In Hoffa’s Shadow: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28)
Behold “the unlikeliest riveting read of the year,” said Hugh Hewitt in WashingtonPost.com. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor best known for objecting to government overreach when he was an assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, has written a memoir that explores an improbable personal backstory. Before he became a Bush appointee and leading conservative legal authority, Goldsmith was the adoring stepson of a Mafia-linked sidekick to Jimmy Hoffa who was the leading suspect in the still unsolved 1975 disappearance of the combative labor leader. Goldsmith uses his link to that mystery to tell a story about his stepfather that also becomes the story of Hoffa, the labor movement, and Bobby Kennedy’s overzealous attempts to bring Hoffa down.
In Hoffa’s Shadow is “several books in one,” said Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times. Tying the strands together is Goldsmith’s account of his relationship with his stepfather, Chuckie O’Brien, Hoffa’s former gofer and conduit to the mob. O’Brien was the surrogate father Goldsmith needed at age 12. But just weeks after O’Brien married into the family, Hoffa disappeared, the FBI jumped in, and Goldsmith’s world was turned upside down. In college, Goldsmith distanced himself from O’Brien, and for 20 years refused to speak to him. But the two men reconciled after Goldsmith left the Justice Department, and O’Brien agreed to share his version of the Hoffa story.
When cataloging O’Brien’s own misdeeds, Goldsmith “pulls no punches,” said Seth Stern in CSMonitor.com. On Hoffa’s behalf, O’Brien once sent a cadaver’s head to the editor of the Detroit News. Goldsmith also pushes hard to solve the Hoffa case—“one of the greatest mysteries in American history”—only to be thwarted in the end by his stepfather’s loyalty to the mob’s code of silence. Most readers won’t mind, though. This is “a wonderful book,” even if you read it only for its portrait of a complicated father-son relationship. ■