at wringing every last drop of significance from them ... Johnson is a bit of an adventurer himself, sailing interdisciplinary seas to lay his hands on pieces of information wherever he can find them. But his material is genially attributed to its sources, and he has such a narrative gift that he deserves clemency. From the 17th-century craze for Indian calico to the speed at which the hulls of wooden ships rotted, it is all here.
Johnson tells the story with swashbuckling aplomb ... This is a rollicking good tale, popular history at its best, filled with many 'really?' moments ... The story itself, however, is rather spare. Johnson compensates with generous amounts of background information (or what might less charitably be called filler). Some is relevant and needed, such as introductions to the East Indian Company, the Mughal Empire, and a discussion of the literature and popular culture that grew around the event. But Johnson ranges far and wide, covering the Bronze Age 'Sea People' who terrorized the ancient Egyptians, the Prophet Mohammad, chintz, protectionism, the sources of the word 'terrorism', and much besides. This is all well done and Johnson doesn’t linger, but the ratio of explanatory material to narrative is high ... Well-written and fast-paced, covering lots of ground, chock-a-block with interesting anecdotes and walking the tightrope between strict fact and reasonable speculation, Enemy of All Mankind is a history book for people who don’t like history. Those who like history will probably like it too.
Johnson’s book is on one level a biographical retelling of Every’s crimes, recreating his most spectacular voyage in fine detail. However, it is far more ambitious than a conventional biography, with a narrative that’s as sprawling as the voyage itself ... [Johnson] deploys lengthy digressions to explain, as he sees it, the historical significance of Every...the same discursive approach that the author used in his book The Ghost Map. Many loved it, some found it infuriating...They may have a similar reaction to this book. The finest digressions are short and captivating, such as the explanation of how a faulty cannon barrel explodes. A far longer one recounts the history of the Sea Peoples, refugees from Mycenaean Greece who were the world’s first known piratical community ... Every’s legacy is probably much narrower and darker, with his career inspiring a whole new generation of sea dogs to raise the Jolly Roger and commit unspeakable crimes and atrocities.
Johnson establishes Avery’s historical significance in this full account of his depredations ... The men’s trial and conviction showed that England would not countenance piracy, making possible, Johnson argues, the preservation of the East India Company and its domination of India in the subsequent century. Johnson’s fluid narrative makes a strong case for Avery’s pivotal role.
... entertaining and erudite ... Johnson's lucid prose and sophisticated analysis brings these events to vibrant life. This thoroughly enjoyable history reveals how a single act can reverberate across centuries.
Wide-ranging as always ... Johnson writes with vigor and evident fascination for Every and his exploits...His equation of their 'radical dream of economic and political liberation' with the behavior of modern moguldom is arguable, but the predatory, sociopathic nature of the pirates is surely not. This makes it ever stranger that Every, now almost unknown, should have been a rock star in his day, and especially in a media-innocent time when brigands such as Walter Ralegh and Edward Teach commanded much public notice ... As with all of Johnson’s work, a highly readable, deeply researched look into a little-explored corner of history.