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.)
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.