A dramatic reexamination of Jimmy Hoffa’s life and disappearance, presented by a legal scholar with a beguiling personal connection.
Goldsmith (Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11, 2012, etc.), who weathered his own controversies as assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel in the George W. Bush–era Justice Department, delivers a complex narrative focusing on his stepfather, Chuckie O’Brien, Hoffa’s right-hand man and eventual suspect in the gangster’s 1975 disappearance. The author agonizes over his relationship with Chuckie (how he refers to him throughout), both a wonderful stepfather and mob-connected scofflaw, from whom the author estranged himself for many years as he established his legal career. Their reconciliation informs the book’s structure, as Goldsmith chronicles how he urged Chuckie to relinquish the criminal code of silence. “I came to understand how much Omertà ordered his life,” he writes. Beyond Chuckie’s mysterious revelations, the author constructs a sprawling narrative, capturing how Hoffa—and an impressively rendered cast of gangsters and political figures—unwittingly oversaw labor’s decline. Initially, “Hoffa succeeded because he learned to deploy violent force successfully.” As Hoffa rose in the Teamster ranks, he combined strategic intelligence, personal loyalty to the rank and file of the brutal trucking industry, and an openness to the influence of organized crime. “Hoffa’s lifelong indifference to the taboos associated with organized crime,” writes Goldsmith, “was shaped by his early experiences fighting thugs hired by employers.” Eventually, Hoffa came to embody malfeasance, especially due to Bobby Kennedy’s hounding of him, first as congressman, then as attorney general. “RFK pulled out the stops to demolish Hoffa,” writes the author. All these factors contributed to Hoffa’s decline and disappearance, which is notoriously unsolved. Goldsmith argues that in zeroing in on the hapless Chuckie, “the FBI focused on facts that fit its theory.” The author adeptly synthesizes his personal involvement with the tale of politics, mobsters, and working-class decline that Hoffa represents, though he, too, finds the mystery unsolvable.
A darkly engaging account of an important, misunderstood epoch.