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Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom--and Revenge Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 18, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 179 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian and journalist Kritzler brings the political and religious ramifications of Caribbean pirating into a whole new context while explaining how the Jewish diaspora funded piracy to advance their religious (and financial) freedom in the New World. Through a deft combination of factual overview and anecdotes involving some of the more colorful figures of the time, Kritzler paints a unique picture of this perhaps over-exposed period of history. For centuries in Europe, Jews were shunted from country to country, exploited by penurious rulers for their financial acumen and promptly persecuted after the country became solvent (most egregiously in Spain). By financing piracy, the Jews ensured their own survival, as well as monopolizing the most lucrative income sources Europe had seen in centuries. While figures like Henry Morgan and Barbarossa will leap out at readers familiar with pirate lore, the little-known "pirate rabbi" Samuel Palache will excite just as much interest. Though Kritzler tends to leap from topic to topic, he covers an impressive interdisciplinary range-combining politics, economics and religion-that should satisfy fans of religious history and swashbuckling true stories.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Perhaps this entertaining and surprising book is an example of ethnic-identity chest-thumping gone wild, but, yes, there really were Jewish pirates who ran amok, sort of, on the Spanish Main in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Most of them were Sephardic Jews whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain or Portugal, and revenge was certainly a motivation for some. Their natural allies were England and the Dutch Republic, and the major characters were less freewheeling buccaneers than paid privateers. This is a wide-ranging saga filled with attractive and repellant personalities, including a warrior rabbi, a shady arms dealer, and loathsome Spanish inquisitors. Pirates and their exploits lend themselves to over-the-top romantic fantasies. In fact, the naval warfare in the Caribbean was frequently brutal, with no “hint” of pirate honor. Kritzler captures the spirit of that violent, lawless epoch and combines it with an interesting ethnic perspective. --Jay Freeman

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (November 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513982
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (179 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anna M. Foer on November 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified 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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified 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.
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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.
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