Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik’s book The Notorious RBG is a good introduction to learning more about liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While I finished the book wanting more, it was a very smooth read with fun tidbits on how RBG has pushed boundaries and become a pop-culture all of her own. Even the nickname “The Notorious RBG” (used affectionately by liberals) is a throwback to the notoriety of the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G., indicating that Ginsburg’s persona as a constitutional expert, former ACLU lawyer, professor, and gender equality advocate has become larger than life. At the Women’s March in January 2017, I saw evidence to support this claim as several individuals were dressed as Ginsburg, complete with her dissent collar. Most likely, the protestors were hoping that the Trump presidency would be GinsBURNED (said with the same enthusiasm as SNL’s Kate McKinnon, of course). Seemingly light at times (although not ignoring serious matters), this book does go through Ginsburg’s progress towards equality one court case at a time.

Through the book, readers see how Ginsburg’s prefers to strike down laws one at a time, noting that she disagrees with how sweeping Roe v. Wade was because its precedent could be/has been eroded by laws that limit access to abortion without affecting a woman’s right to privacy. The interviews that the authors included add more context to Ginsburg’s beliefs on how the United States can steadily achieve gender equality. Noting that women will never be equal unless they are able to control their own destiny, including whether or not to bear a child, many of the cases that Ginsburg has championed related to making sure that resources were available to ensure that both men and women could care for their families. Ginsburg’s speeches and writing show that she believes that traditional gender roles and laws that were designed to favor such a societal structure are problematic because they limit both parents, particularly if one parent unfortunately dies; therefore, she has led cases involving widow benefits, equal pay (which is a family issue, not just a women’s issues), pregnancy discrimination (including a case where a Catholic woman was discharged from the military because she refused to terminate her pregnancy), etc. I found these discussions fascinating and wanted more.

Tidbits about Ginsburg’s athletic training, love of opera, and attempts at cooking balance the discussions of judicial process, theory, and adversity. Ginsburg’s life partner Marty takes on a significant role in this book as the book discusses how unique (for that time) Marty’s and Ruth’s marriage of equality (shared household and parenting responsibilities, both working outside of the home, etc.) was. The book illustrates the discrimination that Ginsburg faced throughout her career, her coping mechanisms, and how her daring evolved (once she knew which questions to ask).

Again, I think this is a great introductory book to getting to know a progressive, feminist powerhouse, and if nothing else, it’s made me even more interested in reading more of Ginsburg’s majority opinions and dissents. Unfortunately, the layout, readability, and overall coolness of this book was lost in the Kindle ebook, so I encourage you to find the physical copy of this book to fully take in the personal letters, photographs, cartoons, and other pop-culture artifacts.

Age Range: 
High School and Up