September 11, 1695
The Indian Ocean, West of Surat
On a clear day, the lookout perched atop the forty-foot mainmast of the Mughal treasure ship can see almost ten miles before hitting the visual limits of the horizon line. But it is late summer, in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean; the humidity lingering in the air draws a hazy curtain across the spyglass lens. And so by the time the English vessel comes into focus, she is only five miles away.
The existence of an English ship in these waters is hardly noteworthy. They are only a few days’ sail from Surat, one of India’s most prosperous port cities, and the original headquarters of the East India Company. At first sight, the lookout doesn’t even think it necessary to sound an alarm. Yet as the seconds pass, as the blurred shape of the boat looms in the spyglass, something catches his attention in the approaching vessel: not her colors, but her speed in the water. The ship is in full sail, he can see now, running before the wind. And she is moving fast, at least ten knots, maybe more — easily twice the top speed of the treasure ship. …
It’s pub day for my new book.
In normal times I would be sitting in an airport somewhere, posting a list of upcoming bookstore events here. But these are obviously not normal times.
And yet in many ways, I feel genuinely fortunate, because book publishing (and book reading) has continued through the COVID-19 crisis even if traditional book tours have not. And so I’m very happy to announce that my twelfth book is officially on sale today: Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt.
Enemy tells the story of the 17th-century pirate Henry Every, for a time the most notorious criminal on the planet, who ends up triggering a global crisis involving the East India Company, the Mughal Empire in India, the British government, and the nascent media ecosystem in London. For me, it’s a return to the style of my book The Ghost Map — a page-turner that also tries to convey a broader understanding about how the systems of the modern world came into being. (Only this one has pirates instead of intestinal disease at the center of its story!) …
Over the past two years, I’ve been hosting a weekly podcast called American Innovations produced by the talented folks at Wondery. During that time we’ve told the stories behind a number of crucial breakthroughs in the history of health and medicine, from the development of the polio vaccine, to the invention of anesthesia, all the way up to our last series on the pioneering doctors and scientists behind organ transplants. And we’ve always accompanied those historical narratives with interview episodes with present-day figures who are hard at work driving new breakthroughs in these fields.
But today we find ourselves in a global health crisis that historians will be studying for decades if not centuries. COVID-19 presents new challenges to society, on every level: the basic existential threat to our health that the virus poses, to the economic catastrophe it threatens to unleash, to the daily toll on our sanity that inevitably comes from living through a terrifying and unpredictable epidemic. …