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1. Read the book (or as much of it as you can manage). We’ll get you an electronic galley.  If you read nothing else, the Introduction (pp. 3-17) gives a good overview of the book’s scope and Sasha’s approach to telling this story.  You may also find it fun to use the index to identify an event you recall living through and see how it gets retold in the book.

2. Follow your curiosities. The best conversation will be the one driven by the questions to which you want answers. And feel free to improvise along the way — Sasha looks forward to being surprised by your questions and is happy to follow the discussion wherever it leads. ​

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Sasha Issenberg is the author of three previous books, on topics ranging from the global sushi business to medical tourism and the science of political campaigns. He covered the 2008 election as a national political reporter in the Washington bureau of The Boston Globe, the 2012 election for Slate, the 2016 election for Bloomberg Politics and Businessweek, and 2020 for The Recount. He is the Washington correspondent for Monocle, and has also written for New York magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and George, where he served as a contributing editor. He teaches in the political science department at UCLA. 


On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that state bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, making same-sex unions legal throughout the United States. But the road to victory was much longer than many know. In this seminal work, Sasha Issenberg takes us back to Hawaii in the 1990s, when that state's courts first started grappling with the question, through the emergence of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 that raised marriage to a national issue, to the first legal same-sex weddings in Massachusetts, to the epic face-off over California’s Proposition 8, and finally to the landmark Supreme Court decisions of Windsor and Obergefell. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, making same-sex unions legal across the United States. But the road to that momentous decision was much longer than many know. In this definitive account, Sasha Issenberg vividly guides us through same-sex marriage’s unexpected path from the unimaginable to the inevitable.

It is a story that begins in Hawaii in 1990, when a rivalry among local activists triggered a sequence of events that forced the state to justify excluding gay couples from marriage. In the White House, one president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which elevated the matter to a national issue, and his successor tried to write it into the Constitution. Over twenty-five years, the debate played out across the country, from the first legal same-sex weddings in Massachusetts to the epic face-off over California’s Proposition 8 and, finally, to the landmark
Supreme Court decisions of United States v. Windsor and 

Obergefell v. Hodges. From churches to hedge funds, no corner of American life went untouched.

This richly detailed narrative follows the coast-to-coast conflict through courtrooms and war rooms, bedrooms and boardrooms, to shed light on every aspect of a political and legal controversy that divided Americans like no other. Following a cast of characters that includes those who sought their own right to wed, those who fought to protect the traditional definition of marriage, and those who changed their minds about it, The Engagement is certain to become a seminal book on the modern culture wars.


Here are some good conversation-starters you can use — but also feel free to ignore them altogether. 


I think we all have our own memories of the debate over same-sex marriage. What’s the story you’re trying to tell?


What led you to write The Engagement?


Your other books have been about the global sushi business, the science of political campaigns, and medical tourism. How did you approach this one differently?


You’ve said you worked on The Engagement for a decade. What took so long?


A lot has changed since you started work on the book. How did that affect the book you wrote?


What most surprised you while writing it?


The book’s narrative begins in Hawaii.  Why does it start there?


What lessons are there from the marriage fight for those looking to make change in other areas?

“In this deeply engaging and comprehensively reported work, Sasha Issenberg traces the story of marriage equality from its beginnings as a nearly impossible dream to its current status as an essential right. This engrossing account of social change, political will and human rights arrives at a moment of great urgency. Issenberg’s narrative will inform the efforts of anyone who strives for a more equal country, and touch the heart of anyone who has seen their rights come up for debate."

Pete Buttigieg

author of Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future

The Engagement is a sprawlingly rich history of the United States' most transformative equality movement. Issenberg's impressively wide-ranging interviews allow him to go beyond the familiar story of trailblazing lawyers to give lesser-known campaign consultants due credit for their critical contributions to bringing about a sea-change in America's acceptance of gay equality. Likewise, Issenberg's fair-minded treatment of equality opponents further demonstrates The Engagement will be an enduringly significant work of history." 

David J. Garrow

Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama and author of Liberty & Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade

“Sasha Issenberg has produced a sweeping, inside history of the first great civil rights triumph of the new century, masterfully weaving together the stories of the pioneering activists and the political and legal strategies they devised into a book of penetrating reportage and analysis that reads like a thriller.” 

Joshua Green

author of Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising

“Part Grisham-esque legal thriller, part Sorkin-esque political drama, and part Maddow-esque historical yarn."

O; The Oprah Magazine 

“At once political history, movement autopsy, legal chronicle, and fly-on-the-wall account, Sasha Issenberg’s latest is one of his most thought-provoking books to date. By reckoning with the stories of those who hoped finally to legalize same-sex marriage, as well as those who were determined to delay, or actively to prevent, such a revolution, Issenberg animates one of this nation’s most recent and dramatic civil rights fights as few others have. And, in doing so, he makes clear not only that its origins were most complex, but also why its legacy remains most uncertain.”

Heather Ann Thompson

niversity of Michigan history professor and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy

About the Book
Conversation Starters
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