Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Woody Johnson: Finding an Identity Despite a Dysfunctional Family

Crazy Rich is the story of the highly dysfunctional Johnson family, the ones who brought you the band-aid, Modess, and Johnson's Baby Powder along with other medical innovations like sterile surgical dressings. While the book tells the tales of the many Johnson problems: multiple divorces, drug addiction, and alcoholism to name a few; the focus is on Woody Johnson, a member of the third generation, who found an identity apart from the family as the owner of the Jets and major bundler for the GOP.

Although the focus is on Woody, the book begins and ends with him plus an internal chapter, Woody's Secrets, recounts his accident prone adolescence, there are plenty of tales of the rest of the family, from Robert Wood Johnson, the General, who forced all his family members out of the company to maintain personal control to his brother Seward, Sr. who in his old age married his chambermaid, Basia, and left her his millions much to the chagrin of his children. The court battle that resulted titillated Princeton when I lived there.

I recommend this book. It has many outlandish tales of Johnson escapades, primarily dysfunctional marriages and bitter divorces, but it also tells the story of a family who revolutionized health care. The three brothers of the first generation were very good business men, ready to capitalize on a good idea. Robert Wood Johnson in the second generation kept the company together with an iron hand. Perhaps this is what the company needed. The family needed to branch out into other pursuits, but generally were unsuccessful in doing so. This is what makes Woody Johnson's story the most interesting in the third generation.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.