If one is interested in the beginning of the age of mercantilism and how Jews and secret Jews played a major part, then this book is bound to pique one's interest. The author's thesis is fascinating: with the expulsion from the Spain, Jews were motivated in finding new vistas of settlement and enjoyed being a part of the age of exploration starting with Columbus' voyage to the New World. The book is heavy on the politics of the enemies of Spain: England and the Netherlands. It is a story of the convergence of the three nations on the island of Jamaica. It is the story of the rise of sugar markets and how the Jewish people made an impact in that trade.
Much is made of the voyages of Columbus and his more than a few New Christians aboard as part of his crew. The book implies that Columbus might have been sympathetic to Jewish settlement. Columbus sets out to gain riches for Spain and mines for gold in the New World. Those that come after Columbus become obsessed with his ‘secret gold mine’.
We are introduced to Oliver Cromwell being sympathetic to readmitting the Jewish people to England and how the Jews spy for him. We are introduced to the mercantilism of the industrious Dutch and how the Netherlands were always a tolerant society. We get glimpses of the intolerant Peter Stuyvesant and how the Jewish people from Recife, Brazil end up in the Dutch colony, New Amsterdam.
The Inquisition plays a major role in frustrating Jewish settlement with its charge of “Judaizing”, and being the objective enemy of the Jewish people. I felt, however, the book could be misleading. One must be careful with such a charge because in general the Inquisition did not have jurisdiction over practicing Jews. Only Jews found aiding and abetting a New Christian to return to the ancestral faith could be hauled into the grand inquisitor. The insincere Catholic convert was really the target and challenge to the Inquisition. Nevertheless, clearly the original 24 Jews asking for settlement in the Dutch colony felt threatened by the Inquisition.
We are introduced to legitimate Jewish Pirates like Samuel Palache who kept kosher and founded the Neve Shalom in the Netherlands. He comes off like a true swashbuckling pirate, out to foil his nemesis. The book, however, is difficult in separating openly Jewish people, Conversos who secretly practice Judaism and New Christians who sincerely converted to the Catholic faith. There seems to be ample proof of Sefardic (Spanish?) names on record, however, there is rarely real proof who were legitimate Jewish buccaneers fighting Spain and who were sincere Catholics out for real profits.
The book’s strong point is the history of the age of exploration and the emergence of the quest for capital with emerging trade routes and fighting lanes in the Atlantic Oceans and Caribbean seas.