Review: Flight of the Rondone: High School Dropout vs. Big Pharma: The Fight to Save My Son’s Life, by Patrick Girondi

Flight of the Rondone: High School Dropout vs. Big Pharma: The Fight To Save My Son’s Life (the memoir so meandering they named it thrice), by Patrick Girondi, poses several challenges to its reader. How many of those challenges are intentional, however—well, that’s difficult to say.

Girondi grew up impoverished on the South Side of Chicago with a loving mother and a mostly absent, often abusive father. Through a combination of intelligence, luck, and a pathological willingness to take massive risks, he graduated from shoe-shining and thievery to become an immensely successful stock trader.

Flight of the Rondone: High School Dropout vs. Big Pharma: The Fight to Save My Son’s Life
By Patrick Girondi
Skyhorse Publishing

When his two-year-old son was diagnosed with Thalassemia, a fatal condition similar to Sickle Cell Disease, Girondi began a decades-long crusade to save his life. Thalassemia is an “orphan disease,” an illness so rare that most drug companies ignore it. Through his mission, Girondi, who never finished high school, became a leading expert on the disease, built companies dedicated to cures over profits, and fought Big Pharma in court. Oh, and he’s a prolific musician.

Based solely on those facts, this story should be everything a person could want from a rags to riches tale. No doubt there’s an audience for books about admirable, successful men with boundless energy. The only problem is Girondi, intentionally or not, goes to great lengths to prove he is not that admirable man.

While the book contains stories of overcoming obstacles and fighting for just causes, of bravely protecting friends and family, of upholding one’s dignity, it also shows a side of Girondi so heinous and bizarre that readers may ask, Why should we like this guy at all?

For one, his attitudes toward women are old fashioned at their best and frightening at their worst. Early chapters cover his exploits as a bachelor, “It’s a numbers game. The more you fish, the more you catch. I fished at train stations, bus stops, hospitals, churches, funerals—just about anywhere.” His shameless admission to flirting with women at funerals, combined with more than a couple stories focused on the size of his sex organ, gives one a good idea of why Girondi might lose some readers.

Later anecdotes about his difficult marriage seem to solidify our worst suspicions. For a book supposedly about one man’s amazing life story, there are a surprising number of instances where he deflects or minimizes accusations of spousal abuse. After his wife Lucrezia asked for a divorce, he writes, “One thing led to another, and she ended up crying on the floor. The next day, I returned to the hotel and spotted a squad car parked in front. I knew that Lucrezia’s father had convinced her to make a report.” When he admits his request for separation included a stipulation that he was “an alcoholic and violent,” he reassures his readers that, “That’s pretty much standard in divorce cases.”

What? you may ask. What do I make of that?

To his credit, Girondi says he would never lay a hand on the mother of his children. But when you look at these accusations—along with his many criticisms of Lucrezia’s dishonesty, spending habits, personal philosophies, and hesitancies to constantly produce matching donors for their sick child—you must wonder if the sum total of his deeds might be just as bad. 

In another telling moment, Girondi attempts to commit a murder-suicide with his two-year-old child. Shortly after learning his son would likely live a painful, brief life, Girondi, struck with grief, carries the infant into the Adriatic Sea. He nearly kills them both when he has a sudden change of heart, “At that moment, Santino’s tranquility jolted me back to reality. We were moments away from death and my son still had not lost faith in me. I panicked as my foot unsuccessfully felt for the sea bottom.” What follows is a desperate panicked swim back to shore.

Girondi presents this moment as a turning point, as an incident that confirmed his resolve to cure Santino. But others might have a different takeaway. Most folks adhere to the simple rule that men who try to kill their children should not continue to be fathers. After reading this sequence, it becomes very easy to understand why his wife fervently sought a divorce. Especially considering how little self-awareness or guilt he appears to have about the ordeal.

The shamelessness with which Girondi reveals the uglier sides of his personality makes it impossible to understand if he wants readers to support him in spite of his crassness, or because of it. In most books, if a father were to almost kill their child, you would expect conversations about the event, rumination, painful apologies—there would be a response. But there is no way to tell if Girondi experienced any of that. He never brings it up again.

Also, he shot a dog.

No, seriously, for reasons completely unknown, Girondi chose to interrupt his memoir about fighting Big Pharma to describe a pointless revenge plot against a neighbor’s pit bull who killed his dog. He writes, “Santino and I did some target practice, and the pit bull quandary was resolved.”

The dog killing has absolutely no effect on the rest of the memoir. Like most other episodes in the book, it is a meandering digression that is forgotten immediately. It is strange to imagine what sort of mind would think this was necessary to include.

Girondi readily admits that he is “eccentric.” He writes about wearing cheap business attire to meetings, “I believed that being remembered by the independent thinker was more important than disappointing the cookie-cutter managers, who were unlikely to help me or anyone else anyway.”

Girondi may brush off the criticisms in this review as another attack from a myopic nerd, another “cookie-cutter manager.” He writes for the real Movers and Shakers, the free thinkers. But there’s a fine line between a maverick who plays by his own rules and a man who is incapable of self-reflection. Girondi falls on the latter side of that spectrum. And so, this reviewer urges people who want to read an admirable perspective to look elsewhere.

Flight of the Rondone is available at bookstores and through the Skyhorse Publishing website.

Picture of the author
Adam Kaz