5 Stars Reviews

Book Review: Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court bench, nominated in 1993. She has since become an internet phenomenon as her lawyerly prowess has impressed and inspired thousands of young feminists. Borne out of the original Tumblr blog of the same name, Notorious RBG uses interviews with family, friends, clerks and even Ginsburg herself to draw an honest, intimate, and entertaining portrait of a Justice that has devoted her career to making the world a better place.

For some reason, people repeatedly have asked RBG when she thought there would
be enough women on the court. The question is asinine, her answer effective:
‘When there are nine.’

I don’t read a lot of biographies, but this isn’t your traditional bio. I had a vague awareness of RBG as an internet meme and feminist hero, but I didn’t know anything about her as a person or really where this image of her had originated from. The incongruous association made between octogenarian lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Brooklyn-born rapper Notorious B.I.G. caught my attention and completely intrigued me. I wanted to know where this affiliation with Biggie Smalls came from, and whether she really was, as the official Notorious RBG Twitter declares, the flyest Justice SCOTUS has ever seen. 

Notorious RBG plays on this affiliation, adopting graffiti art chapter headings and playing on the rapper’s lyrics; a motif that lends itself to the tongue-in-cheek humour throughout the book. The structure is somewhat scattered which leads to a slight lack of smooth transition from chapter to chapter, but it’s an otherwise well-paced and easy read. It covers RBG’s personal life, her career trajectory, her life as a Supreme Court Justice, and even her gym routine. The authors do a fantastic job of revealing the person behind the jabot, as they explore RBG’s relationship with her family and colleagues, even the unlikely friendships like that she had with fellow Supreme Court Justice, the conservative Antonin Scalia.

There’s also the addition of incredible artwork from RBG admirers and images of people and even babies dress in RBG costume, wearing the Justice’s iconic oversized spectacles and elaborate jabots. One of my favourite additions to the book was the transcripts of her most pointed dissents, annotated by other lawyers to elaborate on RBG’s meaning and intentions for those of us less versed in US politics and the machinations of SCOTUS. I think these helped reminded the reader, whilst reading an otherwise light-hearted and fun book, of the serious and important work RBG is doing in the Supreme Court.

Overall, I found Notorious RBG to be not only entertaining and amusing but truly inspiring. To achieve so much in her career at a time when women were expected to be homemakers, not US-policy-changing lawyers, is so incredibly uplifting. It’s encouraging to know that while RBG is in the Supreme Court there will always someone on the bench ready to stand up for justice and equality for all.

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

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