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Lula and His Politics of Cunning

From Metalworker to President of Brazil

By John D. French

Lula and His Politics of Cunning

520 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 38 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5576-5
    Published: October 2020

Hardcover Available October 2020, but pre-order your copy today!

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Known around the world simply as Lula, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was born in 1945 to illiterate parents who migrated to industrializing São Paulo. He learned to read at ten years of age, left school at fourteen, became a skilled metalworker, rose to union leadership, helped end a military dictatorship—and in 2003 became the thirty-fifth president of Brazil. During his administration, Lula led his country through reforms that lifted tens of millions out of poverty. Here, John D. French, one of the foremost historians of Brazil, provides the first critical biography of the leader whom even his political opponents see as strikingly charismatic, humorous, and endearing.

Interweaving an intimate and colorful story of Lula’s life—his love for home, soccer, factory floor, and union hall—with an analysis of large-scale forces, French argues that Lula was uniquely equipped to influence the authoritarian structures of power in this developing nation. His cunning capacity to speak with, not at, people and to create shared political meaning was fundamental to his political triumphs. After Lula left office, his opponents convicted and incarcerated him on charges of money laundering and corruption—but his immense army of voters celebrated his recent release from jail, insisting that he is the victim of a right-wing political ambush. The story of Lula is not over.

About the Author

John D. French is professor of history at Duke University and the author, most recently, of Drowning in Laws: Labor Law and Brazilian Political Culture.
For more information about John D. French, visit the Author Page.


“This impressive biography of Lula, drawing on John French’s unparalleled knowledge of modern Brazilian history, benefits from French’s thoughtful meditations on the possibilities and limits of leadership; his attention to language and meaning, which can’t be reduced to class but rather can construct class identity; and his analysis of how a ‘cunning’ leader can create unity from divergence.”—Greg Grandin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

“In this exciting and, in certain aspects, surprising book, John French advances innovative ideas about how to use Lula's life trajectory as a lens to analyze Brazil’s social and political transformations from the 1950s to the first decades of the twenty-first century.”—Alexandre Fortes, author of Nós do Quarto Distrito

“The definitive study of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, without question the most important Latin American political figure of the last thirty-five years.”—Daniel James, author of Doña María's Story