Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life

Jane De Hart

Knopf, 2018

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

The first full life—private, public, legal, philosophical—of the 107th Supreme Court Justice, one of the most profound and profoundly transformative legal minds of our time; a book fifteen years in work, written with the cooperation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself and based on many interviews with the justice, her husband, her children, her friends, and her associates.

In this large, comprehensive, revelatory biography, Jane De Hart explores the central experiences that crucially shaped Ginsburg’s passion for justice, her advocacy for gender equality, her meticulous jurisprudence: her desire to make We the People more united and our union more perfect. At the heart of her story and abiding beliefs—her Jewish background. 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. We see the influence of her mother, Celia Amster Bader, whose intellect inspired her daughter’s feminism, insisting that Ruth become independent, as she witnessed her mother coping with terminal cervical cancer (Celia died the day before Ruth, at seventeen, graduated from high school).

From Ruth’s days as a baton twirler at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School, to Cornell University, Harvard and Columbia Law Schools (first in her class), to being a law professor at Rutgers University (one of the few women in the field and fighting pay discrimination), hiding her second pregnancy so as not to risk losing her job; founding the Women’s Rights LawReporter, writing the brief for the first case that persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down a sex-discriminatory state law, then at Columbia (the law school’s first tenured female professor); becoming the director of the women’s rights project of the ACLU, persuading the Supreme Court in a series of decisions to ban laws that denied women full citizenship status with men. 

Her years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, deciding cases the way she played golf, as she, left-handed, played with right-handed clubs—aiming left, swinging right, hitting down the middle. 

A pioneering life and legal career whose profound mark on American jurisprudence, on American society, on our American character and spirit, will reverberate deep into the twenty-first century and beyond.


•Longlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in the non-fiction category

•Named Editors' Choice in the New York Times Book Review 

•Selected as one of the best books of 2018 by Kirkus Reviews

"[An] engaging and admiring biography."
Wall Street Journal

"De Hart has written an excellent biography...In its comprehensiveness, range and attention to detail, this is a vivid account of a remarkable life."
Washington Post

"In a revealing new biography, 15 years in the making, Jane Sherron De Hart helps untangle the mystery of the decorous Ginsburg as a feminist gladiator. A professor emerita of history at UC Santa Barbra, De Hart offers a picture of the most conservative radical in the women's movement." 
—The Atlantic

"[Ruth Bader Ginsberg is] rewarding for those interested in learning about Ginsburg's groundbreaking career and remarkable life."

"The first comprehensive biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933), Supreme Court justice and cultural icon....A monumental biography of one of the most influential and revered Supreme Court justices of the last century."
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"Readers will find this an insightful, fascinating, and admiring biography of one of America’s most extraordinary jurists. "
Publisher's Weekly

"De Hart's full-scale biography charts the course of this feminist trailblazer and legal heavyweight."
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel