From Publishers Weekly
Historian Davis contemplates the New Orleans privateers Jean and Pierre Laffite, who loomed large in Gulf Coast waters—and in history—from about the time of the Louisiana Purchase and into the 1820s. Although adding little new research, Davis (Lincoln's Men
), director of programs for the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, does an admirable job of recounting the brothers' true story, separating fact from clouded legend. The senior brother and brains of the operation, Pierre, was born in Bordeaux, France, around 1770. His half-brother Jean followed about 12 years later. By 1803 the brothers were in New Orleans and soon embarked on careers as privateers with a presence extending as far as Pensacola and Galveston. Davis is particularly strong in revealing the brothers as complex if ruthless businessmen who, while savaging the trade of Spanish merchants on the gulf, formed the foundation for a profitable syndicate. Their associates included leading citizens and government officials on the take. The Laffites themselves, however, became notorious only when they courted the Spanish and betrayed their allies. Davis tells their story eloquently and with some admiration, while at the same time acknowledging that the freewheeling Laffites spent as voraciously as they earned and squandered their empire, leaving nothing behind but their legend. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW
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*Starred Review* Most Americans familiar with Pierre and Jean Laffite associate them with their aid to American forces during the War of 1812. But the lives and exploits of these brothers were more complicated and interesting than a minor footnote of history. Davis, director of programs at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies and a teacher of history at Virginia Tech, has written an engrossing and exciting chronicle of these men and their times. Their story ranges from their ancestral homes in southwestern France to the Louisiana bayous, and it includes privateering, piracy, and espionage as France, Spain, Britain, and the U.S. vie for control of the Gulf region. Like other historians, Davis never quite gets a handle on the "true" character of the Laffites. At times, they seem to be brutal, ruthless buccaneers. At other times, they appear as entrepreneurs and savvy businessmen who skillfully navigate the borders of legality. Davis also provides an interesting glimpse at the culture of early nineteenth-century New Orleans, where a diverse ethnic and racial population fosters a rich social milieu. This is an excellent examination of interesting, tough men who knew how to survive in an interesting, tough age. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved