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The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream

Trucking Owner-Operators Book

Many long-haul truckers work the equivalent of two full-time jobs often for little more than minimum wage. It wasn’t always this way. Trucking used to be one of the best working-class jobs in the US. The Big Rig explains how this massive degradation in the quality of work occurred, and how companies achieve a compliant workforce despite it. Drawing on more than 100 in-depth interviews and years of extensive observation, including 6 months spent training and working as a long-haul trucker, this book explains in detail how labor is recruited, trained and used in the industry. The Big Rig then shows how inexperienced workers are convinced to lease a truck and work as independent contractors. It explains how deregulation and collective action by employers transformed trucking - once dominated by the largest and most powerful union in US history - into an critical example of the costs of contemporary labor markets for workers and the general public.

University of California Press, 2016

2017 Awards for The Big Rig

Outstanding Book Award in Labor Relations and Labor Economics

Princeton University’s Industrial Relations Section


Max Weber Award for Outstanding Book of the Year

 ASA Organizations, Occupations and Work Section

Outstanding Book Award

ASA Inequality, Poverty and Mobility Section

Distinguished Scholarly Book Award (co-winner)

ASA Labor and Labor Movement Section

Reviews of The Big Rig



The Big Rig is sure to become the touchstone study of U.S. trucking. Coupling fascinating accounts of personal struggles with sharp structural analyses linking these struggles to macroeconomic forces, it is the best kind of ethnographic sociology.

- Ben Snyder, review in Men and Masculinities

This is a powerful and important book that brings clear insights into some of the machinations of contemporary American capitalism.

- Shane Hamilton, review in Labor

[Viscelli] has the unique ability to weave ethnographic, historical, and statistical evidence together in his is left feeling as if they’ve ridden along with an expert in the field, an insider in the world of long-haul trucking, and that much collective action must be taken if we are to renew and invest in the lives of drivers and the U.S. trucking industry.

- Rebecca Upton, review in Contemporary Sociology

Truck drivers will immediately relate to the interviews excerpted throughout the book. For those who haven’t worked in the industry, the interviews draw a picture of what truckers experience every day...As a worker in freight and a Teamster, I found the book extremely valuable...but The Big Rig’s message should be of interest to all workers.

- Ryan Haney, review in Labor Notes

Engaging...excellent...The Big Rig is a strong contribution to scholarship on work and occupations, economic sociology, and institutional analysis. It...will appeal to students, scholars, and also those individuals thinking about entering the trucking industry or becoming an owner-operator.

- Jill Ann Harrison, review in American Journal of Sociology


The Big Rig is a remarkable book. It combines gripping fine-grained ethnographic accounts of the lived reality of long-haul truck driving in the United States today with a compelling analysis of the macro-structural conditions in which those lives are lived and an historical account of the political economic forces that generated those conditions. These intersecting analyses generate powerful insights into two of the most fundamental questions about the nature of inequality in the United States today: Where do so many bad jobs come from and why do people put up with them?

- Erik Olin Wright, University of Wisconsin, 2012 President of the American Sociological Association


This riveting account shows how truck drivers --- seeking the American Dream --- end up being harmed by changes in government policy and business practices.  The book is a vivid and readable ethnography. It is smart and well-informed. Excellent for a wide range of courses including “Introduction to Sociology.” Highly recommended!

- Annette Lareau, University of Pennsylvania, 2013 President of the American Sociological Association


Based on a terrific amount of research, including over one hundred interviews and a six-month stint of participant observation—personally logging thousands of miles crisscrossing the country in an 18-wheeler—Viscelli debunks popular stereotypes about truckers and effectively compels the reader to empathize with their plight."

- Christine Williams, University of Texas, 2020 President of the American Sociological Association

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