102 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2008
It is true that some famous pirates such as Jean Lafitte and Sinan were Jewish, but did you ever imagine there would be a serious, non-fiction book with such a title? Although the title is perhaps a bit "Hollywoodesque", this is a well-researched and well-written account of a chapter in history that continues to fascinate. Perhaps an equally playful title could have been "Raising Cain in the New World" as early Jewish settlers became heavily involved in sugar cane production and export and some of them did cause trouble--especially for Spain. Furthermore, to a certain extent, they survived and were successful because they were their brother's keepers, and remained faithful in their own communities.
There were pirates of the Caribbean, some of whom were Jews and there truly was a Port Royal in Jamaica, but don't expect Long Jonathan Silvermans or Captain Jacob Sparrowsteins to come careening across the deck or fling themselves from the rigging with cutlass in one hand shouting "Ahoy Vey". You will find some swashbuckling adventurein Ed Kritzler's account, which took place in the time when Spain and her rivals began to explore and settle in the Caribbean and the New World.
After centuries of a relatively fruitful existence in Iberia, hundreds of thousands if not millions of Jews found themselves in a precarious situation as the Catholic Empire reunited and re-established itself over the Moors. Jews were forced to convert or leave and many were tortured or murdered through the Inquisition. Columbus was likely a Jew and his three ships left the day of expulsion, headed to the New World and what eventually became a haven for the oppressed Jews and other people of Europe.
In those turbulent days of discovery, conquest and exploitation, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews used their linguistic, financial and trading skills, along with their associations with co-religionists in other ports to establish footholds in the new colonies, and especially in Jamaica, which is the fulcrum of this book. They were investors, ship owners, sailors and even soldiers and spies for the enemies of Spain, whether they were Dutch or British. Some of these adventurous Jews, including the larger-than-life Samuel Pallache, a rabbi and leader of Amsterdam's thriving Jewish community, did capture Spanish ships and treasure.
As for the beautiful and well situated island of Jamaica, it was originally deeded to the heirs of Columbus and fell in and out of favor with the Spanish and then the English. During the heyday of the pirates, as fictionally portrayed in the hit movie and the popular Disney ride, Port Royal was also home to many Jews. We learn that the popularized and fictionalized accounts of this raucous town as a cauldron of pirates, wenches, unbridled trading and rum may actually not have been far from the mark.
Major historical figures including Oliver Cromwell, Peter Stuyvesant, Captain Henry Morgan, King Charles of England and King Phillip of Spain enter into this story, sometimes in surprising, important and even crucial ways.
I think that as interest grows in the history of piracy and the early history of Jews in American, more will be written about the seafaring and port-histories of Jews in this period. Without spoiling anything, readers may wish to know that aside from the treasures of historical research and documentation that Kritzler brings to light, there just might even be a lost treasure of gold still waiting to be unearthed. You'll have to read the book to find out more.
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Edward Kritzler has dug up historical facts about the treatment of the Jews in the 15th - 17th centuries that for most of us lay people has amounted to a sentence or two in our high school history books indicating that "Jews were persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition". His stories of actual Jewish people and their situations and the extent of their revenge makes for very informative reading, and helps explain the remnants of the Sephardic Jewish presence still in Latin America and in the Southwestern United States. His writing style is not that great; he is difficult to follow because of his lack of continuity in the various episodes. It is more of a "brain dump" of factual information, but the facts he does present overcomes his poor style.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
WHAT THE BOOKS ABOUT: Jewish Pirates aren't the main focus of the book, which is understandable of course. It begins with Columbus, Marranos who travelled with him, and other Marrano explorers, (referred to in the book as "conversos") such as Gaspar da Gama, a Jew who helped Vasco da Gama. Much of the book is about particular Jews or Jewish families that took to the sea, supporting to whatever extent (some privateering) certain empires, whether the Ottomans, English or Dutch - in short, Spain's enemies. Most of the book is concerned however with Conversos; hardly any of the people in the book are not Spanish of Portuguese. The most interesting part is the role of the Jews in England's early Caribbean Empire, especially the capture of Port Royal (which was called Santiago de la Vega when Spanish ruled it), which was a significant factor in Cromwell's readmission of the Jews.
WHY IT ISN'T A GREAT BOOK: To be honest, "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean" with its hyperbolic subtitle advertises an aura and expectation which is not lived up to. Some of the "Jews" and "conversos" in fact had little Jewish blood and/or completely turned their backs on their roots, thus disqualifying the Hollywood-esque title. There are some embarrassing inaccuracies (for example Kritzler writes that "King John expelled the Jews from England in 1290") which prove the incompetence of the book's editors, and moreover the author. How such gross mistakes on basic matters come about is just a phenomenon.
Another flaw is the bulk of chapter 5, going on about the Jews in Holland for 20 or 30 pages, none of which has any relevance either to Pirates or the Caribbean. Totally out of place, the author devotes these pages to berating the religious Jewish community in Holland, his sole evidence being a letter of one single disgruntled person, out of how many thousands? And what has this to do with "Jewish pirates of the Caribbean"!?!
This is the worst, but not the only, example of wasted space. Kritzler bores us with countless meaningless details and stories... another example is the adventures of the famous Sir Henry Morgan, which also take up quite a few pages - not mentioned anything which concerns the Jews even remotely - what is this guy thinking?
On top of all this, and what many (many!) reviewers here on Amazon complain about, is that the entire book lacks proper structure: much of it is not chronological; it is constantly shifting from diplomatic relationships and sea battles and treasure hunts that never happened and slave trade and this and that etc which makes the book difficult for ANYbody to follow.
TO SUM UP: Whether you were looking for a thrilling read since the topic tickles your interest, or just like history, or whatever is your ambition, you will be disappointed. But for all these flaws, one must admit that the book is very interesting!
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. I have read many histories of the period (16th and 17th centuries), and the Jews generally get an historical footnote, if anything at all. What fun to read this previously unknown history of an important period in the development of Jewish identify and independence, and how the actions of a significant group of heroic Jews eventually led to full acceptance and legal recognition of the Jewish people in both the old and new worlds. Of course, it's a source of pride to learn of the important role my fellow religionists played in the development of the western hemisphere's culture and economy. You don't learn this stuff in school, and every person of a particular ethnic persuasion looks for "heroes" to look up to. So this was not only an informative and fun read, but has contributed to my sense of ethnic pride.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2010
I would put this well above some of the History Channel outings that wonder if aliens have visited us. However, like others, I would like to know more. I hope to see more research. It was certainly a surprise that Lafitte had a Jewish grandmother that he wrote about. That was not mentioned in MY Louisiana History class. I wonder why?
It disturbed me that the author treats statements made under torture as if they were always true. In some cases, we are told that conversos dropped their assumed Catholicism as soon as they were able. In other cases, they remained Catholic. At what point, will the author allow that some of these people are being persecuted for no reason other than to take their money? I wish that I could claim them all as Jews, but when offered the chance, many rejected any Jewish practice.
This was a fun and quick read. The author backtracks occasionally in order to maintain clarity. He may follow one character's life up to a critical point, begin the next chapter with a new character and backtrack to explain how the two characters' lives intersect. It was never difficult to keep up with the flow of historical narrative.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is about a small part in the vast history of the Jewish people. This is an incredible book with many fascinating characters their intrigue, exploration and adventure. The author focuses on the Jewish pirates as well as the legitimate Jewish seamen (such as pilots, navigators, etc.) since, let's face it, there is a reason you never heard of Jewish pirates - there weren't that many.
Actually, "legitimate" might not be a good word since at that time many pirates were state sponsored (they were called "privateers").
The storyline follows the Sephardic Jews (those expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition) who tried to find a place in the New World and spans several centuries. Of course, once they settled in a place where no one wanted to settle, made it flourish and succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams the Kings of Christendom sent out the Inquisition under the guise of "holier than thou" to convert the heretics (in the process confiscating and splitting their businesses and possessions 50/50 with the Crown) and let the Diaspora cycle start over.
One of the most fascinating characters in the book is Samuel Palache, the "pirate rabbi," who grew up in the mid-1500s in Morocco and was a formative Jewish leader, a rabbi, an advisor to the Sultan, a diplomat and, of course, a pirate. The book is sprinkled with details about Jewish life (Palache had a kosher chef on his pirate ship) from both the Old and New Worlds especially in Jamaica (the author's home) and Amsterdam.
My problem with the book is that it offers very authoritative historical statements, without any proof. For example the part where the author tells us about "King Solomon's trading post", which is only a theory since that there is no proof that Jews lived in Spain (Sephard) during the reign of King Solomon; or that Columbus' had a hidden agenda which was to find the Sephardim Jews a place to live free from the terror of the Inquisition - again - no proof of that whatsoever except that the Colón (Columbus) family allowed Jews to live at the island they owned and did not allow the Inquisition to set a foothold at said place.
Another issue I had is the editing. Some words are italicized, other words which fall in the same category (such as foreign words) are not and the same is true with capitalization. Maybe it's just me because English is my second language and those things simply stick out at me like a sore thumb.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable book and I learned a lot about a fascinating chapter in the Jewish history. Just beware that you'll be getting a book about tangled and colorful adventures of the high seas but not a solid history book.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2009
First, the author should be commended on the enormous amount of thorough research he has done about an obscure but fascinating subject. That said, there are flaws in the book.
A more fitting title for the book would relate to the contributions of the "conversos" (Jews who converted to Catholicism because they feared being tortured or burned at the stake by the "Holy" Spanish or Portuguese Inquisition). There are plenty of Jewish buccaneers, privateers, and, to a lesser extent, pirates mentioned in the book. However, the narration is really more about the conversos in Jamaica, Holland, England, Brazil, and other countries. These conversos, many of whom embraced their former Jewish faith once they lived where the Inquisition held no power over them, formed an international alliance of sorts. Their connections, knowledge of various languages, and commercial skills, made them valuable to the ruling bodies of their new countries. It is odd that in a book about Jewish pirates in the Caribbean, the famous philosopher Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza, a scion of Portuguese conversos, and a resident of Amsterdam, is mentioned at length. The story of the Jewish refugees from Brazil, once it reverted from Dutch to the Portuguese rule, landing in New Amsterdam (New York) to seek shelter there, is told at great length. It certainly makes for interesting reading but, again, has nothing to do with piracy, Jewish or otherwise.
The book is written in the style of a PH.D. thesis. Certainly, this is meant as a compliment. But from a book titled "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean" readers may expect more pizazz.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2009
What a fun and well researched book! If you are looking for a different view of history from the time of Columbus to the end of the 1600's, with lots of political intrigue, this is the book for you. The author traces the history of the countries exploring and capturing the "new world" in alignment with the experience of the Iberian Jews disguised as Christians. They were explorers, conquistadors, cowboys and pirates who created a trade network across the seven seas.
The book covers that nature political trade from the view of Kings and Pirates, exploring when the Jews were useful, and how that usefulness in many ways led to their expulsion. There are stories of spies and alliances; planned marriages and failed plots; treasures captured and fortunes lost. All of this in the framework of well researched history. There is also interesting information about Jewish practices in different parts of the world.
I am reminded of Gladwell's new book on Outliers. It is apparent that history creates opportunities in the way of small "niches" that need to be filled. The Jewish diaspora resulted in a world wide network of trade. The fact that Jews could not own property moved them into trade and lending. There is also the frightening aspect of human nature that is revealed: once your services are not needed it is easier to evict you than pay you back. This is not just about Jews, but can be used as an example of historical treatment of minorities.
I learned a great deal about the history and culture of the times while reading this book. It was fun and revealing. I recommend this book to anyone interested in this time period, anyone interested in either the Jewish Diaspora or the other groups effected by the Inquisition, anyone interested in political machinations of kings, and, of course, anyone interested in Pirates.
Elisa Robyn, author of Pirate Wisdom.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This book has a catchy title that will grab readers, particularly Jewish ones, but it does itself a disservice. Yes, there were Jews prominent among the privateers during the Age of Piracy. But that's not really the biggest story this book has to tell.
What it's really about are the complex circumstances enveloping the large Sephardic population following its expulsion from Spain, and how various waves and ebbs in persecution pushed Jews to Holland, to the New World and, there, from one colony to another. There may be books out there on this, but I'd never seen this told so lucidly. Spain's policy on New Christians, the newly and often insincerely converted Jews - was one of total suspicion and they were the targets of the Inquisition and banned from the New World. Portuguese conversos were also targets of persecution, but the Portuguese were shrewder in allowing Jews to settle and, using their commercial skills, develop new colonies.
They did, of course, follow with persecution. Persecution of Jews during many different periods of history involves using them to develop business, then, once it is developed, finding them enemies of the state or heretics as a pretext for seizing their money, property and lands. The Inquisition was no different.
The Dutch, meanwhile, were far more tolerant, and Jews not only found a haven in the Netherlands, but in Dutch colonies, wholeheartedly supporting Dutch expansion into Portuguese lands, and being the most staunch defenders of their reconquest by Portugal. They knew what awaited them.
Jewish privateers, several of whom provide focus for the story, were also solid citizens, Jewish community leaders and people with the ear of the Dutch authorities - not much like the stereotypical bloodthirsty pirates from that era, although we do meet a few like that. Krinzler gets into Jews who, interestingly but not surprisingly, cooperated with the Moors in warring against Spain, taking Spanish ships and resisting its incursions into North Africa. Much of the story focuses on Jamaica - held by the Spanish early on but a private fief of the Columbus family, who protected the conversos. Over the next century or more, Spanish landowners maneuvered to depose the Columbus family and expel the conversos, who resisted it by maneuvering for an English conquest of Jamaica. A fascinating story.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2011
After 150 pages I couldn't take any more. Mind-numbing lists of people's names that I couldn't keep up with and whose connections with one another frequently mystified me. Filled with inconsistency, with no compelling storyline. Yes, of course the theme itself is compelling, but the execution found me numbly re-reading paragraphs four or five times because my mind wandered to more interesting thoughts, like what I had for lunch or the first sixty digits of pi. The personae were flat and lifeless. I didn't want to invite any of them to dinner. I wouldn't accept their friend invitations on Facebook. (Granted, I only lasted a quarter of the book, but I didn't see evidence of change coming.)
Other things bothered me. The author repeatedly treated confessions given under torture as fact of the victim's Jewish lineage or political sympathies. The grand theme of Spanish conquest was, like the Aztecs they conquered, beaten to death. It was made to sound as if the story of the Jews--and Jewish Pirates--of the Caribbean, were the linchpins to the Spanish empire's success and undoing.
A couple of times the author used, in the same sentence, one character's first names to identify him but used the last name to identify another character. This book badly needed an editor who wasn't dreaming about Caribbean beaches during the read throughs.
Paragraphs and chapters ramble on and double back contextually. I love well-written histories, but this one was a chore from the very first page. With the average four-star rating from others, I wonder if I was reading the same book, or maybe I had indigestion when I first picked it up. Scurvy, perhaps?