Apparently, Henry Every doesn’t rate very
highly in pirate circles.
A quick Google check showed Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Captain Kidd, Henry Morgan (the man), Captain Morgan (the rum), the Pittsburgh baseball team, a slew of Johnny Depp movies and other buccaneers get more online hits than the obscure English sea thief of the late 17th century.
But none of the aforementioned (and hopefully not the rum!) were slapped with the label hostis humani generis, Latin for “enemies of all mankind,” one of the earliest terms of international law. Nor did their individual deeds put them in the crosshairs of a global manhunt.
Every’s obscurity has much to do with the mysteries surrounding his origins, his fate and even his name. So it takes the dogged research and skilled writing of Steven Johnson to show how one singular event of greed and barbarism made Every a cause célèbre and shaped the course of world affairs.
At its essence, Johnson’s “Enemy of All Mankind” is a crime story. On a higher level, it is a reminder that an increasingly interconnected world—be it the late 17th century or the present day—needs institutions and higher ideals to sniff out sparks that can burn down the existing networks.
Every orchestrates a mutiny that results in the seizure of a prized commercial frigate. Rechristened the Fancy, the ship and its mutineers embark on a daring sail around the African continent to the Indian Ocean, where in 1695 they attack and ransack the Gunsway, a treasure-loaded capital vessel of the India-ruling Mughal empire.
As the pirates abscond with the booty, word of the brutality and depravity of the seizure filters back into both the Mughal and English worlds, threatening to upend global trade and ignite warfare. Swift justice appears the best remedy to ease tensions, but how does one track buccaneers on a fast ship with a several-month head start?
Using short chapters and present-day analogies, Johnson makes this an easy read. But this is no simple chase-on-the-high-seas tale. Readers will learn how the event forced traditional empires, monarchies and multinational businesses to face up to new concepts of nation-states, nautical sovereignty, global treaties, the influence of media and egalitarianism.
Yes, Henry Every may be a rank-and-file pirate, but “Enemy” shows glorfied infamy isn’t so much name recognition as much as it is how a rogue agent can upend the established order.