Review: Crazy Rich by Jerry Oppenheimer

16044969Title: Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty

Author: Jerry Oppenheimer

Rating: 1 star

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

I honestly tried to find something good to say about Crazy Rich, a story about generally clueless and distasteful millionaire heirs who turned out to primarily be boring clones of one another rather than scandalous or tragic figures. Unfortunately, it was hard to even find the will to finish this book, hampered as it is by some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a professionally published work.

I did receive a galley of Crazy Rich, and can’t speak to how many, if any, of the ridiculous copy errors I came across made it to the final text, but proofreading was far from this book’s only problem. The author can often barely string a cohesive sentence together, wanders and rambles through his text without structure, quotes liberally from questionable sources and cites gossip rather than concrete proof for many of his assertions, and generally comes across as a hungover undergrad trying to pad out a thesis paper with extra words the night before it’s due.

Oppenheimer begins his narrative, such as it is, with the failed political machinations of current Johnson heir apparent, Robert Wood Johnson IV, “Woody.” He then jumps back into the lives of Woody’s great-grandfather and great-great uncles, his grandfather, father, mother, deceased brothers (but barely says a word about the surviving one), great-aunt and great-uncle, sister, ex-wife, her entire family for the past four generations, and deceased daughter (but again, barely mentions the surviving children). None of this is done with any concession to chronology, many of these people have half a dozen nicknames or appellations but the author can’t be bothered to stick to one or the other, and there are not only four Robert Wood Johnsons but three men called Seward. Confusing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

If someone is Jewish, their name is never mentioned without “Jewish” somewhere in the near vicinity. Likewise if they are gay, or black. Women are repeatedly referred to with all of their married names at once, so that Sale Johnson is usually called Nancy Sale Frey Johnson Rashad, Mary Lea called Mary Lea Johnson Ryan D’Arc Richards. Yeah, that sure makes for easy scanning.

Oppenheimer quotes interviews liberally, and what bland and boring interviews they are. Instead of neatly summarizing the information people told him, he makes the reader labor through every “um” and “hmm,” often talking about 50 year old events with people who don’t even claim to remember them properly. He relies heavily on these interviews and old newspaper archives, instead of presenting any actual research into the family. He can’t even be bothered to find out which of Libet Johnson’s husbands was the fourth and which the fifth, because no one he interviewed could seem to remember. Shouldn’t that be public information that a professional biographer should be able to track down?

Never mind the fact that the closest interviews he gets to the Woody Johnson branch of the Johnson family, the one he appears to be trying to focus on, are with a cousin and an ex-wife. Everyone else interviewed seems to be a college friend who hasn’t talked to the family in three decades or an octogenarian who grew up in the same hometown as some ex-wife of one of the older family patriarchs.

By somewhere around page 350, it seems as if the copyeditor gave up reading the text, as I wish I had done 300 pages earlier.

From page 371:

“It’s hard to say if anything happened between Libbet and Arnold, but there was certainly a flirtation between them,” “Notes Ryan Chris and Libet ended up getting divorced shortly thereafter. She got bored with the in, sold it, and they moved to Concord, Massachusetts. Their marriage only lasted about fourteen months, from inception to end.”

From page 385:

Ircha, however, later claimed that she and woody were introduced by a publicist. “My friend said, ‘you know woody Johnson is single…

Again, I am quoting from the digital galley and was not able to check against the finished book, but these kinds of elementary errors were not infrequent in the text and I can’t believe it got as far as the galley stage looking so sloppy. Added to a lack of structure and a general impression that the book was mostly predicated on society page gossip, it made for an unwelcoming reading experience. There’s maybe 200 pages worth of relevant facts here, padded out to double that length with unnecessarily repeated information, tangents (we get a detailed family history of Woody Johnson’s mother-in-law’s grandparents, boy I was really salivating for that), and irrelevant facts (did you know that Ahmad Rashad means “Admirable One Led to Truth”? Well, now you do!).

I cannot believe that an author of a book this bad has almost a dozen books under his belt. And I wish I could get the last week back, and never have wasted my time on it.

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