My Own Words
by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Reviewed by Edward Comey
A series of strong dissents earned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the moniker, The Notorious R.B.G. Those dissents --starting with Fisher v. University of Texas and Shelby County v. Holder and culminating with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby--thrust her into the spotlight as a fierce civil rights proponent. They also illustrate the truth of advice she received from Vladimir Nabokov, a Cornell professor of European literature: Justice Ginsburg could make an enormous difference in conveying an image or idea by choosing the right word. By choosing an array of her own writings for My Own Words, Justice Ginsburg provides a fascinating and more complete image of the second woman to sit on the highest court in the land.
To be sure, no book about Justice Ginsburg would be complete without discussing gender equality. My Own Words--compiled with the help of her authorized biographers, Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams--does exactly that. By relying almost exclusively on her own words, however, the book provides a fresh perspective on a topic that risks becoming stale. Through a series of thoughtful speeches and essays, as well as other writings, Justice Ginsburg pays tribute to "waypavers" and "pathmarkers" (Bela Lockwood, Myra Bradwell, and Emma Lazarus, to name a few); charts the progress women have made in the legal profession; and indirectly makes the case for the substantial role she has played advancing gender equality. But for readers looking for more than Justice Ginsburg as social justice advocate, the book has much to offer.
Early on, Hartnett and Williams offer an interesting glimpse into Ginsburg's childhood. She was a gifted and dramatic storyteller and an avid fan of Nancy Drew detective books. Hartnett and Williams also highlight two points Ginsburg's mother repeatedly drilled home: be independent; and always "be a lady," meaning act civilly and don't be overcome with emotions--the latter...