Author Q&A

Open book with Linda Hirshman

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Linda Hirshman realized it was an uphill battle from the start.

"When I was a kid, I read a book called `Advise and Consent' [by Allen Drury] about the Senate, and I decided I was going to become a United States Senator when I grew up," she recalled. "And it was a horrible shock to me when I found out that there [was only one woman] in the United States Senate. I think I was prepared for my life in feminism because I innocently formed that ambition when I was 12."

That's why her newest book, "Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment" documents the struggle of women against male privilege, recounting workplace harassment in the 1970s to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and ending with the #MeToo movement of the 21st century.

Hirshman's interest in collective action has informed her entire career. A former labor lawyer, Hirshman participated in three Supreme Court cases and has also written books documenting the Gay Revolution and the careers of Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"It wasn't too bad [writing `Reckoning'] because I've lived through it," she said. "I was very familiar with the literature and knew who I had to interview. I probably could not have written a book of this ambition in any subject, but this was one I knew very well before I started."

Hirshman emphasizes the power of individuals joining a global movement.

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"I am writing it for the Rebecca Traister's, the Irin Carmon's, the Anna Holmes," she said. "I'm writing this especially for Tanya Harrell, the minimum-wage McDonald's employee. She may not read this, but I want to make the world a better place for her."

And in "Reckoning," Hirshman hopes to leave a blueprint for the women's rights movement to continue "bending toward justice."

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"I think [author] Rebecca Traister said it best when we did our appearance at the 92Y [in New York City] a month ago. She said, 'Linda, you've left us our story. You've written the story and given it to us. And now it's up to us to take it forward.' ... You can't go forward if you don't know your own history. And that's what I feel I've done. I have shown them their history."

Hirshman shared some seminal works in the feminist movement and her favorite books before her conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse at The Bookstore in Lenox on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Q. What book do you find yourself coming back to?

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A. "Remembrance of Things Past" [by Marcel Proust]. Since the first time I've read it, each time there's a new translation, I reread it. I love that book. It's a story about society and that's what interests me. He was a genius and he saw [society] in a very interesting way. In some ways, I do find myself coming back to Proust, but depending on what I'm doing, I also go back to "Little Women" [by Louisa May Alcott]. And from time to time, I read "Jane Eyre" [by Charlotte Bronte].

Q.Which author has especially shaped your ideas and world view?

A. I would say that my feminist moment was, like all of my generation, in reading for the first time "The Feminist Mystique" [by Betty Friedan]. But for my work, I really am indebted to the writing of Catharine MacKinnon, particularly "The Sexual Harassment of Working Women" and "Feminism Unmodified." She thinks very thoroughly through political and legal problems. And it is that thoroughness of her inquiry that really inspired me. I am very influenced by the writings of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. I wrote my dissertation on his work. I see the world very much through his eyes. And I am very inspired by a book called "Simple Justice" by Richard Kluger, which is a story of the racial civil rights movement with a particular focus on the court. I have always a sign in my office, which is a quotation from Thurgood Marshall at the end of his life. He said, 'I did what I could with what I had.' So I think that "Simple Justice" is my way into Justice Marshall, and he was an inspiration to me.

Q.What's on your nightstand right now?

A. I am reading "There's No Crying in Newsrooms," a new book by some colleagues of mine in journalism, Kristin [Grady] Gilger and Julia Wallace. And I am reading Tim Alberta's book about the fall of the Republican party called the "American Carnage." It's a heavy lift — I'm reading slowly a book [called] "The English and Their History" by Robert Tombs. He wrote at a very critical moment in English history — the 17th century — so I'm interested in how England got to the place where they were. But it's a very dense, academic book, so I read it intermittently. I'm also on vacation, so I'm also reading a spy thriller, "D-Day Girls" [by Sarah Rose]. I'm lucky to be reading such wonderful books.


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