Book Review of “The Mother Court”

When an author writes a book about his or her lengthy and distinguished career and infuses the text with an endless passion for their work, the reader’s attention is likely to be quickly captured. It is rare indeed when someone truly loves what they do and can convincingly convey their experiences, insights and commentary for all readers to thoroughly enjoy and absorb the lessons within. Attorney and author James D. Zirin has done a masterful job of achieving this informative and entertaining mix in his new book entitled The Mother Court: Tales of Cases that Mattered in America’s Greatest Trial Court (American Bar Association, 2014).

The “Mother Court” is the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY). Mr. Zirin has had a remarkable career which has provided him a wealth of material to explore. He began his career as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the SDNY, working for Robert Morgenthau. He then continued on to become a distinguished trial attorney in private practice. He is a prolific writer and the host of the ongoing TV show Conversations in the Digital Age. (Click through the link above to his site to review his extensive work richly linked within it.)

The book is organized into sections about a series of landmark cases tried in the SDNY, trial techniques, judges he has appeared before, the changes and challenges in the court during his career all the way through modern trial technology and sentencing guidelines. His skillful prose, storytelling technique*, and endless enthusiasm for the law and respect for the SDNY as an institution, permeate each page. I believe he would have achieved the same possession of the reader’s attention if he had, in some alternative life, been almost anything else from a doctor to professor to inventor.

He presents an insightful array of legal practice stories and subject analyses that are not just meant to be “inside baseball” for lawyers only, but rather, a genuine and granular sense of litigation practice from his admiring point of view. Thus, I believe that anyone who works in the legal profession as well as anyone who does not, will enjoy reading Zirin’s paean to the SDNY.

In the midst of all this legal lore, there is also a brief and hilarious story near the end about a sidebar conference during a trial concerning an observer in the courtroom who might have been creating a distraction. The inclusion and execution of it also speaks very well of the author’s literary craft.

Returning to a concise and critical phrase we always used to include in all of our book reports at Public School 79 in Queens, I definitely recommend this book to everyone in the class.

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*  See also this Subway Fold post on November 4, 2014 about the power of effective storytelling.

Roundup of Some Recent Books on Big Data, Analytics and Intelligent Systems

I have recently read four books concerning big data, analytics and intelligent systems that I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about these rapidly growing fields.

1.  The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. An engaging and in depth analysis of the current and future implications of the convergence of everything becoming digital, all of this digital content increasing at an exponential rate, and how future job skills and business opportunities will be combinatorial in nature.

During the past three months, NYTimes columnists Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and Joe Nocera have all very insightful analyses about different points in this book here, here and here , respectively. As well, The Times ran a very interesting Op-Ed piece Monday’s  (4/7/14) cautioning about a series of concerns with big data and analytics in a piece entitled Eight (No, Nine!) Problems with Big Data by Gary Marcus and Ernest David. All are highly recommended.

2.  Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier. An clear and concise primer on the concepts, applications, limits and implications of big data. This book has received a great deal of attention in the press. I was particularly impressed with their expert distinctions between causation and correlation in big data analytics.

3.  Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die by Eric Siegel. The author presents a balanced approach to examining a series of industry specific cases using data analytics to predict everything from consumer behavior or political trends. I suggest reading this book and the Big Data book above together if possible because of their contrasting perspectives on this phenomenon. Also, both this book and Big Data above provide adequate treatments of data privacy and security issues.

4.  Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia by Anthony M. Townsend. A deep analytical exploration of how big data and analytics are being devised and deployed in large urban areas by local governments and independent citizens. I found this to be a fascinating look at the nearly limitless possibilities described and forecast by the author.