I’ve known Roxanne Conlin a long time. 

I covered her successful 1979 prosecution of Maj. Gen. Joseph May, head of the Iowa National Guard, for using guard aircraft to visit his fiancee in Florida. Her aggressive prosecution left me, a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War, feeling sorry for the general who had fallen in love with a high school classmate after the death of his first wife. 

I also wrote about her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1982. Conlin made campaign mistakes, but I thought she was treated unfairly by the Des Moines Register. If she had won, I believe her innovative ideas would have put Iowa on a much better path during the farm crisis. 

Finally, I covered her complicated class action lawsuit against Microsoft in 2006-07 where she argued that the tech giant’s monopoly cost Iowans $330 million. She settled the case after three months of a projected eight-month trial, with Microsoft paying roughly $145 million to Iowans, plus $75 million in legal fees.

Conlin may well be the most influential Iowa woman of my generation. I thought I knew her well, until I read William Friedricks’ new book, “Unstoppable: The Nine Lives of Roxanne Barton Conlin.” It taught me much about her family, her health and her home.  

Conlin can be, and often is, a polarizing figure. But even those who don’t like her will find much of interest in Friedricks’ book, which traces her legal career as one of the nation’s premier plaintiffs’ attorneys, as well as her unsuccessful runs for governor in 1982 and the U.S. Senate in 2010.

The book includes cameo appearances by Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Robert Mueller, as well as virtually every significant Iowa politician of the past half-century. 

Here are some insights.

Family: “The oldest child, Roxanne stood up to her father, often intervening in violent situations to protect her mother, her brother and her four sisters,” wrote Friedricks, director of the Iowa History Center at Simpson College. At 16, she had her father arrested for domestic abuse. 

Conlin’s heightened sense of injustice, which propelled her career, grew out of those early family rows. 

Health: Her father was an alcoholic, a disease that Conlin later disclosed having herself, much to the surprise of many of her closest friends.

When Conlin suffered a stroke in 2013, she not only called 911, but later at the hospital, she drew on medical knowledge she had gained recently while deposing doctors in a wrongful death case. At the hospital, Friedricks wrote, while doctors were “discussing her situation and possible next steps, Roxanne believed she was having an ischemic stroke, where arteries in the brain are constricted or blocked. … She insisted they begin tissue plasminogen activator treatment, which dissolves blood clots and improves blood flow to the brain. Fortunately they did, and fortunately it worked.”

Home: “By the mid-1990s, Roxanne began searching for a grand home, symbolic of how far she had come in the world,” Friedricks wrote. She considered buying a south-of-Grand home that had once been owned by Des Moines’ Wallace and Meredith families, but her husband, developer Jim Conlin, said it would cost too much to restore.

Instead, they bought a lot in Southern Hills and in 2001 launched a building project that lasted four years. Roxanne “planned to entertain on a lavish scale,” Friedricks wrote. “She wanted a huge formal living room, a grand double staircase. … Roxanne only wanted one bedroom in the home, a giant closet the size of three standard bedrooms and a large round table in the dining room, ‘so no one sat at the head of the table.’ ” 

Today, Conlin’s home is assessed at just under $2 million, and it contains three bedrooms because her son “convinced her that having only one bedroom would make the eventual sale of the house extremely difficult.”