Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life
by Jane Sherron De Hart
752 pages
Knopf, 2018
source: Christmas gift from my daughter

Random House Audio, 2018
Narrated by Suzanne Toren
24 hours and 3 minutes
source: audible credit


PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY:
The first full life--private, public, legal, philosophical--of the 107th Supreme Court Justice, one of the most profound and profoundly transformative legal minds of our time; a book fifteen years in work, written with the cooperation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself and based on many interviews with the justice, her husband, her children, her friends, and her associates.


MY THOUGHTS:

This review is long overdue. My jumbled thoughts have languished in a draft folder for weeks. They're not getting any more profound, so it's time to hit the publish button.

The first thing you need to know:
This book is NOT for readers with a casual interest in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I've read other RBG biographies and De Hart's is, by far, the most comprehensive and complex. This is a book for the reader who wants more... more about RBG's childhood, early career and personal life, more about her causes, specific cases, and how they represent incremental progress in the fight for equal treatment under the law, and, finally, more about the changing dynamics of the Supreme Court during her tenure.

Also worth noting: 
This book was not written solely for lawyers or legal scholars. I have no legal education or training, yet De Hart is able to clearly explain issues, opposing arguments, majority opinions, dissents, and, most importantly, their significance in language I could understand.    

The audio version is a winner:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life  managed, for the most part, to hold my interest for 550 pages. I approached it as a read/listen combination and will admit that the audio version pulled me through a few drier sections. Suzanne Torren's narration is excellent. Her crisp, authoritative voice is perfectly suited to the book.

But I do have a couple of criticisms:
First --> Does Ruth Bader Ginsburg have any faults? If, indeed, she does, none are mentioned in this book.

Second--> The book veers down an increasingly partisan path in the last several chapters. Realistically, I'm not sure this can be avoided once Trump becomes a part of the narrative.

My favorite "day in the life" anecdote:
Early in her career, RBG argued a case before the Supreme Court in the morning, returned to NYC in time to deliver an afternoon lecture at Columbia, and still made it home in time to have dinner with her husband and children. Rest assured, she did not cook  the dinner... but this still makes me feel wholly inadequate!

My next step:
I plan to get a copy of  My Own Words  by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "a witty, engaging, serious, and playful collection of writings and speeches from the woman who has had a powerful and enduring influence on law, women’s rights, and popular culture."

The bottom line:
If you're familiar with the RBG basics and want to dig deeper, this is the book for you! For a more accessible starting point, I recommend Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg  by Irin Carmon.

Ultimately, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life  has left me with an even greater respect for this brilliant, driven, and seemingly indefatigable woman.

31 comments:

  1. This might be a little too intense and dry for me even though I'm very interested in RBG. She is a force to be reckoned with.

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    1. I agree with Kathy, it does sound really good but rather intense. I also purchased it on Audible. Hoping for a long road trip in spring to begin this one.

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    2. Kathy and Diane - There is certainly a lot of information here and I found most of it interesting, but it is a huge time commitment! Notorious RBG was lively and fun to read.

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  2. I think I'll take your advice and look for Notorious RBG and the book in her own words! Not that she's not worth reading about. (Have you seen the new movie?)

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    1. Audrey - I think you'll enjoy Notorious RBG. Just downloaded the audio version of My Own Words and was delighted to hear RBG read the introduction. There is also a recording of a speech her husband, Marty, gave while introducing her at a conference. I haven't seen the new movie yet... have you?

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    2. Audrey - Me, too... hope I can get there before it leaves the area. If not, I'll have to wait for Netflix!

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  3. I need to share this book with my colleague. She did her thesis paper on RBG but I don't think she has read this one.

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    1. Ti - She might be the perfect reader for this book!

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  4. I think I would like this, but I'd have to think about it some since it's a 24 hour audio.

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    1. Vicki - No doubt about it... the time commitment here is huge!!

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  5. I'm glad this was a winner, both in print and on audio. I think I'll start with Notorious RBG and see if I'm then ready to tackle this lengthy read at a later date.

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    1. Les - Notorious RBG is definitely a better starting point and, for most readers, will be enough. I went on to read Sister In Law, a dual biography of RBG and Sandra Day O'Connor... what an eye-opener! Amazing to me that two women, so different in background, upbringing, career path, and politics could both wind up on the Supreme Court.

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  6. Hi JoAnn,
    I'm so glad I'm listening to this biography. I love the intricate details, and am somewhat mystified by the various legal philosophies of the 1950s, then the ones that cropped up in the late 60s and early 70s. I do need a hardcover of the book because these passages are hard to grasp while listening, and even harder to retain that way.
    I, too, have been marveling at how amazing RBG was, to have been able to do all she did. You're right--no real faults are mentioned, but the author does mention that she did not have a commanding presence in the lecture hall, as so many of the male "charismatics" did. In my view, charisma and showmanship only goes so far in the way of real learning, and as mentioned in the book, she worked very hard to make sure students had an extra-thorough grasp of the material.

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    1. Judith - This was certainly the perfect book for a read/listen combination. There were many times I listened on my walk, then checked the print version for reinforcement when I got home. The author did mention several times that Ginsburg was not the most dynamic lecturer, but there is no doubt her students had a clear understanding of the subject matter. I found most of the book fascinating... maybe I should have gone to law school, lol!

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    2. JoAnn,
      You're so right--I could use that "reinforcement" of the hardcover. I'll see what I can conjure up.
      Ditto for me regarding law school. I find the subject of the law, particularly constitutional law fascinating.
      My father, after a career as a top executive at the New England Telephone Company, decided he would become a lawyer, as he had wanted to do since he served in WWII. He worked at his regular job all day, then went to law school at night and finished in 3 years, passed the bar, retired from his regular job, and practiced law for the next 10 years. He just loved studying and practicing law. We would talk about his cases, quite a number of them criminal cases, and I found the discussions fascinating.

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    3. Judith - Wow, kudos to your father for returning to school after a successful career! I'm sure you enjoyed those conversations with him. My family always used to say that we could use a lawyer amongst our ranks... now we have my SIL, and my sister is HR director for a large law firm.

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  7. There is a film about her that is out now or soon. I saw the previews of it a couple of weeks ago. This book sounds wonderful. I like biographies that are a step above the "what we already know" events.

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    1. Pam - The new film, On the Basis of Sex, is out here but I haven't seen it yet. Hopefully I'll get there soon. Your description of above "what we already know" is a great way to describe this biography...I especially appreciated the intricacies of cases presented and how they built upon one another producing incremental change in the law.

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  8. Nice review. I hear RBG has returned to work after her latest cancer surgery. We need her on the Bench! Perhaps one criticism I have heard of RBG is that she is a terrible cook .... so said her family in the RBG movie. Ha. They take her away from the cooking duties ... perhaps they could do that for me as well :-) Go RBG go!

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    1. Susan - Yes, I was so happy to see her back at work! Hope she stays healthy for a long time now. RBG was never known for her culinary skills, but Marty knew his way around the kitchen ;-)

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  9. She truly is an amazing woman, and I would love to know more about her! Might start with a lighter one, though!

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    1. Angela - Notorious RBG is very read able and, I think, a much better place to start. Plus it has some great photos and graphics!

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  10. I really would like to read more about her as I really admire her but I think I may start with the other book your recommended, Notorious RBG!

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    1. Iliana - This book definitely isn't a starting point, but I think you'd enjoy Notorious RBG.

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  11. Great review, and a big undertaking! I was immediately excited when I saw this book but then a bit daunted by the number of pages. I read and *loved* Notorious RBG, and I think that might satisfy my reading needs. But it's good to hear that this book was able to keep your attention, despite length and level of detail. Maybe someday I'll seek it out.

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    1. Unruly Reader - Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. It's been a wild couple of weeks around here. If Notorious RBG satisfied your reading needs, you might still be interested in the viewing options. CNN's RBG documentary was excellent (I got to see that one on the big screen) and I'm still hoping to see On the Basis of Sex before it leaves our area.

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  12. I love Suzanne Torren! I had to laugh at the "day in a life" -- ummm I'm not worthy!!!!

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    1. Beth F - Suzanne Torren is one of my favorites, too! As for all RBG continues to accomplish on a daily basis, I am amazed.

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  13. I've seen the movie and really liked it. It does highlight what a dynamo RBG is. I certainly want to read more about her! Thanks for your review!

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    1. Monica - Notorious RBG might be the next logical step after the movie... it's so good!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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