Revisiting RBG

I’ve written previously about both the RBG book and documentary, but having just turned the last page of the book, I’ve been reminded that the book alone warrants special attention. Because the New York Times bestseller RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dedicated to ‘the women on whose shoulders we stand’, is phenomenal.

Tracing the life and career of US Supreme Court judge and human rights advocate Ruth Bader Ginsburg (AKA ‘RBG’), RBG is written by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. They are, respectively, a then law student who started the Notorious RBG Tumblr ‘digital tribute’ and a journalist who interviewed Knizhnik and was captivated by the RBG story. It’s a stellar combination, seeing the book balance feature writing-style compelling narrative further informed by solid legal depth and detail.

And its diverse but cohesive 195-odd pages contain something for absolutely everyone. The book chapters are, for example, named after Notorious BIG’s song lyrics. An artist who runs a women’s graffiti collective illustrated each chapter title. The pages are punctuated with memes and artworks, as well as photographs—some seen before, some not—of RBG at work, at the opera, or spending time with her family.

There are annotated versions of RBG’s judgments that highlight the poise, finesse, laser-like sharpness, and subtlety with which she weaves together her judgments. And there are summaries of her dissenting judgments and reasoning, which sounds dry but is actually a brilliantly succinct way to appreciate both RBG’s intellect and just how vast her contribution has been to shaping legal and cultural history. (Seriously, her dissenting Voting Rights Act judgment is iconic: ‘… Killing the Voting Rights Act because it had worked too well … was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”’)

Not hired because she was a woman, despite finishing top of her class, fired because she was pregnant, and paid less because she was a woman and her husband earnt a decent wage, RBG has encountered and overcome more discrimination in her lifetime than many of us could imagine. Better still, she’s not just overcome it, but made it easier for other women to at best avoid and at worst overcome it too.

‘RBG has been extraordinary all her life, but she never wanted to be a solo performer. She is committed to bringing up other women and under-represented people, and to working together with her colleagues even when it seems impossible,’ we read. Meanwhile the ever humble RBG says: ‘I just try to do the good job that I have to the best of my ability, and I really don’t think about whether I’m inspirational. I just do the best I can.’

A ‘firebrand’ concealed in an apparently conservative casing, RBG belies Gloria Steinem’s adage: ‘Women lose power with age, and men gain it.’ RBG’s tale is one that should be read and appreciated by women and men alike because she makes you not only see the world and inner workings differently, but she inspires you to imagine what we can, without raising our voices and by bringing others along with us, possibly achieve.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.