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Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Remaking of the American Working Class (Labor in Crisis)

Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Remaking of the American Working Class (Labor in Crisis)

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Jimmy Hoffa is one of the most storied figures in American history, a rough-and-tumble Indiana native who became the head of the largest and most powerful union in twentieth-century America. More than a quarter-century after his mysterious disappearance, Hoffa’s legend lives on. Yet much of his life, and the significance of his public career, has remained obscured by myth or entirely unknown.

In Out of the Jungle, historian Thaddeus Russell gives us a detailed, crisply written, and fascinating account of Jimmy Hoffa’s life and times, much of it previously untold. Russell argues that Hoffa was compelled by a variety of social forces to place the economic interests of his union members over broad ideological concerns. The most important of those forces was the demonstrated desire of ordinary Teamsters to improve their material lives. “What do you hire us for,” he famously asked a meeting of truck drivers, “if not to sell your labor at the highest buck we can get?” He responded to the rank-and-file members’ demands as did none of his contemporaries in the labor movement, seeking financial gain with the mercilessness that made him renowned and feared.

Russell shows how Hoffa’s ruthless attitudes evolved over his career. Beginning in the small Indiana coal-mining towns where he was born and raised, continuing into Depression-era and wartime Detroit, and then across the country after the war when Hoffa gained national notoriety, Russell places his life and career in historical perspective. The author presents new interpretations of how the Depression, the New Deal, World War II, and Robert F. Kennedy’s crusade against organized crime affected not only Hoffa and the Teamsters but also the American labor movement as a whole.

In this lively and thorough narrative, Thaddeus Russell illuminates the life of one of the most mysterious, compelling, and important figures in modern American history.