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Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Cover of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
A Life
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“A vivid account of a remarkable life.” —The Washington Post
In this bestselling comprehensive, revelatory biography—fifteen years of interviews and research in the making—historian Jane Sherron De Hart explores the central experiences that crucially shaped Ginsburg’s passion for justice, her advocacy for gender equality, and her meticulous jurisprudence.
At the heart of her story and abiding beliefs is her Jewish background, specifically the concept of tikkun olam, the Hebrew injunction to “repair the world,” with its profound meaning for a young girl who grew up during the Holocaust and World War II.
Ruth’s journey begins with her mother, who died tragically young but whose intellect inspired her daughter’s feminism. It stretches from Ruth’s days as a baton twirler at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School to Cornell University to Harvard and Columbia Law Schools; to becoming one of the first female law professors in the country and having to fight for equal pay and hide her second pregnancy to avoid losing her job; to becoming the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and arguing momentous anti-sex discrimination cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
All this, even before being nominated in 1993 to become the second woman on the Court, where her crucial decisions and dissents are still making history. Intimately, personably told, this biography offers unprecedented insight into a pioneering life and legal career whose profound mark on American jurisprudence, American society, and our American character and spirit will reverberate deep into the twenty-first century and beyond.
REVISED AND UPDATED WITH A NEW AFTERWORD
“A vivid account of a remarkable life.” —The Washington Post
In this bestselling comprehensive, revelatory biography—fifteen years of interviews and research in the making—historian Jane Sherron De Hart explores the central experiences that crucially shaped Ginsburg’s passion for justice, her advocacy for gender equality, and her meticulous jurisprudence.
At the heart of her story and abiding beliefs is her Jewish background, specifically the concept of tikkun olam, the Hebrew injunction to “repair the world,” with its profound meaning for a young girl who grew up during the Holocaust and World War II.
Ruth’s journey begins with her mother, who died tragically young but whose intellect inspired her daughter’s feminism. It stretches from Ruth’s days as a baton twirler at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School to Cornell University to Harvard and Columbia Law Schools; to becoming one of the first female law professors in the country and having to fight for equal pay and hide her second pregnancy to avoid losing her job; to becoming the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and arguing momentous anti-sex discrimination cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
All this, even before being nominated in 1993 to become the second woman on the Court, where her crucial decisions and dissents are still making history. Intimately, personably told, this biography offers unprecedented insight into a pioneering life and legal career whose profound mark on American jurisprudence, American society, and our American character and spirit will reverberate deep into the twenty-first century and beyond.
REVISED AND UPDATED WITH A NEW AFTERWORD
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  • From the book Chapter 1

    Celia's Daughter

    June 27, 1950, should have been a day of triumph for an ambitious young girl just turned seventeen—the culmination of four years of outstanding academic achievement. It was graduation day at Brook­lyn's James Madison High School. Ruth Bader had been chosen as just one of four students to speak for her eight hundred classmates. Instead, it was a day of wrenching grief.

    Two days before, Ruth's mother, Celia, had succumbed to cancer after a four-year struggle. Ruth knew her mother had been waging a los­ing battle. Watching the physical deterioration of the parent who repre­sented nurture and security, along with her father's silent grief, had been anguishing for the sensitive adolescent. Yet with Celia's encouragement, she won prestigious college scholarships, played in the school orchestra, and cheered on the football team as a baton twirler—never once reveal­ing to her schoolmates the illness that shadowed the Bader household in Flatbush. By the end of summer, the ground floor of the modest gray stucco house at 1584 East Ninth Street stood vacant, a symbol of loss and abandonment following her mother's death and her father's emotional and economic collapse.

    ***

    Celia Bader gave birth to her second daughter, Joan Ruth, on March 15, 1933, at Beth Moses Hospital in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City. (Ruth's first name was dropped in kindergarten when there proved to be too many other children who answered to Joan.) The Baders brought the infant back to their apartment in Belle Harbor, a town near the ocean in the borough of Queens, just as they had her older sister, Marilyn. The new baby, energetic from the start, kicked so much that Marilyn promptly dubbed her "Kiki." The name stuck.

    The boroughs, like the rest of the country in 1933, faced an unprec­edented economic depression. Factories lay idle. Construction had come to a standstill. The banking system had crumbled, wiping out the hard-earned savings of millions. One wage earner in four was laid off, and according to the U.S. Children's Bureau one out of five children was not getting enough to eat. As tax revenues dried up, teachers went unpaid. In other parts of the country, schools simply closed their doors. In the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, jobless men put up makeshift shacks of junked Fords and old barrels at the city dump dubbed "Hoovervilles" in derisive reference to President Herbert Hoover's economic policies.

    Nathan Bader, Ruth's father, was no stranger to hard times. He had begun his own struggle to earn a living shortly after his arrival in New York as a shy thirteen-year-old Russian Jew from a town near Odessa. Denied admission to schools in the Old World because of anti-Semitism, he had attended only Hebrew school. His mother tongue was Yiddish until he learned English at night school in his new homeland. Nathan worked in his father's business, Samuel Bader and Sons, which special­ized in inexpensive furs. By the 1920s, he felt financially secure enough to marry Celia Amster.

    Celia, who arrived in New York City while still in her mother's womb, had been conceived in a little town near what is now Cracow, Poland. Growing up in a Yiddish-speaking household in Manhattan's Lower East Side, the primal homeland for immigrant Jews, she developed a passion for reading. Indeed, she so often walked down the bustling, crowded streets with her head buried in a book that on one occasion she tripped and broke her nose. Her father, recognizing that she was the most intel­ligent of his three daughters, had enlisted her help with his bills, which she wrote out in a mixture of...
About the Author-
  • JANE SHERRON DE HART is Professor Emerita of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    May 15, 2018

    Professor emerita of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, De Hart (coauthor, Women's America) spent 15 years interviewing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her family, friends, and associates. A big story, from Ginsburg's growing up Jewish during World War II to her work with the ACLU's women's rights project to her ascension to the Court; with a 40,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2018
    The first comprehensive biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933), Supreme Court justice and cultural icon.Ginsburg grew up in a Jewish community in Brooklyn; early in her career, she repeatedly suffered discrimination both as a woman and as a Jew. Nevertheless, she attended Cornell University and then law school at Harvard and Columbia (after she transferred), joined law school faculties, and was appointed to the federal bench at a time when those achievements were rare for women. Political historian De Hart (co-author: Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA: A State and the Nation, 1990, etc.) describes in absorbing detail the behind-the-scenes campaign to obtain her appointment to the Supreme Court engineered by her devoted husband, Martin Ginsburg, a renowned tax attorney, gourmet chef, and her biggest cheerleader. Since her arrival in 1993, the court has shifted steadily rightward, leaving her a lionized but increasingly isolated voice of principled dissent. Ginsburg's influence on American law can hardly be exaggerated, particularly in areas regarding minority and women's rights. The author clearly explains how, as an ACLU lawyer, Ginsburg plotted a successful incremental strategy to attack legal discrimination against women, which at the time was pervasive and took remarkably egregious forms. Once Ginsburg reaches the Supreme Court, De Hart excels in explaining the majority opinions, and later the dissents, in which she participated with remarkable clarity, illuminating the issues, the competing positions, and the significance of each in language easily grasped by readers with no legal training (for a nonlawyer, De Hart has a remarkable grasp of court jurisprudence). While the author's primary focus is Ginsburg's professional achievements, she also covers such topics as her battles with cancer, her love of opera, and her unlikely friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia--though, as a notorious workaholic, it often appears she had little noteworthy personal life apart from the law.A monumental biography of one of the most influential and revered Supreme Court justices of the last century.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 27, 2018
    De Hart, a professor emerita of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, offers a laudatory biography of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. De Hart, who had Ginsburg’s cooperation, pays appropriate attention both to the experiences that informed Ginsburg’s passion for justice and to her personal life, highlighting her lifelong love affair with her husband and her friendships with professional colleagues, including her ideological opposite Antonin Scalia. De Hart’s great strength is her ability to explain Ginsburg’s cases and the legal strategies she employed, for example, to convince the Supreme Court to apply the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution to strike down laws that discriminate on the basis of gender. De Hart clearly and accessibly lays out background information, the various legal theories employed, and the judges’ holdings. She also demonstrates Ginsburg’s far-reaching influence as the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, in 1993, taking readers into the inner workings of the court as Ginsburg and other justices war over the defining legal and cultural issues of the era—abortion rights, marriage equality, race, and religion. Readers will find this an insightful, fascinating, and admiring biography of one of America’s most extraordinary jurists.

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A Life
Jane Sherron de Hart
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