Out of the Jungle by Thaddeus Russell
Jimmy Hoffa and the Remaking of the American Working Class

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Synopsis

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.
 

About Thaddeus Russell

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Thaddeus Russell is visiting Assistant Professor of History at Barnard College.
 
Published September 11, 2001 by Knopf. 288 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Business & Economics, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Russell’s contention here is that Hoffa’s Teamsters—at two million strong the largest union in American history when Hoffa disappeared in 1975 (a case still open at the FBI)—was a strictly economic mission without ideological subtleties, a union on the prowl for material improvements over social ...

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The New York Times

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You will not find my favorite Hoffa story in Thaddeus Russell's new work of biography and labor history, ''Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Remaking of the American Working Class.'' Nor, in a more substantial omission, will you learn about the tens of millions of dollars in Teamster pension...

Sep 09 2001 | Read Full Review of Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoff...

Publishers Weekly

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One of the most dynamic and mysterious figures in American history, Jimmy Hoffa was a successful labor leader because, instead of promising workers abstract socialist ideologies, he delivered concrete gains, argues Russell in this well-researched study of the longtime Teamsters leader.

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David G. Schwartz

Russell asserts that the Detroit Teamsters (and later, Hoffa’s national Teamster constituency) eschewed the mutual sacrifices that “civilization” demanded, confident that Hoffa could successfully bring them better wages and working conditions through his “jungle unionism.” So Hoffa’s rise to pow...

Jun 13 2008 | Read Full Review of Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoff...

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