User Profile

Bill Day

Joined 9 months, 2 weeks ago

On a good day, I read poetry in the morning, prose at night, and law in between. I am a trial lawyer fighting employment discrimination when I am not otherwise occupied. Distractions in addition to reading include karate, chess (badly), movies, and the Internet, of course. Before becoming a a lawyer, I was a small town newspaper reporter, a staff member for Ralph Nader, a grad student in English Lit, and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. More years ago than I care to remember, I spent a summer in Camden Town as a callow youth with a job in London. Mastodon Cheers.

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Review of 'Conditional Citizens' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

From the Pulitzer-shortlisted author of the imagined history of America's first Arab and first Muslim explorer, the Moor's Account, now comes a deeply personal and emotionally powerful account of Professor [a:Laila Lalami|81319|Laila Lalami|]'s own immigration to America from her home in Morocco. [b:Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America|52366322|Conditional Citizens On Belonging in America|Laila Lalami||72398925] opens and closes on notes of hope, beginning with Lalami's joy on the day of her citizenship ceremony, but it is also a story of an abiding love of her country that is not quite requited.

The arc of the story, Lalami's first non-fiction work, portrays vividly a life of both love and alienation arising from being set apart from the presumptive norm of citizenship defined by white male property owners: the legal requirement of full citizenship at the founding of the Republic whose shadow lingers over us to this day. As an immigrant, as a …

Against the Grain (2017, Yale University Press) 5 stars

Why did humans abandon hunting and gathering for sedentary communities dependent on livestock and cereal …

Review of 'Against the Grain' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

There has long been a debate over the merits of the life of the "civilized" human being over that of the "noble savage," one that seemingly turned decisively in favor of the modern state as the European empires expanded over the last several centuries. As the Thomas Hobbes memorably stated in his description of the state of nature, “and the life of man, nasty, poor, brutish, and short.” But what if Hobbes was wrong? Perhaps if he had considered the lives of London slum dwellers and American slaves versus the hunters and gatherers who persisted in much of Africa and the Americas at the time, he might have reached a different conclusion. History, after all, is written by the victors.

Perhaps the concentration of power in urban centers with its attendant dependence on a restricted diet of monocultures, especially grain, its problems of sanitation, concentration of germs and parasites and …

A peace to end all peace (2001, Henry Holt) 5 stars

Traces Great Britain's influence on Middle East politics since World War I, and describes Britain's …

Review of 'A Peace to End All Peace' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

David Fromkin's a Peace to End All Peace repays reading at least a second time. It is perhaps somewhat old fashioned in its sweeping historical narrative, but it offers a keen analysis of the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I and the subsequent disastrous settlement of 1922, seen from a British perspective and centered around the career of Winston Churchill. Largely absent is the perspective of the Arabs caught between the anvil of Ottoman Rule and the hammer of the British invasion. For all that, it provides a fascinating and insightful perspective into the motivations that drove the Allies in their campaign to destroy the the Ottoman Empire and assume control of its Arab provinces.

The exhausted postwar allies, primarily Britain and France, bickered amongst themselves as they carved up the Arab Middle East into arbitrary territories governed by weak puppets. Ironically, it was the champion …

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy 3 stars

Review of 'The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

The danger of books on productivity is that they seduce you to spend more time on reading about productivity than actually producing. Fortunately, Chris Bailey had done much of the heaving lifting in his year long (and ongoing) study of productivity, a product of both extensive research and sometimes bizarre personal experimentation (e.g. working 90 hour weeks, drinking only water, and isolating himself completely for a month) to measure environmental impact on productivity. In the course of year, he summarized his findings in this tightly written manual and continues to do so on his blog.

Bailey's mantra is managing energy, focus, and time, with time a distant third. Time, after all, is fixed; what we mean by managing time is managing ourselves. This is not to discount the value of organization, but merely to point out that "managing our time" should be more aptly seen as maximizing our return …

The Free State of Jones (Paperback, 2002, The University of North Carolina Press) 5 stars

Newt Knight was a man who defied social rules by deserting from the Confederacy, hiding …

Review of 'The Free State of Jones' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

I don't often pick up a book after seeing a movie, much less a movie trailer, but in this case I am glad I did. Victoria Bynum presents a detailed history of a rebellion of small farmers, deserters from the Confederate Army, and escaped slaves against the Confederate slave holding aristocracy. Loyal to the Union, Captain Newton Knight successfully fought off repeated Confederate cavalry raids from 1863 to the end of the Civil War, and was notorious throughout the next century not only for his successful resistance to the "Lost Cause," but also for his extended mixed race family. Knight has been alternately lauded for his daring and initiative in fighting off the Confederate Army and sustaining the people of a poor county in Mississippi and vilified for his defiance of the South's increasingly draconian segregation. Despite Professor Bynum's measured academic tone, the moving story of a gallant band who …

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking) (2014) 4 stars

Review of "Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)" on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

Since the advent of the last decade, we have been awash in an ocean of data, but we have only just begun to chart the wind and tides, much less plumb the depths.

Christian Rudder's Dataclysm offers a few sharp insights into the power of Big Data both to analyse us in the aggregate and profile us on a personal level. Rudder's focus, mercifully for us, is on the aggregate, but whether we are gay or straight, pregnant or not, sexually active or celibate, or in the market for anything at al, we cannot hide our digitized identity.

The main focus of Rudder's book, however, is on what Big Data can tell about ourselves as a people not ourselves as persons, whether it's age preferences of men and women looking for dates, racial biases in the evaluation of attraction, disease trends, or pharmaceutical dangers. Even as Rudder celebrates the power …

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (Hardcover, 2015, Crown Publishers) 4 stars

Review of 'Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

Reviewers of Gretchen Rubin's books tend to fall into one of two categories: those who like her and those who don't. Given her mania for categorization, this is a distinction that Rubin herself might appreciate. However, it seems all too often that evaluation of the book never progresses beyond a visceral reaction to the author's personality. Personally, I find her self-assured epigrammatic style rather engaging, although others sometimes view her as a condescending know-it-all.

Perhaps, therefore, it is no accident that Ms. Rubin's favorite author is Samuel Johnson, the biggest know-it-all in the English language. Johnson is saved from being completely insufferable by wit and insight, and one might well say the same of Ms. Rubin. Her behavioral categorizations — criticized by some with a sniff as "unscientific" — are nevertheless a useful heuristic for separating different kinds of personalities. And Ms. Rubin's observation that when it comes to habits, …

An Artist of the Floating World (Paperback, 2005, Faber and Faber) 4 stars

Review of 'An Artist of the Floating World' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

An Artist of the Floating World evokes a lost world of artists' lives in the pre-War Japanese demi-monde against the rise of strident propaganda leading up to the catastrophe of the War. At one point, the narrator, Mr. Ono, a painter, describes his masters' geisha paintings as updating a classic 'Utamoro tradition' in order to "evoke a certain melancholy around his women, and throughout the years I studied with him, he experimented extensively with colours in an attempt to capture the feel of lantern light." Even as Ono turns his back on this "floating world" to create a "new Japan," the war consumes his old pleasure district, leaving only ashes, fertile ground for Japan's new Americanized business culture.

Against this backdrop, an Artist of the Floating World is a novel of guilt and remembrance, perception of self and perception of others, a brief journey in which Mr. Ono must confront …