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.
... 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.