Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law

Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law

In her own words, Ruth Bader Ginsburg offers an intimate look at her life and career, through an extraordinary series of conversations with the head of the National Constitution Center.This remarkable book presents a unique portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, drawing on more than twenty years of conversations with Jeffrey Rosen, starting in the 1990s and continuing...

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Title:Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law
Author:Jeffrey Rosen
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Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law Reviews

  • Donna Davis

    This is the RBG book I’ve been waiting for. My huge thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers for the review copy. This book will be publicly available November 5, 2019.

    Justice Ginsburg wants us to know that the sky is not falling. Though progressive thinkers see great cause for concern, primarily within the executive branch of the federal government, the U.S. Constitution hasn’t changed, and the Supreme Court, she insists, is made up entirely of strong legal minds that revere it.

    This is the RBG book I’ve been waiting for. My huge thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers for the review copy. This book will be publicly available November 5, 2019.

    Justice Ginsburg wants us to know that the sky is not falling. Though progressive thinkers see great cause for concern, primarily within the executive branch of the federal government, the U.S. Constitution hasn’t changed, and the Supreme Court, she insists, is made up entirely of strong legal minds that revere it. Precedents are still the basis of future rulings; the overturn of precedent is rare and unusual. But for activists—and she loves us—she also points out that public opinion is what alters the course of the law. Congress makes laws based on what their constituency desires. So she isn’t suggesting we put away our pussy hats and our picket signs; she just wants us to know that our advocacy works, and she appreciates everything we do to further women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights.

    Twice previously I read other books about RBG; one is a popular biography that I enjoyed, but that didn’t go deeply enough into Ginsburg’s legal ideas, and the second is just dross, minutiae gathered from her high school year book and whatnot. Whereas part of me just wants her to write an autobiography, I have to recognize that she is very elderly, has faced health challenges lately, and to stand a chance of writing any sort of memoir, she’d probably have to resign from the Court. And goodness knows, I want her to stay there, ideally forever. Instead, Rosen’s series of interviews with this feminist icon serves nicely.

    Rosen has been friends with Justice Ginsberg for many years; they were drawn together initially through elevator discussions of opera. His chapters are brief but meaty, organized around key rulings and topical interviews. Rosen explains succinctly at the outset how this friendship formed and grew, but he doesn’t get windy or use the opportunity to aggrandize himself. He keeps the focus strictly on his subject. The interviews flow in an agreeable manner that is literate without being verbose or Byzantine.

    We live in politically polarized times, and so even when I am reading about a political figure that I admire, I generally expect my blood pressure to rise a little, perhaps in passionate agreement. But if anyone in this nation has the long view of history and the key domestic issues that have unfolded, particularly with regard to the rights of women, it is RBG. And although I am not as senior a citizen as Justice Ginsburg, many of the changes she mentions that have occurred over the decades are ones that I can also attest to, though I hadn’t thought of them in years. For example, when I came of age in the 1970s, it was still not unusual to try to enter a bar or club only to be barred at the doorway because women weren’t allowed inside. (“Gentlemen only, Ma’am. Sorry.”) I had forgotten about these things; as her recollections unspool I see that she is right. Change happens, but lasting change happens slowly. We are getting there, at least with regard to women’s rights and gay rights. Issues of race and class are something else entirely, and she points up specific instances where justice has not progressed and change is imperative.

    I could say more, but none of it would be as wise or as articulate as when Ginsburg says it. If you’ve read this far in my review, you should go ahead and order this excellent book now. I highly recommend it to all that are interested in social justice, both formal and informal.

  • Moonkiszt

    Ruth Bader Ginsberg IS a treasure to this country, and a personal hero of mine, and all the millions of other roles she plays in the lives of strangers she doesn't even know - that's a spectacular mantle to wear, and she does it with panache!

    Conversations with RGB is a treat. Each is introduced with the background to place the conversation in context, and then the recorded session transcribed for readers now and forever to slide our benches close in, lean forward and listen, or eavesdrop maybe.

    Ruth Bader Ginsberg IS a treasure to this country, and a personal hero of mine, and all the millions of other roles she plays in the lives of strangers she doesn't even know - that's a spectacular mantle to wear, and she does it with panache!

    Conversations with RGB is a treat. Each is introduced with the background to place the conversation in context, and then the recorded session transcribed for readers now and forever to slide our benches close in, lean forward and listen, or eavesdrop maybe. I enjoyed this book, each section considering relevant topics dealt with in her years as a judge. I especially found it satisfying to see where she pinpointed authority in and from actual case cites, as a foundation for her positions and thinking.

    There are tidbits about her time with the Supremes, but also her days coming up, jobs that shaped her, people and experiences that firmed her hunches, preferences and leanings into judicial wisdom. There are mentions given of her relationships, those who loved her and who she has loved by preserving, by keeping safe those valuable bonds for which one sacrifices every moment and effort: balancing, awobble, the tightrope of risk that is an entire life. Only she, RGB, has done it in public, with benefits to us that reach out to our work lives, home lives, love lives and our lives as citizens of a land in common.

    Do I recommend it? 5 stars+. God Save the Queen? Sure. But first, please Save RGB, ok?

    A sincere thanks to Jeffrey Rosen, Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for providing me an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  • Preeti

    This book is a great introduction to Ruth Bader Ginsburg but it may not provide any new information for fans that have followed her career since the beginning. I only recently watched her documentaries on Netflix so I had some knowledge of RBG already and this book served as a great addition.

    In the book we get a rundown of her landmark cases, her thoughts on marriage, the cases she would overturn as well as her thoughts on the #metoo movement and so much more. It reads like a biography with

    This book is a great introduction to Ruth Bader Ginsburg but it may not provide any new information for fans that have followed her career since the beginning. I only recently watched her documentaries on Netflix so I had some knowledge of RBG already and this book served as a great addition.

    In the book we get a rundown of her landmark cases, her thoughts on marriage, the cases she would overturn as well as her thoughts on the #metoo movement and so much more. It reads like a biography with some parts that are interview style, going back and forth between her and Jeffery Rosen. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who would like a good intro to the life and career of RBG.

    Thank you to Netgalley and Henry Holt & Co. for providing my with this ebook for review. This in no way impacts my review. All opinions are my own.

  • Jackie

    Ruth Bader Ginsberg has become a very popular figure in our culture in the past few years. This book by Jeffrey Rosen has information, background and, most importantly, interviews with RBG. Justice Ginsberg reveals herself as a brilliant, thoughtful, and amazing person. She shows herself to be worthy of all the attention.

  • Rachel Noel

    *Free copy for an honest review

    Like many people, I only really started paying attention to politics in the past few years. I knew that Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) was an important figure, but never really looked further into it. When she needed surgery and people were clamoring to offer their blood and organs, whatever she needed, I figured I should read up on her. Fortunately this book became available and I took the opportunity to educate myself. I'm very glad I did.

    This is neither a full

    *Free copy for an honest review

    Like many people, I only really started paying attention to politics in the past few years. I knew that Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) was an important figure, but never really looked further into it. When she needed surgery and people were clamoring to offer their blood and organs, whatever she needed, I figured I should read up on her. Fortunately this book became available and I took the opportunity to educate myself. I'm very glad I did.

    This is neither a full biography nor a full case list. This has biographical elements but focuses on major past cases and how they influence current cases. It's also a lot of RBG discussing her hopes for the future. Honestly, the fact that she still has hope for the future does wonders for my overall anxiety about the world. She has an amazing approach to equal gender rights that she modeled off Thurgood Marshall's approach to equal rights for minorities. Incremental, showing those in power how these rules hurt them, and genuinely going for equality.

    At first I was surprised to find someone who had promoted equality was subject to scorn from feminist groups. I took every chapter, every interview question on that, as a lesson in reading past the headlines. I think that should be the message with almost every Supreme Court Justice. It's so very easy to get caught up in the headlines and following the rage. But in this day and age, we need to do ourselves a favor and read more, get the full story, and reserve our torches and pitchforks for the truly important things. She criticized Roe v Wade because it was, essentially, a legislation forced to walk around on stilts with no training. She was correct in predicting this would lead to all of the many, many, many challenges it has received since. This was quite the legislative history lesson for me. I'll never go back.

    RBG is truly an interesting character and her relationship with the other Justices is a wonderful example for disagreeing without it coming to blows. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and will be picking up more books about the Justices. 4 hoots!

  • Barbara

    The book's author, Jeffrey Rosen, is an American scholar and law professor who's been called "the nation's most widely read and influential legal commentator."

    Rosen first met Ruth Bader Ginsberg in an elevator in 1991, when he was a law clerk and she was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Not knowing what to say, Rosen blurted out a question about what opera Ginsburg had seen recently, and they immediately bonded over their mutual

    The book's author, Jeffrey Rosen, is an American scholar and law professor who's been called "the nation's most widely read and influential legal commentator."

    Rosen first met Ruth Bader Ginsberg in an elevator in 1991, when he was a law clerk and she was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Not knowing what to say, Rosen blurted out a question about what opera Ginsburg had seen recently, and they immediately bonded over their mutual love of opera.

    Afterwards, when Rosen became the legal affairs editor of the New Republic - writing about the law and the Supreme Court - he and Ginsburg began corresponding about articles he'd written and operas she'd seen. Rosen and Ginsburg have been exchanging letters, talking, and occasionally attending operas together ever since.

    Rosen interviewed Ginsburg many times, and draws from those talks for this book.

    Rosen notes that Ginsburg's approach to cases "didn't focus on abstract principles; they always focused on the real world challenges faced by individual men and women trying to define their life paths."

    As general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project from 1972 to 1980, Ginsburg's mission was to convince the Supreme Court "that legislation apparently designed to benefit or protect women could often have the opposite effect."

    Ginsburg observed, "There wasn't a great understanding of gender discrimination. People knew that race discrimination was an odious thing, but there were many who thought that all the gender-based differentials in the law operated benignly in women's favor. So my objective was to take the Court step by step to the realization that the pedestal on which some thought women were standing all too often turned out to be a cage."

    To convince the Supreme Court, Ginsburg took the case of a man, which might resonate with the nine male justices. In 1975 Ginsburg represented Stephen Wiesenfeld, a computer consultant whose wife - a teacher - died during childbirth. Wiesenfeld applied for his wife's Social Security benefits, so he could work part-time and stay home with the baby. However, the law only permitted widows - not widowers - to collect special benefits, and Wiesenfeld's application was denied.

    When Ginsburg took Wiesenfeld's case to the Supreme Court she won, and the case set an example for the equal treatment of men and women.

    Ginsburg often discussed cases from "the bad old days", when the Court repeatedly upheld distinctions based on sex. For example, in 1961 a woman named Gwendolyn Hoyt killed her abusive husband, and was convicted of murder by an all-male jury. At that time, women were either not called for jury duty, or excused if they requested it, just because they were female.

    In an appeal, Hoyt's lawyer challenged the gender-based exclusion of women from the jury pool. She held that the inability to have a jury that included females - who might have argued for manslaughter rather than murder - deprived Hoyt of her rights. Hoyt lost the case. However, a fire was lit under Ginsburg and - due to her efforts - the 'opt-out' policy for women serving on juries was ruled unconstitutional in the late 1970s.

    Ginsburg's policy for chiseling away at gender discrimination continued after she was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice on August 10, 1993.

    Rosen notes, "every one of the cases she chipped away at involved a law based on the premise that men earned the money and women tended to the home and children" - legislation that Ginsburg thought was unfair.

    As evidence of Ginsburg's leanings, Rosen mentions seeing a photograph in her chambers of the justice's son-in-law gazing at his child (Ginsburg's grandson). Ginsburg told Rosen 'this is my dream for the future.' At first Rosen took it to mean something about the joys of grandchildren. He later came to realize that Ginsburg was referring to the transformation of sex roles, that fathers and mothers take equal responsibility for children.

    Ginsburg always insisted that "men and women would be truly equal only when they take equal responsibility for child rearing." This was a policy followed by Ruth and her husband Martin Ginsburg, a brilliant attorney specializing in tax law.

    In fact Ginsburg's very first hire on the Supreme Court was a male law clerk whose application said he was studying law at night because his wife - an economist - had a good job at the World Bank and he had to help take care of his two small children.

    Rosen remarks, "By 1997 Ginsburg was seen as the new face of liberalism on the Supreme Court", and over the years "she has become one of the most inspiring American icons of our time and is now recognized as one of the most influential figures for constitutional change in American history."

    Asked about her favorite cases on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg cites a 1996 case that struck down the Virginia Military Institute's all-male admissions policy. This marked the climax of challenges to single-sex public schools that she'd launched with her husband in the 1970s.

    Ginsburg explains that the changing views of the Supreme Court over time follow changes in society. In her view, "justices should generally defer to other decision makers (Congress, state legislatures, state courts, constitutional amendments) and should be guided by 'measured motion' - meaning they should not leap too far ahead of public opinion." Shifts in society lead to evolving decisions about gender equality, civil rights, gay marriage, and so on.

    Nevertheless, Ginsburg notes that there are times when the Court has to step ahead of the political branches - in the case of race discrimination, for instance. Ginsburg recalls, "Because there was little prospect of state legislatures dismantling segregation in the South, the Court had to step into the breach." The Court ultimately rejected Jim Crow legislation and killed the prospect of separate but equal.

    In addition to the cases I've cited above, the book includes many of Ginsburg's views about other topics, including abortion legislation, pregnancy discrimination, civil liberties, unconscious bias, life-work balance, and the importance of dissenting opinions. According to Ginsburg, "the value of dissenting opinions is in persuading future generations to correct perceived injustice."

    For example, in a 2014 5-to-4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a law that allows Hobby Lobby to deny health care coverage for women's contraceptives because of the owners' religious beliefs. Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion because Hobby Lobby, a for-profit business, employs hundreds of women who don't share those religious beliefs.

    In more recent interviews, Ginsburg talks about issues like the #MeToo movement. This crusade, in which women used newspapers, social media, and other platforms to demand respect, is an example of "how quickly social change can be produced by political activism from the ground up." Ginsburg hopes the #MeToo movement is here to stay, and that "it becomes as effective for the woman who works as a maid in a hotel as it is for Hollywood stars."

    Ginsburg observes that no further legislation is needed to ensure that women are respected in the workplace. She notes, "the laws are there, the laws are in place. It takes people to step forward and use them. Women have to say this is bad behavior. You should not engage in it, and I will not submit to it." Ginsburg goes on to say, "It's easier today because there are numbers to support women who say so. We no longer hear as often as we did in the past, 'She's making it up'."

    Ginsburg also insists there should be due process for the accused. "The person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself. Everyone deserves a fair hearing."

    Asked about her advice to men in this new regime, Ginsburg says, "Just think how you would like the women in your family to be treated, particularly your daughters."

    To the new generation of feminists who look to her as a role model, Ginsburg says, "Work for the things that you care about. Don't take no for an answer. If you have a dream, something you want to pursue, and you're willing to do the work that's necessary to make the dream come true, don't let anyone tell you, you can't do it. And you have, nowadays, many like-minded people who can join with you in opposing unfair treatment, treatment of you as less than a full citizen."

    As for Ginsburg's hopes for the future, she'd like to see campaign finance reform.

    On a personal level, Ginsburg talks about her friendship with Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Antonin Scalia, and her great fondness for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who she served with for her first 12 years on the court.

    Ginsburg and Scalia were philosophical opposites. In fact, Ginsburg led the Court's liberal wing while Scalia led the Court's conservative wing (until his death in 2016). Despite their differences, Ginsburg and Scalia were close friends. When they disagreed about cases, "they did so with relative equanimity because of the strength of their friendship, sustained by gourmet meals cooked by Marty Ginsberg and culminating in an annual New Year's Eve dinner at the Ginsburgs' home that often involved singing together around the piano."

    An amusing offshoot of the Ginsburg-Scalia friendship is a comic opera called Scalia/Ginsburg written by Derrick Wang - a writer, librettist, and composer who attended the University of Maryland law school.

    The opera "celebrates the virtues of the court through an affectionate, comic look at the unofficial leaders of its conservative and liberal wings."

    Ginsburg is amazed at her transformation into a judicial celebrity, especially when she became an internet sensation and then an American icon. In 2013 Shana Knizhnik, an NYU law student, created the Tumblr blog 'Notorious R.B.G', and afterwards co-wrote a book called 'Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.'

    Khizhnik was inspired by the justice "because Ginsburg defies stereotypes. She is a grandmother, but she shows so much strength, and she is who she is without apology." To add to her mystique, Ginsburg works out regularly with a trainer, whom she shares with Justice Elena Kagan.

    Ginsburg's fame inspired all manner of RBG merchandise, especially sweatshirts and t-shirts.

    On a light note, Ginsburg observed that Chief Justice Rehnquist added four gold stripes to each sleeve of his black robe in 1995. To explain the uptick in sartorial splendor, Rehnquist admitted "he did not wish to be upstaged by the women." (Justices O'Connor and Ginsburg always wore attractive neckpieces.)

    In his acknowledgements Rosen writes a moving tribute to his mother Estelle Rosen, and says about Ginsburg: "Justice Ginsberg is an inspiration on so many levels, including how to live a good life - a life of disciplined focus and self-mastery, dedicated to the welfare of others. Thanks to her efforts as a pathbreaking advocate, judge, and Supreme Court justice, she is a personal and constitutional hero."

    Thanks to Netgalley, the author (Jeffrey Rosen), and the publisher (Henry Holt and Co.) for a copy of the book.

    You can follow my reviews at

  • Toni

    An interesting introduction to work and life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I liked the way the author chose to let the reader discover the opinions and hopes of this remarkable woman through her cases and her own words.

    Thank you to Edelweiss and Henry Holt Co. for the review copy provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

  • Basic B's Guide

    Conversations with RBG @henryholtbooks #partner

    Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a little chat with one of the most remarkable women of our time.

    This book is not merely for liberals or supporters of RBG and her dissents. This book is for EVERYONE. I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into her life and career. What an extraordinary woman filled with compassion, love, wit, respectfulness and a passion to strive for equality. RBG gives me great hope for the future and is an amazing inspiration.

    “I

    Conversations with RBG @henryholtbooks #partner

    Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a little chat with one of the most remarkable women of our time.

    This book is not merely for liberals or supporters of RBG and her dissents. This book is for EVERYONE. I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into her life and career. What an extraordinary woman filled with compassion, love, wit, respectfulness and a passion to strive for equality. RBG gives me great hope for the future and is an amazing inspiration.

    “I like the last duet, “We are Different, We are One.” The idea is that there are two people who interpret the Constitution differently yet retain their fondness for each other and, much more than that, their reverence for the institution that employs them.”

  • Wendy

    Jeffrey Rosen's interviews with Ruth Bader Ginsburg are captured in

    and provide a sense of who Ginsburg is both inside and outside of the court. Considering that Rosen and Ginsburg have known each other since 1991, their friendship and deep respect come through in the text. Organized by theme, the reader gets a sense of how

    Jeffrey Rosen's interviews with Ruth Bader Ginsburg are captured in

    and provide a sense of who Ginsburg is both inside and outside of the court. Considering that Rosen and Ginsburg have known each other since 1991, their friendship and deep respect come through in the text. Organized by theme, the reader gets a sense of how Ginsburg feels about various social issues that have reached the court circuits in the past and present.

    I enjoyed Rosen's chapter introductions and felt that they helped contextualize the interviews. The description of the cases mentioned by Ginsburg was also helpful since I was not familiar with some of them. As a whole, the book felt like a great introductory primer told in Ginsburg's own words, covering the work that she has done throughout her judicial career.

    However, there's repetition between chapters since some of the same cases cover adjacent themes. Additionally, if you're familiar with Ginsburg this doesn't really introduce anything shocking or revolutionary.

    Overall, I did enjoy this book, but just wished for more.

  • Sarah-Hope

    I'm going to open by saying I was disappointed by this book—but I'm hoping you'll keep reading this review and still consider it as a book you might enjoy.

    The good news

    • It's a delight to hear stories from Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life and career in her own words.

    • The fact that this book is based on conversations makes the prose reader-friendly.

    • The book offers a great introduction to the development of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legal thinking over time.

    The not so good news

    • If you've followed Ruth

    I'm going to open by saying I was disappointed by this book—but I'm hoping you'll keep reading this review and still consider it as a book you might enjoy.

    The good news

    • It's a delight to hear stories from Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life and career in her own words.

    • The fact that this book is based on conversations makes the prose reader-friendly.

    • The book offers a great introduction to the development of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legal thinking over time.

    The not so good news

    • If you've followed Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career, you'll know most of the information included here—there are no great revelations.

    • The book is composed of transcripts of multiple conversations, separated into individual thematic units, then recombined to create chapters with specific foci. This mostly works, but there's a fair bit of repetition. I would have appreciated a much firmer editorial hand.

    Bottom line

    If you're looking for an introduction to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this is a great text that you'll enjoy reading. If you're a long-term fan of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you're not likely to learn much that's new.

    Note: I received a free electronic ARC of this title for review purposes. The opinions are my own.

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