Highly recommended: Steven Johnson’s new book Enemy of All Mankind, not only for the tale of the pirate Henry Every and the late 17th-century global manhunt for him and his crew, but also for Johnson’s historical contextualization. I loved this bit in particular, about how, as Johnson puts it, “the golden age of piracy coincides almost exactly with the emergence of print culture.”
Every and his descendants had a vibrant media apparatus through which they could broadcast their atrocities: the pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and books that shaped so much of popular opinion in European and Colonial American cities during that period. Many of the conventions we associate with “tabloid” media — hastily written, often fabricated stories of sensational violence — were first developed to profit off the distance actions of men like Henry Every and the pirates who followed him in the early 1700s. If Every was, in his prime, the descendant of mythic seafaring men like Odysseus, he was also an augur of another kind of larger-than-life figure; the killer that captivates a nation with his outlandish crimes, like John Wayne Gacy, Son of Sam, Charles Manson.