A dual biography of the man who made McDonald's ubiquitous and his third wife, who, after his death, spent the last two decades of her life becoming one of most generous philanthropists in American history.
Journalist Napoli (Radio Shangri-la: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth, 2011) intended to write a sole biography of Joan Kroc (1928-2003), but she wisely decided to first document the life of Ray Kroc (1902-1984), who rose to become a billionaire via fast food after decades of marginal success as a traveling salesman hawking various products. Joan Beverly Mansfield Smith was playing piano and singing in a St. Paul, Minnesota, lounge when she caught the attention of her future husband, more than 25 years her senior. The romance was complicated not just by the age difference, but also due to the fact that Ray and Joan were both already married, with children in the mix. Ray would not be denied, although the road to remarriage took years to pave. Joan felt passion as well, apparently not fully comprehending Ray's alcoholism, his authoritarian personality, his unpleasant prejudices against almost everybody different from himself, and his inability to wrest attention from the business of expanding McDonald's. Publicly, Joan mostly suffered in silence until Ray's death, but behind the scenes, she often went about her life in a passive-aggressive manner. Napoli skillfully assembles the saga of their lives as a couple and just as skillfully portrays Joan's blossoming as a philanthropic force after Ray's death. She donated hundreds of millions of dollars to causes he would have vetoed, including hospice care, alcoholism treatment, AIDS research, Salvation Army recreation centers in low-income areas, National Public Radio, and much more. In the author’s telling, Ray never emerges as a sympathetic man, but Joan slowly morphs into a sympathetic heiress.
A book characterized by deep research and a seamless weaving together of the details of different lives.