Notorious RBG

notoriousNotorious RBG:  The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik
2015 / 240 pages
read by Andi Arndt / 5h 9m
rating –  9

Splendid biography of a heroine – but it’s hard to give a rating to a book which is pretty close to  hagiography (look at that crown) and you also love her.  Dearly.

I would recommend getting a paper copy of the book as there is a lot of information and photos not included in the audio version although there is a downloadable pdf file –  I’d rather read it and see the photos.  I’ll likely be getting it later and rereading for the All-nonfiction group in March.

The title comes from a Tumblr blog started by Shana Knizhnik, a law student and then fans starting posting.  The “Notorious” part comes from The Notorious B.I.G, a famous rapper.  Knizhnik then joined up with  Irin Carmon of MSNBC and wrote the book.

RBG’s life to this point – she’s 82 years old! – has not been one of money and leisure – she struggled the same way as most women of her era (with law school, marriage and pregnancies, etc.)  except that she is much brighter and had high standards plus encouragement from both parents and husband as well as big dreams. (The money was there from Martin Ginsburg’s family and her own mother’s scrupulous saving.)  But she also had to deal with cancer in herself and others more than one time.

But can you imagine going to law school where there were no women’s bathrooms?  Where the professors resented your intrusion into their all-boy’s club and graded you  accordingly?  The law was on their side because women were the foundation of the home and the man was the breadwinner.  The quotes quoted:

 “Land, like woman, was meant to be possessed.” was still in the textbooks.

“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”  Sarah Grimke 1837 –


Few of the laws and traditions or policies were new – what was new was that someone thought it worth complaining about – or someone was brave enough to do it.   Ginsberg,  like a very few other women, simply worked around the old policies and laws as best they could.  But with more men off to the Vietnam war  things opened up shortly after Ginsberg’s time in the law schools.

The book is eye-opening in many ways –  I’d forgot how it was – and I remember that it never crossed our minds to think that men and women should get equal pay or health insurance or access to financial documents –   men had families to support.  And again – no women’s room at the Supreme Court for Sandra Day O’Connor.   Men were men and women were their property.

Ginsberg pushed for gender neutral laws and interpretations.  Sexism hurts everybody.   Carmon and Knizhnik review some important or controversial cases – the book is only 240 pages long.

The parts about which confirmation followed which got pretty boring but then things picked up when the narrative hit women’s issues or  Ginsberg’s personal life.  She’s very quiet person,  ridiculously hard working and demanding,  had a great husband who was supportive in many ways (as she was of him).  And apparently she has a good sense of humor.  The anecdotes in the book seem to have been chosen to highlight these qualities.

A couple reviews:

NPR review 

New York Times review: