Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships

by: Nina Totenberg (0)

Celebrated NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg delivers an extraordinary memoir of her personal successes, struggles, and life-affirming relationships, including her beautiful friendship of nearly fifty years with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Four years before Nina Totenberg was hired at NPR, where she cemented her legacy as a prizewinning reporter, and nearly twenty-two years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Nina called Ruth. A reporter for
The National Observer, Nina was curious about Ruth’s legal brief, asking the Supreme Court to do something revolutionary: declare a law that discriminated “on the basis of sex” to be unconstitutional. In a time when women were fired for becoming pregnant, often could not apply for credit cards or get a mortgage in their own names, Ruth patiently explained her argument. That call launched a remarkable, nearly fifty-year friendship.

Dinners with Ruth is an extraordinary account of two women who paved the way for future generations by tearing down professional and legal barriers. It is also an intimate memoir of the power of friendships as women began to pry open career doors and transform the workplace. At the story’s heart is one, special relationship: Ruth and Nina saw each other not only through personal joys, but also illness, loss, and widowhood. During the devastating illness and eventual death of Nina’s first husband, Ruth drew her out of grief; twelve years later, Nina would reciprocate when Ruth’s beloved husband died. They shared not only a love of opera, but also of shopping, as they instinctively understood that clothes were armor for women who wanted to be taken seriously in a workplace dominated by men. During Ruth’s last year, they shared so many small dinners that Saturdays were “reserved for Ruth” in Nina’s house.

Dinners with Ruth also weaves together compelling, personal portraits of other fascinating women and men from Nina’s life, including her cherished NPR colleagues Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer; her beloved husbands; her friendships with multiple Supreme Court Justices, including Lewis Powell, William Brennan, and Antonin Scalia, and Nina’s own family—her father, the legendary violinist Roman Totenberg, and her “best friends,” her sisters. Inspiring and revelatory, Dinners with Ruth is a moving story of the joy and true meaning of friendship.

The Reviews

I am not always a huge fan of memoirs, because most people’s lives simply are not interesting enough to fill a book, but as NPR justice reporter for almost half a century (!), Nina Totenberg certainly qualifies, and I am pleased to report that the book was as good as I had hoped it would be.Do not be misled by the title. Dinners with Ruth is Totenberg’s own memoir. Her professional life, during which she had to deal with the sexism of the era and covered just about every major news event of the past 50 years, provides wonderful content in and of itself, but the theme around which the book is built is the importance of friendship for both professional and personal life. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, whom she met before either of them was a prominent person, is the friend Totenberg discusses most in the book, and I came away with a lovely portrait of her through the lens of a friend who was also a reporter, but Ruth is not the primary focus of the book until the latter part, which beautifully discusses Ruth’s death and that of her beloved husband Marty. There is a very moving description of RBG reading her last letter from Marty. Ruth cried; so did I.There are stories in the book about the role of other friends in the author’s life, too, like Cokie Roberts, Linda Wertheimer, and many others whose names readers will not recognize. It was also interesting to read about how a journalist tracks down information; I especially enjoyed her scavenging to try to learn who President Nixon was considering to nominate to the Supreme Court in 1971. There is a lot of very interesting background on the various Supreme Court justices and her relationships with them. Totenberg writes very well about the sensitivities involved in being a journalist covering news about prominent people who are also your friends.This is an enjoyable and informative book on many levels that I have already recommended to several friends. Just do not be misled by the title to expect a book about Justice Ginsberg, although I am sure such a book would be just as fascinating!I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from Edelweiss and Simon and Schuster; the review reflects my honest opinion.

Will quickly be relegated to the dollar table at Barnes & Noble.Don't waste your time...or your money.

As you can see, from the professional publications that actually read this book, this work is an exceptional find. A must read for anyone, anywhere. Beautiful!

Nina Totenberg and Ruth Ginsburg made their own paths, with enormous consequences for all of us. Totenberg highlights - and describes with lovely details - the support that friendship can provide as we navigate in life. Women, in particular, will love this book but there is much for all of us to learn.

I loved this book and Nina's narration cover to cover. An inspiration and a fantastic insight into the lives of some of my heroines. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And I've ordered 25 copies to give to my loved ones.

Nina is just adding the the self centered inappropriateness of society.

It's a good book, and one that should have broad appeal - particularly for women. This memoir is more about Nina than Ruth. One can't help but be impressed at the successful career Nina Totenberg built for herself without even having a college degree. This is a memoir more about friendships in general than just with RBG, and there is a lot of name dropping. One can't help feeling shocked that, despite journalistic ethics, Ms. Totenberg felt comfortable maintaining the friendships that she did -- with people she regularly wrote about - and most disappointingly it made me seriously question NPR's integrity in overlooking and "benefitting" from this practice. There are so many conflicts of interest - it is staggering and reminiscent of the Kennedy era. Yet because she is so intimate with the Supreme Court, she helps it feel more accessible and interesting to the reader. I most enjoyed the section about RBG serving with Sandra Day O'Connor and, despite differing politics, how they supported each other.

This engrossing, charming book is at once a memoir, a paean to friendship, and a window into American judicial affairs in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. I have long thought memoir needs a peg on which to hang the story, something to unify it and hold it together. Nina Totenberg effectively uses her close friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg to give depth to her memoir, but she is always respectful of the confidentiality that real friendship imposes on us and of the professional code that governed both her and RBG. Herself an award-winning journalist, judicial correspondent for NPR, Totenberg take the reader inside landmark cases and situations—the Robert Bork hearings, the Clarence Thomas hearings, and, yes, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings among many others. At the same time, a thoroughly social being, she gives us glimpses of celebrities in their off-camera moments—who knew that Antonin Scalia in private was a bear of a loveable man with a warm heart and a quick laugh. RBG is not Totenberg’s only famous friend—also notable was Cokie Roberts, and Totenberg must have entertained every justice of the Supreme Court at her dinner parties—where her husband always cooked. I was carried away reading this—learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Nina Totenberg's reports of the Supreme Court was one of my must listen to segments on All Things Considered on NPR. I had no idea she was such close friends with RBG, and had strong friendships with so many of the other Justices on the Court. She never suggested she had inside sources, just that she was a damned fine, intelligent reporter. I have given this book to two friends who I know will also enjoy it.

I have enjoyed listening to you on NPR for YEARS and I love this back-story with RBG and friends. I have so much respect for you all, the boundaries you upheld, the love and support you gave each other!

The book and the workbook arrived very sticky. There was glue or something that I needed to clean off of both items before reading.

A story of deep friendships, people who cared about each other and were always there to help their friends through sickness and death of spouses. I was not troubled by the relationship between the justices and the press because they knew exactly what the situation was. I was especially touched by her relationship with Justice Scalia. I always disliked him because of his right wing positions, yet Nina brings out the lovely humanity, warmth, sense of humor, intelligence of this man and I had a total change of opinion and I admired her ability to be objective. Always loved Cokie Roberts and even more so reading about how good she was. Nine's description of the difficulties facing women was true and historic. Nina has something good to say about almost everyone. A pleasure to read and probably re-read.

I loved this book. Very well written and easy to read. I couldn't put this book down.Honest and great insight into the author and her dear frien RBG.I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A book not only about RBG, but lasting friendships and the importance of those friendships.

From a dispassionate, humorous & self-effacing recorder. The history Of NPR, the relations between judges and the importance of friendships make for a riveting read.

Nina Totenberg presents a wonderfully personal portrait of RBG. She explores how to be a friend, how to cherish friendships, and how to handle friendships when the possibilities of conflicts of interest are very real. As a big fan of Nina and Ruth it was lovely to read this book and feel as if I know them a bit better.

This book was a fascinating peak into workings and history of the Supreme Court, as well as a compelling testament to the power of friendships.I have to admit, I looked up how much her father paid for the Strad violin… In 1943, he bought it for $15,000 (equivalent to $235,000 in 2021). When it was found several years ago, it was worth about 5 million! Her story is enthralling, and I don’t love it any less with the realization that Nina’s world is very different than mine.

This book is such a great read. I learned so much I didn't know about our judicial system, laws that were passed, laws that weren't passed but should have been...so much about NPR that I knew very little of before I read this book. Reading this book brought so many memories back about growing up in the 60's and 70's that I had forgotten and with her added information gave me insight into those events that I thought I knew but really didn't know as well as I wish I had at the time.Fascinating book about women and friendships and so much more. I know Nina Totenberg said she would never write another book but I hope she reconsiders as she is a wonderful writer and I would love to read another book by her!

I bought this book after hearing it mentioned on various news programs. Despite the title, it is much more about Nina Totenberg's life in general than about her friendship with RBG, which plays a relatively small part in the narrative. That said, all of the chapters are interesting to read. I wasn't aware, for example, that Nina's father was a violin virtuoso whose Stradivarius got stolen. (It was eventually recovered, though after his death, but Nina and her sisters were joyful for its return.) Nina writes just the way she speaks—unpretentiously—and it's good to learn more about the life of the woman who is best known as the voice providing Supreme Court commentary on NPR. This is the kind of book you want to pass on to appreciative friends.

As a baby boomer woman who had a much smaller career than Nina or Ruth, it was hard to go back and remember when “slots” were saved for one or two women in professional schools, only to find fair employment difficult. Young women need to read this book, think about how it was for women not that many years ago, and don’t roll over on things like right to choose.I really enjoyed reading about these and other women during these times. How brave they were! Young women today have it so much better: don’t let it be taken away.

Did I cry? Yes, many times. But this is a book about hope. Nina Totenberg has led an amazing life and had an amazing career. I love her voice on NPR. I had little idea that she had such a close friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsberg and with the other Justices of her generation. This is a lovely tribute to Justice Ginsberg.

I am grateful to have learned much from her over the decades listening to Nina Totenberg's wise and wry commentary on all things Supreme Court, and this memoir provides delightful insights into her life. While the title is a tad misleading--this is not a tome filled with Ruth-isms gathered over dinners--the book was Ms. Totenberg's memoir of her own life which was more than sufficient to keep me engaged in its pages, RBG's presence just the cherry on top. What I most valued in its pages was the homage to friendship; how relationships with friends differ and grow and challenge and comfort. There is an elegance to the friendships detailed in the book, and a mourning for the civility and grit all of these (mostly) women shared.

Wonderful memories shared by Nina Totenberg, including Ruth Bader Ginsberg but also Nina’s life and friendships. Having been a long time NPR listener, it was fascinating to hear about Nina’s experience there in the early days and the support of her friends at work. Reading this was like a weekend with dear friends. I enjoyed every page.

Some people are blessed to live an extraordinary life. This memoir was written by such a woman, about her relationship with another such a woman. With tears rolling down my cheeks as I read the final chapter, I can only think about how lucky we all were to have had RBG. Nina, thank you so much for allowing us this window into your friendship and into the private life of a very private woman. Tiny Ruth was really a giant to me and many others in my circle of friends.

This book is a great testament to the power of friendship. Nina's friends are very fortunate to have her in their lives as she understands that friendship is one of the most important things in life, and she will drop everything to act on that belief. Also, reading about the friendship between Nina and Ruth was very interesting. I liked this book so much that I bought it for my daughters.

If you have any interest in law or the Supreme Court, have any affection for NPR, are a feminist, or are a fan of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or are a fan of Nina Totenberg or are a woman of a certain age, you must read this book. Listening to the author narrate it is something special. It is a love story to a 40 year friendship and all the things good friends go through together. I laughed. I commiserated over sexual harassment. I sobbed with tears running down my face at the devastating losses. May the memories of the loved be a blessing.

I learned so much from reading this book. It is actually more about Totenberg than Ginsburg but that is fine as her life story is amazing. I am in my mid-70's and for many years, was the lone woman. The book brought back so many memories of what it was like and how invisible you were until there was work to be done. And the credit for that work was often taken by a man. It allowed me to reminisce about the male co-workers who stood up for me, supported me and wanted their wives and daughters to be treated better. This book should be read by all women, especially young women, so they do not take things for granted. A whole lot of hard work and heart ache have gone into creating a workplace that is better, albeit not perfect, for them. The fight is not over - you must remain diligent and forever thankful to those who went before.

This was a poignant portrayal of one of America’s greatest sheros. I didn’t want it to end and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for one of those dinners.

But a lot about real relationships, the power of friendships, the investment of time and events that makes for a bond rare among any of us, but I am sure even less common among busy Washington professionals

I really enjoyed this autobiography and style of Nina Totenberg. I confess, however, that I felt misled by the title--this was the story of Nina and, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a friend, the book was not specifically about "Dinners With Ruth." The title and description focusing on RGG did pull me in and lead me to purchase the book, but I felt that it did not fit what was actually written about, which was the story of Nina. Good book, misleading title.

Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships
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