Undue Influence: The Epic Battle for the Johnson and Johnson Fortune

Undue Influence: The Epic Battle for the Johnson and Johnson Fortune

by David Margolick

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The ``largest, costliest, ugliest, most spectacular and most conspicuous'' inheritance contest in American history here receives thorough, incisive and dramatic treatment from New York Times legal affairs correspondent Margolick. In 1971, 76-year-old J. Seward Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, married his 34-year-old Polish household servant; when he died 12 years later, his six adult offspring sued to stop the widow, Basia, from inheriting most of the half-billion-dollar estate. While Margolick ably conveys Basia's imperiousness and the children's dissolution, the book shines in its sophisticated analysis of the prominent attorneys and New York City law firms representing the various parties, and in its scathing portrait of tough, profane and peremptory Judge Marie Lambert. After a bizarre 17-week trial in 1986, the two sides settled, with Basia paying out approximately $43 million to the Johnson children. Both parties claimed victory, but Margolick's anatomy of the process shows everyone's claims to be tainted. This is a far meatier and more critical look at the case than Barbara Goldsmith's 1987 Johnson v. Johnson. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
At the age of 76, Seward Johnson, the Johnson & Johnson magnate, married Barbara Piasecka, a recent Polish immigrant 42 years his junior. When he died 12 years later, she inherited his $400 million fortune after a protracted and scandalous legal battle with her six stepchildren. This book tells the story of the contesting of that will and the eccentricities of the litigants, the lawyers, and the judge. Margolick's strength is also his weakness; even the most legal-minded reader may become impatient with the wealth of detail in his 600-page account. Because no sources whatsoever are provided, the reader is left still more frustrated. For only the most complete popular legal collections.-- Elizabeth Fielder Olson, Archer & Greiner, Haddonfield, N.J.
David Rouse
Those who relish a good scandal will find plenty to enjoy in Margolick's book. There are sex, murder charges, money (lots of it), drugs, incredible extravagance, religion, internecine family battles, contested wills, international politics, and the most engrossing and titillating account of a trial since "Reversal of Fortune" (1985), Alan Dershowitz's version of the Claus Von Bulow case. Margolick is legal columnist and correspondent for the "New York Times", and he tells the story of Barbara (Basia) Piasecka Johnson. An almost penniless Polish immigrant, she went to work for Seward Johnson, heir to the pharmaceutical and first-aid product company fortune, as a chambermaid. She soon married Johnson, 44 years her senior, and 12 years later claimed his $.5 billion estate. His six adult children charged her with terrorizing their mentally incompetent father into leaving her the money. Margolick focuses on the subsequent 14-week trial, which included legal fees of more than $18 million, an eccentric judge, outrageous legal tactics, and courtroom scenes too bizarre even for "LA Law"! Highly recommended.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed

Meet the Author

David Margolick is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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