In this intriguing account, Goldsmith (Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11) probes the circumstances surrounding the fate of powerful union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975 and is presumed to have been killed by the Mafia. Goldsmith is best known for being an assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel during the second Bush administration, and for dissenting from some of the approaches of the war on terror, including warrantless surveillance. But most readers will be surprised to learn that Goldsmith’s stepfather was Chuckie O’Brien, a Teamsters official who was Hoffa’s “most intimate aide for more than two decades,” and who was widely believed to have driven Hoffa from a Detroit parking lot to his fatal rendezvous and has been implicated in the plot against Hoffa. As a teenager, Goldsmith regarded O’Brien as “a great father, despite his lack of education,” but a lengthy period of estrangement followed during which Goldsmith legally changed his last name from O’Brien. Ultimately, Goldsmith reconciled with O’Brien and worked with him, unsuccessfully, after Goldsmith left the government to teach at Harvard Law, to try to get him publicly exonerated of any role in Hoffa’s disappearance. Goldsmith’s linking of the investigative tactics used against Hoffa in the early 1960s and those deployed after 9/11 in the “war on terror” exposed him to the potential for abuses in government surveillance. It’s that concern that gives this impassioned account resonance beyond exploring a notorious unsolved case. (Sept.)
"In Hoffa’s Shadow is compulsively readable, deeply affecting, and truly groundbreaking in its re-examination of the Hoffa case . . . a reckoning . . . and also a meticulous reconstruction of 'the greatest mystery in American history . . . a monumental achievement.'" James Rosen, The Wall Street Journal
"It’s fair to say that the last thing the world was itching for in 2019 was another speculative account of Hoffa’s final days. Which is precisely why Jack Goldsmith’s gripping hybrid of personal memoir and forensic procedural lands with the force of a sucker punch. More than just another writer chewing over the same old facts and hypotheses, Goldsmith turns out to have a uniquely intimate connection to the case that gooses him along on his hunt for the truth." Chris Nashawaty, The New York Times Book Review
"The unlikeliest riveting read of the year . . . [Goldsmith is] always worth reading on any topic on which he opines. But I wasn’t prepared to be transfixed by a D.C. “backstory” unlike any out there . . . this is a National Book Award nominee waiting to happen. And though Hoffa did not go gently into the night, his abrupt and final exit is as dark as any tragedy." Hugh Hewitt, The Washington Post
"So much has been written about Jimmy Hoffa, the former Teamster boss who vanished from a Detroit suburb in 1975, but a new book about him still contains surprises not least because of who wrote it . . . In Hoffa’s Shadow is several books in one an attempt to piece together the enduring mystery of Hoffa’s disappearance, a glancing history of the labor movement, a reflection on the government’s surveillance powers and, underpinning it all, a memoir of Goldsmith’s relationship with his stepfather [Chuckie O'Brien] . . . The book’s pacing is steady and unrelenting, as Goldsmith toggles between his own careful narrative voice and Chuckie’s off-the-cuff wiseguy vernacular." Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times Book Review
"Goldsmith has produced a wonderful book about the complicated relationship between a deeply flawed stepfather [Chuckie O'Brien] and the adopted son he loved deeply and forgave unconditionally for casting him aside . . . Goldsmith doesn’t excuse O’Brien’s misdeeds. But he comes to view his stepfather’s experience as a target of then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy through the prism of his own experiences reviewing the legality of new surveillance powers granted after the 9/11 attacks." Seth Stern, The Christian Science Monitor
“This is an incredible story, plainly rebutting the clear understanding of many that Charles O’Brien drove Jimmy Hoffa to his death, and offering a profoundly beautiful recognition of the nature of paternal love. This book will make you weep, repeatedly, for the injustice, and for the love.” Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law School and author of They Don’t Represent Us and Republic, Lost
“In Hoffa’s Shadow is a masterpiece and a page-turnerI couldn’t put it down. Brilliant, suspenseful, and deeply moving, it offers a personal view of one of the greatest unsolved crimes in American history. At the same time, it offers startling insights into organized crime, the labor movement, and the surprising origins of today’s surveillance state. Beautifully written and full of unexpected turns, this book is gripping and revelatory from start to finish.” Amy Chua, professor at Yale Law School and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
“A thrilling, unputdownable story that takes on big subjectsinjustice, love, loss, truth, power, murderand addresses them in sentences of beauty and clarity informed by deep thought and feeling. Goldsmith, one of the finest minds of his generation, has told an insane tale with a storyteller’s flair. This is one of the best works of autobiography that I’ve read in a very, very long time.” Bill Buford, former fiction editor of The New Yorker and author of Heat and Among the Thugs
"I am one of the world’s experts on the July 30, 1975, murder of Jimmy Hoffa. And, now, Jack Goldsmithwith his brilliant research and beautiful writing stylecomes along and tells me a whole bunch of things I never knew about that day. Satisfying his curiosity about his stepfather’s alleged role in the crime and through his own personal integrity, Goldsmith has advanced the state of evidence of this unsolved mystery, bringing us closer to a final resolution." Dan E. Moldea, author of The Hoffa Wars
“This is an extraordinary, muscular adventure story about what’s happened to our nation and what’s possible for its future. A must-read.” Ron Suskind, author of Life, Animated and The One Percent Doctrine
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.
Goldsmith (Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law, Harvard) writes about his attempt to absolve his stepfather of involvement in Teamster union leader Jimmy Hoffa's 1975 disappearance. Chuckie O'Brien was married to Goldsmith's mother for 12 years, from the author's ages 12 to 24. After disavowing him and changing his last name, Goldsmith reconciled with O'Brien, who was like a son to Hoffa and treated the author well. Goldsmith describes how O'Brien was a labor organizer, tough, and a helper for Hoffa. This clearly written, sympathetic portrayal of Hoffa as a user of the Mafia in order to help workers describes treachery on both sides of the law. Acknowledging his stepfather's "adversarial relationship with the truth," Goldsmith claims that O'Brien was not present when Hoffa went missing. Part memoir, part labor history, and part investigation, this book ultimately leaves unanswered questions. VERDICT Charles Brandt's I Heard You Paint Houses is the basis for the Martin Scorsese film The Irishman, which depicts O'Brien as an unwitting helper in a hired killer's murder of Hoffa for the Mafia. Goldsmith's work may be an attempt to counter that seamless, powerful narrative. Both books should be read together to review the murky story; a treat for true crime readers.—Harry Charles, St. Louis