‘Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’ by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik: Book Review
Notorious RBG is a professionally researched and beautifully written book about the American legendary Supreme Court judge who died this year, 2020. It is about the life and times of the legendary and notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was an unconventional woman in her own right. She defined new meanings and ways of interpreting the meaning of feminism and what sexual equality means. She was an icon for America’s people, who were proud and honored to have her as their Supreme Court judge. The authors chronicle in a precise and concise manner the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a woman who broke conventions in many ways, primarily through her many court rulings. This book was penned by two writers: Irin Carmon, a national reporter at MSNBC, and Shana, a recent graduate of the New York University School of Law. She is the creator of the Notorious R.B.G Tumblr page, which was one reason this book came to be written. I gave this exciting and very timely book a five-star rating on Goodreads. If you are looking for an introductory biography on the life of RBG, then do read this book. It is worth every penny of your money.
The book has several illustrations and photographs of RBG and paintings, sketches, and cartoon sketches. The pictures make the reading of this book very colorful and appealing. I would recommend that teenagers read this book, the story of a woman who focused not on the ‘lawyer’ but the ‘law’. RBG was devoted to the Constitution of America. She always carried a little book of it in her purse or handbag wherever she went. She focused her entire life on the right and truly neutral analysis of the law. Every litigant was a human being who had come to the Supreme Court to get justice. She believed in her heart what Martin Luther King Jr. said,
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
However, she added to this line of King, which reads as follows:
If there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.
RBG genuinely believed that her job was a serious one, and she devoted her whole life to it. This book chronicles her beginnings as a young mother learning law. It talks about her family support, especially her in-laws and her dear husband Marty, who was so supportive of his wife that it seems remarkable. I do not see such support happening around here in India. In my country, the woman married or in any relationship subsume themselves for their husband’s career. That did not occur with Ruth and Marty. Marty was an incredible man who took the back seat. Most of the time, he was the primary caregiver for his family while RBG progressed in her career. There are beautiful photographs and snippets of RBG and Marty’s relationship, which is edifying to read. Remember, all this happened in the 1950s when it was unheard a wife could earn and be more successful than her husband.
The book devotes itself to the many cases RBG fought or had a different viewpoint on the matter. She became the co-founder of the famous and monumental Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. RBG, as a feminist, was radical by simply being herself. She was not tomboyish and was very feminine and modest in her dressing. However, her ideas were pathbreaking, especially when she made it very clear that sexual discrimination or gender discrimination works both ways: for the man and the woman. One needs to study the context in which a problem is presented and then analyze it. Reading the very words of RBG in this book is a treat for the intellectual soul. The book is well divided, and highlights have been given to show the notes connected with the cases RBG was talking about. The best quote I loved of RBG was:
Both men and women have one main role: that of being human beings…
RBG mentions that there was no biological connection whatsoever between the function of giving birth and nursing a child and the function of washing their clothes, preparing their food, and trying to raise them as a good person. And she followed the principles she espoused at court. It was a proud moment when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was chosen to be part of the American Supreme Court as a judge. She was the second woman to have been elevated, the first being Sandra Day O’Conner. RBG always referred to O’Conner as her elder sister, despite O’Conner and RBG never seeing eye to eye, which Ruth liked. The reason she wanted that was simple. It meant:
- There were two women in the Supreme Court.
- They both thought differently.
- They were not a rarity or a fluke, and there would be more after them.
Ruth was dedicated to seeing women in the Supreme Court Chair. She dreamed that all the Supreme Court judges would one day be female. She wanted to live to see that day, but sadly that did not happen. At least she got to see Kagan and Sotomayor as her fellow judges in court and was equally glad to see that all three of them were different and independent.
Ruth was a workaholic. This book shows how hard she worked even in the last years of her life. She was a night owl who worked best during the night. There would be jokes made that when the other justices would be entering their offices for a new day of work, Ruth would be leaving it for a few hours of sleep and then returning to work. She ran on cups and cups of coffee. She made up for her lack of sleep on weekends, when she just slept like a log. But she was a perfectionist and insisted that her Supreme Court clerks correct the grammatical errors in their briefs of cases she would be handling. She worked late into the night, even at home. When kids, her son and daughter would wake up at night to find their mother busy at work at a small desk sprawled with papers and books, and amid it all a tiny Ruth scrutinizing the briefs and taking down notes.
Ruth’s humor was deadpan. She loved the opera and worked out with a trainer. Naturally, all her workouts were in the evening, and after the training, she would get back to work. The authors have added beautiful illustrations to make our reading experience relaxing and a feast to the eyes. Their focus on the other stuff that RBG did was so well presented that it amazes me to see this woman whose heart and soul and sole purpose was upholding the law. Seriously, no one could drag RBG down.
Coming to her neck accessories, we have all seen them. However, many did not know why she wore them. They were devised as neck accessories by RBG and Sandra Day O’Conner because the robes were too drab and not cut as a woman’s wardrobe. So, to fill in the neck, they devised these collars. My favorite one is rare, a majority opinion jabot that dangled with gold trim and charms. Sadly, Kagan and Sotomayor have not adapted to that fashion. I hope someone does in the coming years. But I am sure that we will always associate these neck accessories only with RBG.
The book titled Notorious RBG also focusses on:
- Her cases in detail.
- Her epoch-making cases regarding women and male rights.
- Sexual harassment.
- Land laws, and more.
There is a special section in this book dedicated to these court cases, lovely but a serious read. RBG way of throwing these bombshells of tremendous and truthful sentences when she was dissenting can give a reader goosebumps. The authors have presented all these details in such a way that it is easy to read. The case that made me cringe was the 2009 Safford vs. Redding case, where what was at stake was under what circumstances can school officials strip-search a 13-year-old girl. It was disgusting to read that most of the male Supreme Court judges passed lewd remarks, saying that even they got things put in their pants when they were in school, but no one made a fuss about it. In comes Ruth, saying that that is because her colleagues had never been a 13-year-old girl. That shut them up!
Ruth would continuously use her mind, even when she was detected with cancer several times. Her exercise trainer Johnson mentioned that:
She uses her mind every day, and I make sure she uses her body.
Even where exercising was concerned, RBG was a perfectionist. She even got a heart attack because she overdid her exercise routine and had to be taken to the hospital. A stent was put, and the doctors had to hold her down because she wanted to get back to work the same day the stent was placed. This was when she was in her seventies.
RBG was close to all the Presidents during her tenure. This book was published in 2015. So there is no information regarding Ruth’s relationship with the 45th President of the USA. However, the others were people she admired and respected. She was a great friend of President Barack Obama and the President-Elect Joe Biden. There are some beautiful photographs in the book of RBG with these Presidents that make you wonder how such a tiny-frail woman could make those hefty men shiver. Well, I know what Marty, RBG’s husband, would say to me in answer – to all people who called his tiny wife frail, Marty, used to ask the concerned person:
How many push-ups can you do at a stretch? My wife can do 20.
That would certainly shut me up. I cannot even bend without twisting a muscle!
There are several photographs of RBG with the current 2020 USA President-Elect, which is a treat to see. They were a good team even back then. President Barack Obama was close to RBG, but she used to skip his dinners to work out with her trainer Johnson! To read my book review of President Barack Obama’s memoir, The Audacity of Hope, click here.
So, do go right now and get this book on your Kindle. It is an excellent read and could be highly motivational for young people seeking a career in law or targeted because of their gender. Support Notorious RBG, and let us keep her memory alive. This book is amazingly easy to read and can be read over the weekend. If you are interested in RBG trivia, then this is the book you should be reading.
I enjoyed reading and reviewing this book about the American Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I hope to read, review, and analyze more American fiction and non-fiction in the coming days. I wish to celebrate America’s great literary content, keeping in mind that the 2020 USA Elections has just taken place. So, if you are looking for more American bookish content, this is the site you must keep watching. I hope to read more books on Ruth Bader Ginsburg soon. If you want to read more about my life in books and with books, you can check out my memoir Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai here.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short-story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out my blog’s products page or my author’s page on Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan
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