Noto­ri­ous RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bad­er Ginsburg

Irin Car­mon, Shana Knizhnik
  • Review
By – December 2, 2015

A string of sear­ing dis­sents in 2013 inspired Shana Knizh­nik, then a law stu­dent, to cre­ate The Noto­ri­ous RBG on Tum­blr, a social-media site par­tic­u­lar­ly suit­ed for shar­ing images and memes. The blog was a viral hit, and the octo­ge­nar­i­an Supreme Court jus­tice has since enjoyed the ado­ra­tion of a legion of young fans who share and enjoy her now-ubiq­ui­tous image every­where from the Inter­net to cof­fee mugs and T‑shirts. Irin Car­mon has chan­neled both the sur­face whim­sy and under­ly­ing sub­stance of the meme into her biog­ra­phy, Noto­ri­ous R.B.G: The Life and Times of Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg.

A visu­al delight, The Noto­ri­ous R.B.G. is a rich trans­la­tion of a Tum­blr blog into a book. It is rich­ly illus­trat­ed with pic­tures, time­lines, and charts as well as many images tak­en from the Tum­blr. The heart-break­ing final let­ter writ­ten to Gins­burg by her late hus­band, Mar­ty, is repro­duced, and its appear­ance in the same book as self­ies by fans dressed as her for Hal­loween is not in any way incon­gru­ous. Key selec­tions from Ginsburg’s writ­ings and opin­ions are repro­duced and inter­spersed through­out the book, with key lines cir­cled and anno­ta­tions drawn” into the mar­gins. At the same time, space is ded­i­cat­ed to Ginsburg’s favorite recipes and work­out rou­tine. Chap­ter head­ings are repur­posed Noto­ri­ous B.I.G.” rap lyrics, in a graf­fi­ti-inspired type­face. As a New York Times review­er wrote, the over­all feel is a com­bi­na­tion of scrap­book and Tal­mud; it embod­ies the study in con­trasts that made the meme so compelling.

Despite many years of expe­ri­ence as a jour­nal­ist, Carmon’s work has hereto­fore rarely appeared on phys­i­cal paper — unless it is print­ed out. Her career has tak­en her from Jezebel, part of the Gawk­er net­work of blogs, to the news and opin­ion site Salon, and then to MSNBC​.com. Even in book form, her writ­ing retains the con­ver­sa­tion­al, infor­mal tone that has served her well online. It is detail-ori­ent­ed and thor­ough, but also excit­ed, per­son­al, and strong­ly opinionated.

Past ACLU cowork­ers of Ginsburg’s described her as by no means a bomb-throw­er,” though the things she achieved were bomb­shells.” In oth­er words, Car­mon explains, Gins­burg was a rad­i­cal sim­ply by achiev­ing the things that she did — carv­ing a place for her­self in a world that did not accom­mo­date women — with ded­i­ca­tion to her work, res­olute belief in her cause, and excep­tion­al talent.

As con­ser­v­a­tives regained a major­i­ty of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg’s out­put has become more pro­lif­ic, and her tone has become more stri­dent, as she has tak­en up the fight to defend the vic­to­ries she achieved over the course of her life and career. For mil­len­ni­als like Car­mon and Knizh­nik, that shift turned Gins­burg from a respect­ed elder states­man to a war­rior they have enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly ral­lied behind.

It is there­fore fit­ting that some of the final images in the book are self­ies of Car­mon and Knizh­nik with Gins­burg, because they are, them­selves, part of the book’s sto­ry. Ulti­mate­ly, the book does more than explain why Gins­burg is a his­tor­i­cal­ly impor­tant fig­ure; it also demon­strates why Gins­burg is impor­tant to the authors and to like-mind­ed mem­bers of their generation.

Relat­ed Content:

Avra­ham Bron­stein writes fre­quent­ly on top­ics of Jew­ish thought, con­tem­po­rary issues, and their inter­sec­tion. A past Assis­tant Rab­bi of The Hamp­ton Syn­a­gogue and Pro­gram Direc­tor of Great Neck Syn­a­gogue, he lives with his fam­i­ly in Scran­ton, PA.

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