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The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy waited to brief the administration’s transition team on the agency it would soon be running. Nobody appeared. Across all departments the stories were the same: Trump appointees were few and far between; those who did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy waited to brief the administration’s transition team on the agency it would soon be running. Nobody appeared. Across all departments the stories were the same: Trump appointees were few and far between; those who did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative of the Trump administration’s botched presidential transition takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its leaders through willful ignorance and greed. The government manages a vast array of critical services that keep us safe and underpin our lives, from ensuring the safety of our food and medications and predicting extreme weather events to tracking and locating black- market uranium before the terrorists do. The Fifth Risk masterfully and vividly unspools the consequences of what happens when the people given control over our government have no idea how it works.


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The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy waited to brief the administration’s transition team on the agency it would soon be running. Nobody appeared. Across all departments the stories were the same: Trump appointees were few and far between; those who did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy waited to brief the administration’s transition team on the agency it would soon be running. Nobody appeared. Across all departments the stories were the same: Trump appointees were few and far between; those who did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative of the Trump administration’s botched presidential transition takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its leaders through willful ignorance and greed. The government manages a vast array of critical services that keep us safe and underpin our lives, from ensuring the safety of our food and medications and predicting extreme weather events to tracking and locating black- market uranium before the terrorists do. The Fifth Risk masterfully and vividly unspools the consequences of what happens when the people given control over our government have no idea how it works.

30 review for The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "It's the places in our government where the cameras never roll that you have to worry about the most." - Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk I've read several books about President Trump and his administration in the last couple years. They all depress me a bit. I feel like I'm reading some real-time version of Gibbons' 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'. But none of the other Trump books scared me like this one did. Lewis isn't interested in the Fox/MSNBC politics or the Twitter-level anxiety of "It's the places in our government where the cameras never roll that you have to worry about the most." - Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk I've read several books about President Trump and his administration in the last couple years. They all depress me a bit. I feel like I'm reading some real-time version of Gibbons' 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'. But none of the other Trump books scared me like this one did. Lewis isn't interested in the Fox/MSNBC politics or the Twitter-level anxiety of the Trump administration. He is interested, in this book, in the systematic and bureaucratic failures of the Trump administration and what risks this administration's lack of professionalism (this is beyond politics, thisis about competency of governance) might mean to our country and our people. Lewis does this using his usual approach (which is a bit similar to John McPhee's new nonfiction approach). He finds interesting people who become narrative heros and guides to an area and ties them together into a compelling story or narrative. The areas Lewis explores? Presidential Transitions (guide: Max Stier); I Department of Energy/Tail Risk (guides: Tarak Shah, John MacWilliams), II USDA/People Risk (guides: Ali Zaidi, Kevin Concannon, Cathie Woteki), III Department of Commerce/All the President's Data (Guides: Kathy Sullivan, DJ Patil, David Friedberg). This is a short book. It is relevant but still not top-shelf Lewis. I enjoyed it, but just wished it was bit longer and a bit deeper*. It * I get the irony. This books scared the shit out of me. It made me sad. Therefore, I wish it were longer.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" This is the opening sentence in the book summary and also the first sentence inside the book jacket. Lewis takes us inside a few Departments of our federal government, talking to those who work there in the past and present. Showing us what these Departments do what they are responsible for, programs and oversights. Have to admit I didn't know all the things they did, but then again I doubt many "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" This is the opening sentence in the book summary and also the first sentence inside the book jacket. Lewis takes us inside a few Departments of our federal government, talking to those who work there in the past and present. Showing us what these Departments do what they are responsible for, programs and oversights. Have to admit I didn't know all the things they did, but then again I doubt many people do, including our current government. The Dept of Energy, the Dept of Agriculture, touching on the Dept. Of commerce, in all these Departments, after the election, they waited for the new administration to come in and find out what they were doing, transitioning to new people. They waited for months, and finally one person showed up, took one day with the Depts and basically disappeared again. I'm not going to go into details about what eventually happened, would take too long, but one thing of note I will mention. From the Dept. Of Agriculture, 220 billion was removed to another fund, a fund from where it was easier to spend, easier to not account for. This money was from a program that provided low cost loans to our rural areas, a program that has now been effectively shut down. Of all the books I have read about our current political situation, this is the one that scared me the most.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    Didja know the US gov’mint is a complicated beast? Trump didn’t! And now we’s all gonna DIIIIEEEE! But not really. Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk is the latest in a long line of Trumperature hurriedly bundled together and booted out the door to cater to the surprisingly large audience who can’t read enough Trump-bashing. Except Lewis’ effort is a bit more nuanced in its critique of the Trump administration, focusing instead on what its lackadaisical attitude to the country’s major institutions co Didja know the US gov’mint is a complicated beast? Trump didn’t! And now we’s all gonna DIIIIEEEE! But not really. Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk is the latest in a long line of Trumperature hurriedly bundled together and booted out the door to cater to the surprisingly large audience who can’t read enough Trump-bashing. Except Lewis’ effort is a bit more nuanced in its critique of the Trump administration, focusing instead on what its lackadaisical attitude to the country’s major institutions could mean to the average Joe. Unlike previous incoming administrations, Trump and his peeps didn’t bother to learn how the government operates. They took their sweet ass time filling the required posts for heads of massive departments – many which remained empty for months post-inauguration – and, when they did, the appointees were dangerously unqualified, uninformed, corrupt and actively working to undermine the effectiveness of what their departments did to line their own pockets instead! It’s less Trump-focused than that for the most part though. The Fifth Risk is essentially a love letter to government as Lewis highlights exactly what the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Agriculture does – and it ain’t what you think! These departments’ remits basically extend far beyond what their misnomers suggest, revelations which are quite remarkable in themselves. But they’re run by equally extraordinary people with sparkling careers, skills and characters, who Lewis diligently profiles. The book is reliably well-written by Lewis and thoroughly informative. I get the impression he’s anti-Trump but he largely keeps his tone neutral and non-partisan, which is laudable. Some of the profiles are fascinating and the entire episode on the current state of the American weather service was stunning – to whit, the American taxpayer bankrolls how the weather data is collected and the guy now in charge owns a private weather company and wants to change it so that weather forecasts no longer remain free and charge the taxpayer for data they’ve already paid for! On the other hand, despite being a relatively short book, it feels overlong. The profiles become repetitive and the subject matter feels increasingly shallow as the book progresses, largely as the premise – that the guys in charge are going to prove so inept (this is the “fifth risk” by the way: project management) that they will irreparably damage the country – probably won’t be proven for some time yet. And it does feel somewhat melodramatic – I mean, could one administration really be so disastrous? It’s not like there haven’t been terrible presidents before and America has prevailed. And there is hope in that the vast majority of the public sector seems to be led by truly good people – skilled, knowledgeable folk who are in it for the mission rather than the money, a veritable phalanx of hyper-competent Leslie Knopes! – and with them around, how bad could a corrupt bossman be (especially as they don’t seem to last with Trump in charge)? The Fifth Risk isn’t saying anything groundbreaking or profoundly insightful (“whuh-oh, rough seas ahead!” seems to be the rather inane and vague message from Michael “Auditioning for the Real-Life Captain Hindsight” Lewis) but it does highlight a few worthwhile things like giving credit to civil servants who do amazing work despite none of it being sexy enough to be reported on in the mainstream media, as well as not taking the general peaceable harmony of society for granted as it could be so much worse without the public sector. Most importantly it teaches anyone who thinks “government sucks” (sadly the majority of people are exactly this uninformed) just why it’s the opposite. And I think that’s how I felt reading The Fifth Risk: it’s competent and well-researched with a fine purpose but ultimately far from compelling and a bit dull to read. It also doesn’t feel very substantial, not least as the impression was like a trio of loosely connected articles got slapped together, but because it made its point almost immediately and spent the rest of the book repeating itself! Not the best work Michael Lewis has done but not bad either, I wouldn’t say it’s a must-read for anyone.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    Once again Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, chooses as his protagonists a few ingenious manipulators of data, but this time he does so with a difference: the self-effacing statistical warriors he singles out for praise are bureaucrats of the United States federal government, a class generally overlooked and often despised. These bureaucrats, however, are people not only familiar with the resources of their agencies but also committed to using them to make lives better for th Once again Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, chooses as his protagonists a few ingenious manipulators of data, but this time he does so with a difference: the self-effacing statistical warriors he singles out for praise are bureaucrats of the United States federal government, a class generally overlooked and often despised. These bureaucrats, however, are people not only familiar with the resources of their agencies but also committed to using them to make lives better for the American citizens who pay their salaries. Much of The Fifth Risk is heartening, optimistic, as we watch people who genuinely care about there jobs do what they know how to do, but there is a dark cloud looming over every bureaucratic success story: the Trump administration is now in charge of their government agencies, an administration which holds such bureaucracies in contempt, vassals good for nothing but to plunder and destroy. The book begins with a superb prologue, in which—believe it or not—Chris Christie turns out to be the hero, doing his best to organize a Trump transition team so that the various agencies can be staffed by people actually capable of carrying out their mission. But Trump, who cares neither for competence nor mission, dissolves the transition team and then tells Christie: “You and I are so smart we can leave the victory party two hours early and do the transition ourselves.” The Fifth Risk introduces us to the people who are on a mission (NOAA’s Kathy Sullivan, geologist and ex-astronaut, responsible for weather forecasting data; mathematician D.J. Patil, Obama’s chief data scientist; USDA’s Kevin Concannon, in charge of food stamps and related programs; Energy’s chief “risk officer” John McWilliams; and others) and shows us what happens when they—and others like them—meet up with people care about nothing butmoney, that is, the Trump administration. It is McWilliams who gives Lewis the title for his book. After outlining four important risks faced by the Department of Energy (nuclear accidents, North Korea, Iran, the electrical grid), McWilliams tells us what is the fifth and greatest risk: “project management.” The fifth risk incorporates all those unlikely and unforeseen, long-shot and long-term disasters that only a vigilant, committed agency has a chance of forecasting and forestalling. In other words, the sort of government Trump and his greedy grifters are constitutionally incapable of providing. No grifter sums things up quite as well as Barry Myers, the AccuWeather CEO chosen to helm NOAA and oversee its comprehensive weather data collection efforts and its essential weather forecasts. One of the first things he did was to make this valuable date unavailable to the public. D.J. Patil became concerned: ”The NOAA webpage used to have a link to weather forecasts,” he said. “it was highly, highly popular. I saw it had been buried. And I asked: Now, why would they bury that?” Then he realized: the man Trump nominated to run MOAA thought that people who wanted a weather forecast should have to pay him for it. There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn’t between Democrat and Republicans. It was between the people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melki

    We don't really celebrate the accomplishments of government employees. They exist in our society to take the blame. Our recent government shutdown, the yugest, most tremendous, and longest shutdown in history, served, if nothing else, to demonstrate just how nice it is to have someone helping our aircraft land, and someone picking up the trash in our national parks. We need qualified people taking care of our nuclear waste, and protecting us against the next pandemic. As a famous Canadian singer We don't really celebrate the accomplishments of government employees. They exist in our society to take the blame. Our recent government shutdown, the yugest, most tremendous, and longest shutdown in history, served, if nothing else, to demonstrate just how nice it is to have someone helping our aircraft land, and someone picking up the trash in our national parks. We need qualified people taking care of our nuclear waste, and protecting us against the next pandemic. As a famous Canadian singer once warbled, "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got til its gone." "We don't teach people what government actually does." Lewis attempts to do just that with his latest book. He takes the reader on a tour of various departments, explaining their functions, using a friendly, conversational tone, and occasionally scaring the crap out of you. One of his main points is that we have genuine heroes working these jobs, people who have dedicated their lives to public service, and their positions should not be subject to the whims of any particular presidential administration. His other main point? You can't just slash a department's budget without knowing exactly what that department does!!!!! (There really aren't enough exclamation points in the world for that sentence.) And, when the person who has been placed IN CHARGE of an organization can't be bothered to learn . . . we've got a problem. (Yes, all of us. It is OUR problem!) But then again, it's been made clear time and again by the current administration that profit, NOT public well-being is the real concern. There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn't between Democrats and Republicans. It was between people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money. I read a lot of crime fiction, and thrillers, but this is the single most nail-bitingest book I've read in a long, long time. I'm going to echo many other reviewers, and say that you REALLY SHOULD read this book. If nothing else, you'll be better equipped to argue with that obnoxious coworker or family member who always insists, "We need the gubmint to stay out of our bidness."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Henk

    An insightful investigation of what good government can do, if handled properly. And how the Trump administration does not care for this in the slightest. To which Trump replied, Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. General We are meant to serve our elected masters, however odious they might be. Despite The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy being a relatively short book, it tackles a lot of concerns one can have about administration and how this is mishandled by the An insightful investigation of what good government can do, if handled properly. And how the Trump administration does not care for this in the slightest. To which Trump replied, Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. General We are meant to serve our elected masters, however odious they might be. Despite The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy being a relatively short book, it tackles a lot of concerns one can have about administration and how this is mishandled by the current government. Michael Lewis uses four departments within the US as a basis to what can go wrong (the fifth risk of the title being project management) when a government does not take serving the public good serious. To begin with two million US government employees are led by 4.000 political appointees from which 1.200 are vetted through senate hearings. This sound rather boring and trivial but the institutions these appointees lead are massively important. The unhandy naming of departments of agriculture, energy and commerce is not helping in a proper appreciation of what the departments do for the public good. The department of energy for instance has apparently 115.000 employees, a 30 billion budget a year and no CFO at the inauguration date of Trump. Even the head of the nuclear arsenal was only called a day before the president entered office with the request to continue his service, and only due to pressure from senators that such a vacancy would be unwanted. Half of the budget of this department is required to keep the nuclear arsenal safe, and another 25% of the budget is meant on an annual basis for clean up of plutonium enrichment facilities. Both hardly activities the market is anytime soon going to pick up. One former employee notes the following on why a report on the risk of nuclear accident occurring in a facility where two third of plutonium was produced never got commissioned: If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better of not knowing the cost. This attitude is widespread as Michael Lewis shows. That in 2018 no head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was appointed also feels very cynical with the knowledge of an upcoming Covid-19 pandemic Then we learn that the US Department of Agriculture apparently has a budget of 164 billion a year and 100.000 employees and how the food stamp programme accounts for 70 billion a year in support (with "only" around 5% of fraud which is still a whopping 3.5 billion per year), while private food banks distribute only around 8 billion of handouts. Continued examples that build to a broader narrative how the concept of good government is systemically eroded There is an upside on ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Later in the book someone muses on how grant receiving districts overwhelming voted for Trump and his small government rhetorics, despite how they were held afloat by state handouts: we don’t teach people what the government actually does. This is off course very similar to the sentiment from Brexit, with regions receiving the most aid from the EU voting overwhelmingly for the Brexit that will no doubt hurt their own interest most. In general US state governments portray the federal government similarly to national governments portray the EU: like a foreign, unaccountable and money spending entity, while a lot of economic community support is coming from exactly these vilified institutions. The tale continues with the incredible late capitalist cynicism of AccuWeather CEO (and nominee from Trump to head the agency) wanting to make the public benefit of the National Weather Service forecasting of deadly tornados private, to profit his company more. As an aside: it is in general fascinating how through big data and computing power increases the five day weather forecast of 2016 is as accurate as the one day forecast of 2005. The general narrative that is being heralded is that government and government employees are wasteful, dumb and inefficient according to the very government elected to govern. This while the delivery of certain public goods (including kickstarting innovation, helping the poorest, safeguarding security and rural support) is undoubtedly needed for a proper functioning of society; even absorbable baby diapers are just a side product of the state funded space programme for instance. Basically government done right is the counterbalance to both individual irrationality and to the instincts of the mighty, from animal abusers to big business. Calls for a smaller government from the Trump administration as noted in this book in the end just always seem to end up aiding the mighty. A terrifying tale of populism hollowing out truly essential services to the public good.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Athan Tolis

    Was reading The Fifth Risk in the tube. A well-dressed man got in, noticed the American flag Jenga on the cover and immediately exclaimed “The Fifth Risk, what do you think?” Before I had a chance to respond, he added in a polite American accent “I love the guy, I devour his books,” perhaps to allow me to temper my answer. I’m a Michael Lewis fan. I’ve read enough of him to think I know him. So I wasn’t shy about my assessment. “Tell you what,” I answered. “You know how half his books are about so Was reading The Fifth Risk in the tube. A well-dressed man got in, noticed the American flag Jenga on the cover and immediately exclaimed “The Fifth Risk, what do you think?” Before I had a chance to respond, he added in a polite American accent “I love the guy, I devour his books,” perhaps to allow me to temper my answer. I’m a Michael Lewis fan. I’ve read enough of him to think I know him. So I wasn’t shy about my assessment. “Tell you what,” I answered. “You know how half his books are about some quirky discovery and the people who made it and the other half are a bunch of articles he wrote before? Well, this is the second type. It’s three chapters, one each about a very important function of the government that is totally underappreciated by the public and about how Trump is about to gut it. “ “And yeah, I buy it,” I went on, “he’s right, but it lacks balance. So all these 177 dangerous nuclear waste sites that Trump will let fester, who built them? The government did! And how about our side’s enlightened approach? Fine, Trump wants to gut the USDA and did not bother to send anybody for the handover. But tell me what Obama was doing sending a 2008 Harvard graduate to effectively supervise its budget! Why does Michael Lewis not call out our side for fostering an army of Robert McNamaras? If you ask me, we’re no better than the other guys. Our meritocracy stuff, sending some Harvard kid in diapers into such a huge job is precisely the kind of sin we’re paying for.” And then I went for the kill: “Our side treats government like training ground for the best and the brightest, theirs wants to gut it. We’ve lost the high moral ground as far as I’m concerned.” I proceeded to lament that my favorite part of the book so far had been when on election day, with Pennsylvania called, el Sisi – the Egyptian dictator, one of “our SOBs,” who could be a perfect judge of how to get through to a man not much unlike him in mentality- got through to Trump by calling the switchboard of the Trump Tower, only for the President-elect to exclaim “I love the Bangles!” “You know,” my new American friend smiled, “my Zen master would say he was doing his best when he said that.” Quite! I even had advice for the poor fellow, who was starting to regret asking me: “I finish books, so I’ll read the whole thing, but on balance skip this one!” Turns out I was flat wrong. This is a third type of Michael Lewis book. It’s a 219 page anecdote that leads to a single punchline. And so it was that Michael Lewis knocked me out in three rounds.

  8. 4 out of 5

    HBalikov

    Lewis is not a fan of the Trump Administration. If it is politics that initially shaped that determination (and I am not sure it was), it is facts about our government and how it has evolved to provide us with safety, security and information that are the genesis of this book. I found this one of the scariest books I have read about the immediate future in the USA. It haunts my dreams. It makes every day a little bit more difficult to get through. Why? Because Lewis is a master at articulating t Lewis is not a fan of the Trump Administration. If it is politics that initially shaped that determination (and I am not sure it was), it is facts about our government and how it has evolved to provide us with safety, security and information that are the genesis of this book. I found this one of the scariest books I have read about the immediate future in the USA. It haunts my dreams. It makes every day a little bit more difficult to get through. Why? Because Lewis is a master at articulating the reasons why I cannot, should not, take for granted, many of the things that I have taken for granted. It's the reason I can only read a little of this book at a time. I have selected some quotes from the book: some are his direct observations and some are Lewis quoting others. Let me know how comfortable you are after reading them. "Some of the things any incoming president should worry about are fast-moving: pandemics, hurricanes, terrorist attacks. But most are not. Most are like bombs with very long fuses that, in the distant future, when the fuse reaches the bomb, might or might not explode. It is delaying repairs to a tunnel filled with lethal waste until, one day, it collapses. It is the aging workforce of the DOE—which is no longer attracting young people as it once did—that one day loses track of a nuclear bomb. It is the ceding of technical and scientific leadership to China. It is the innovation that never occurs, and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you." Asked to list them he (Presidential candidate and ex-Governor of Texas, Rick Perry) named Commerce, Education, and . . . then hit a wall. “The third agency of government I would do away with . . . Education . . . the . . . ahhhh . . . ahhh . . . Commerce, and let’s see.” As his eyes bored a hole in his lectern, his mind drew a blank. “I can’t, the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” The third department Perry wanted to get rid of, he later recalled, was the Department of Energy. In his confirmation hearings to run the department, Perry confessed that when he called for its elimination he hadn’t actually known what the Department of Energy did—and he now regretted having said that it didn’t do anything worth doing. The question on the minds of the people who currently work at the department: Does he know what it does now? In his hearings, Perry made a show of having educated himself. He said how useful it was to be briefed by former secretary Ernest Moniz. But when I asked someone familiar with those briefings how many hours Perry had spent with Moniz, he laughed and said, “That’s the wrong unit of account.” With the nuclear physicist who understood the DOE perhaps better than anyone else on earth Perry had spent minutes, not hours. “He has no personal interest in understanding what we do and effecting change,” a DOE staffer told me in June 2017. “He’s never been briefed on a program—not a single one, which to me is shocking.” Since Perry was confirmed, his role has been ceremonial and bizarre. He pops up in distant lands and tweets in praise of this or that DOE program while his masters inside the White House create budgets to eliminate those very programs." “We had tried desperately to prepare them,” said Tarak Shah, chief of staff for the DOE’s $6 billion basic-science program. “But that required them to show up. And bring qualified people. But they didn’t. They didn’t ask for even an introductory briefing." "There is another way to think of John MacWilliams’s fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions." "His more general point was that managing risks was an act of the imagination. And the human imagination is a poor tool for judging risk. People are really good at responding to the crisis that just happened, as they naturally imagine that whatever just happened is most likely to happen again. They are less good at imagining a crisis before it happens—and taking action to prevent it." “People don’t understand that a bungled transition becomes a bungled presidency.” The new people taking over the job of running the government were at best only partially informed, and often deeply suspicious of whatever happened to be going on before they arrived." "He’d explain that the federal government provided services that the private sector couldn’t or wouldn’t: medical care for veterans, air traffic control, national highways, food safety guidelines. He’d explain that the federal government was an engine of opportunity: millions of American children, for instance, would have found it even harder than they did to make the most of their lives without the basic nutrition supplied by the federal government. When all else failed, he’d explain the many places the U.S. government stood between Americans and the things that might kill them. “The basic role of government is to keep us safe,” he’d say." Lewis noted that this current government is missing so many of the people who can/must run the agencies that are responsible for protecting our food, keeping us safe from disease and doing the intelligence work that is absolutely essential. No USA government has had so many “acting” heads of agencies two years into an administration nor has this Administration found replacements for the career workers and managers tasked with doing the day-to-day work that actually makes all the difference in the lives of over 300 million citizens.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    (view spoiler)[I fucking hate each and every person who voted for 45. The gigarich tech bros who enabled 4chan and Cambridge Analytica. And, of course, all you jackass libertarians and white supremacists. (hide spoiler)] This book explains why there is no hope for reconciliation between decent human beings and Trumpanzees. (view spoiler)[I fucking hate each and every person who voted for 45. The gigarich tech bros who enabled 4chan and Cambridge Analytica. And, of course, all you jackass libertarians and white supremacists. (hide spoiler)] This book explains why there is no hope for reconciliation between decent human beings and Trumpanzees.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is about three important but little-understood government agencies. And, the book is about the willful ignorance of the Trump administration, and its attempts to dismantle the agencies before even having the slightest idea, what these agencies do. After the two major political parties nominate a presidential candidate, the candidates form transition teams. These teams are required by law to formulate transitions into government that will be as smooth as possible. The transition teams ar This book is about three important but little-understood government agencies. And, the book is about the willful ignorance of the Trump administration, and its attempts to dismantle the agencies before even having the slightest idea, what these agencies do. After the two major political parties nominate a presidential candidate, the candidates form transition teams. These teams are required by law to formulate transitions into government that will be as smooth as possible. The transition teams are given office space in Washington DC in which to meet and plan. Donald Trump did not want to appoint transition teams, because that would require setting aside some money that could be used for political ads. But the law forced him to, anyway. The day after a presidential election, government agencies are prepared for visits by large transition teams. They have prepared briefings and are ready to show the newcomers how the agencies work and are ready to smooth the transitions. However, many agencies were totally ignored by Donald Trump. Instead of sending dozens and dozens of members of a new team, Trump sent--nobody at all. Instead, a month after election day, there might be a single visitor, who is unprepared to learn about anything at all. The visitor to the Department of Energy did not want to learn what it is that the agency does. He did not want to learn that most of the department's efforts were aimed at maintaining the stockpile of nuclear weapons, and performing inspections in hostile countries. Instead, all he was interested in, was obtaining a list of scientists who had attended climate change conferences. (He didn't receive such a list.) Trump wanted to de-fund the Department of Energy, which supplies ten percent of its annual budget to clean up the horrific plutonium mess in Hanford, Washington. He wanted to eliminate ARPA-E, which did the research for new energy sources. Private companies are not willing to undertake such risky efforts; government research is required for truly innovative advancement. And, instead of installing experts into the top jobs at these critical government agencies, Trump installed no-nothings who were loyal to him. For example, he installed into the top jobs at the US Department of Agriculture; a truck driver, a clerk from AT&T, a gas company meter reader, a country club cabana attendant, and the owner of a scented candle company. They had absolutely no credentials or relevant skills. Sonny Perdue became the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. It became obvious that he is motivated by pure politics, and has zero interest in the nutritional welfare of school children. Many people depend on the treasure troves of data collected by the government agencies, and our ability to download the data from their websites. The book describes many innovative uses of the data sets, and the ability of researchers to uncover amazing discoveries about industry, society, climate, and health across the country. But after Trump took office, the EPA and the Department of the Interior removed all sorts of data on climate from their web sites. FEMA removed data about drinking water in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and the FBI removed most crime data from its web site, all driven by narrow commercial motives. This is an excellent book about the importance of government to the country's prosperity and standard of living. Ignorance of what government actually does seems to be the Trump administration's primary hallmark. Trump has no curiosity, and no interest in learning anything. His only interest is in lining his own wallet with ever-bigger wads of money. What a pity.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Lewis is such a remarkable writer that I sometimes find myself envious of his ability to forge a compelling story where there doesn't seem to be anything. It's useful to contrast The Fifth Risk with Bob Woodward's Fear, which I inhaled last month. Woodward's book ferrets out things that happened — crescendos of malevolence and arias of incompetence — unbelievable though they sometimes seem. In contrast, Lewis' amazing little book — it arrived Tuesday night and I finished it early Thursday morning Lewis is such a remarkable writer that I sometimes find myself envious of his ability to forge a compelling story where there doesn't seem to be anything. It's useful to contrast The Fifth Risk with Bob Woodward's Fear, which I inhaled last month. Woodward's book ferrets out things that happened — crescendos of malevolence and arias of incompetence — unbelievable though they sometimes seem. In contrast, Lewis' amazing little book — it arrived Tuesday night and I finished it early Thursday morning — takes as it's starting point a series of startling non-events all involving the Trump administration. Since Trump didn't expect to win, he didn't take building a transition team seriously (and even thought that the money Chris Christie raised to fund a transition team was tantamount to stealing from Trump). Then Trump won, and stilldidn't see the need for a transition team. The Fifth Risk is the story of three critically important and misunderstood Federal departments — Energy, Agriculture and Commerce — that the Trump administration first ignored and then politicized upon taking power. Literally nobody showed up for weeks before and after the inauguration to learn what these departments do (short version: your eyes will widen and your jaw will drop at how much). No Trump administration officials arrived to take the meticulously prepared briefings, and when they did the meetings were short and political. Lewis decided to take the briefings himself. This book is the result of a months-long crash course in what the Federal Government does, how it does it, and why it matters. That might sound boring, but behavioral economics is boring to most people and in Lewis' last book, The Undoing Project, he made the story of behavioral economics so compelling it was like reading a thriller. He does the same thing with The Fifth Risk, and he does it by focusing on the people behind the government: from hackers to former astronauts, from tornado chasers to septuagenarian billionaires lying about their assets (no, it's not who you think), this is character-driven writing at its best. Here's one of my favorite passages from a profile in the book of John MacWilliams, who under Obama had become the first Chief Risk Officer in the history of the Department of Energy. MacWilliams is immensely wealthy and a lifelong conservative, but he champions government investment in R&D: "John MacWilliams had enjoyed success in the free market that the employees of the Heritage Foundation might only fantasize about, but he had a far less Panglossian view of its inner workings. 'Government has always played a major role in innovation,' he said. "'All the way back to the founding of the country. Early-stage innovation in most industries would not have been possible without government support in a variety of ways, and it's especially true in energy. So the notion that we are just going to privatize early-stage innovation is ridiculous. Other countries are outspending us in R&D, and we are going to pay a price.'" (64) This is an important corrective to the narrative — largely promulgated by Silicon Valley — that innovation led by VCs and startup entrepreneurs will save the world from its problems. What Lewis' book points out time and again is that most of the startups we celebrate were built on top of technology platforms (the internet, GPS, weather satellites, self-driving cars) that were first created or encouraged by the U.S. Federal Government. Anybody who is reading this list or has read the previous lists knows that I read a lot of books about the 2016 and its aftermath. I characterize most of those books as guilty pleasures, and I sometimes worry that by reading them I'm contributing to the problem of giving the president the attention he so craves. The Fifth Risk may be the most important of these books, because it explores in alarming detail the long-term impacts of the Trump administration's failure to engage with the work of running the government and its politicizing of the decisions that it does make.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    One of the most dangerous things said by a politician in recent memory was Reagan’s quip that went something like this: the most scary sentence is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” What Lewis has gone here is snow exactly how the government helps us even when we are ignorant of its doings. The story that will forever stay with me from this book is the rural town celebrating a local farmer who just got a big loan that he thinks he earned and that was underwritten by the bank and say One of the most dangerous things said by a politician in recent memory was Reagan’s quip that went something like this: the most scary sentence is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” What Lewis has gone here is snow exactly how the government helps us even when we are ignorant of its doings. The story that will forever stay with me from this book is the rural town celebrating a local farmer who just got a big loan that he thinks he earned and that was underwritten by the bank and says so from the podium. Then he turns to the department of ag person at the event and is like “what are you doing here?” And she says—we were the ones that gave you the money. The government orgs also determine when hurricanes come (and people think it’s from their stupid weather app), and clean up nuclear waste, etc etc. Lewis makes a nice catalogue. I think this book could have been much much longer and covered every agency and their impact on our lives (though of course not all government agencies are created equal), but it’s focused on the Trump administration’s total disregard of the bureaucracy. I guess these days, to get a best-seller you have to catalogue the mess of the current administration. Lewis certainly knows how to write a best-seller, but he’s also an excellent journalist and I just really really hope that the people who need to read this read it (i.e. Trump voters who live in rural areas entirely funded by government programs who want to gut the federal government).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    For readers who are cynical about the operations of the U.S. government generally, and even more cynical about the (mis)operations of the current administration specifically, there's a lot in these pages to make even your worst fears about public sector project mismanagement seem tame in comparison to reality. Lewis outlines, in his typically snappy/funny/ironic/incisive style, just how devastating the consequences of government inattention and ineptitude can be. But Lewis's greater achievement For readers who are cynical about the operations of the U.S. government generally, and even more cynical about the (mis)operations of the current administration specifically, there's a lot in these pages to make even your worst fears about public sector project mismanagement seem tame in comparison to reality. Lewis outlines, in his typically snappy/funny/ironic/incisive style, just how devastating the consequences of government inattention and ineptitude can be. But Lewis's greater achievement in this book is to highlight and draw attention to the unsung heroes of public service whose efforts, mostly unnoticed (and, even when noticed, sometimes dismissed or ungratefully scorned), do so much to keep a majority of Americans fed, employed, and safe -- whether from terrorists or tornadoes. Lewis is such a fine and even-handed writer that he even made me feel, for a few brief pages at least, some actual sympathy for former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Speaking of which, it's remarkable how, despite the frequent criticisms of Trump, Lewis manages to make his account feel so non-partisan. He lends an empathetic ear to citizens, policy makers, and civil servants from both/all sides of the aisle: "There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn't between Democrats and Republicans. It was between the people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money" (pp. 188-189). If the U.S. administration were interested in encouraging good people -- people who are in it for the mission -- to join government, they could do worse than starting with wide-scale distribution of this book as a primer.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    America: please read this book. In a nutshell, the book asks the question: "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" Not surprisingly, the consequences are, potentially, disastrous. But the whole point is that too many Americans don't know or appreciate this, and their ignorance (I'm distinguishing actual ignorance from stupidity - I'm giving the benefit of the doubt here - that folks have NO IDEA how important many routine government f America: please read this book. In a nutshell, the book asks the question: "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" Not surprisingly, the consequences are, potentially, disastrous. But the whole point is that too many Americans don't know or appreciate this, and their ignorance (I'm distinguishing actual ignorance from stupidity - I'm giving the benefit of the doubt here - that folks have NO IDEA how important many routine government functions are to their lives) places the public, the economy, the environment, and our futures at great (and unnecessary) risks. Government is not the enemy. Few, if any Americans, will be just fine without (or with dramatically less) government. Markets do not solve all problems. And ... even if you don't like any of those facts, well, gee, that's too bad, because that's reality. And denying it - in the short and the long term - exposes us to (unnecessary and avoidable) risks. In other words, wanting to pay less taxes - without appreciating how dependent we all are on the government that taxes us - isn't the coin of the realm. Being against government - because ... well, because ... - or believing that individual liberty and conceptual freedom means you don't have to think about how dependent a complex, modern society is upon governmental institutions, well, ... that's as frustrating as it is delusional.... And, yes, yes, I'd love to pay less taxes, but ... taxes are the price we pay for a (safe and) civilized society. Against that backdrop, the book is a highly accessible, anecdote driven, quick (entertaining) read. It's classic Lewis style - and I generally appreciate this. While I don't think it's his best work ever, it's timely and important and, frankly, it's a more significant contribution to the future of the nation than, say, an exposition on the evolution of the left tackles in the National Football League. But I digress. Will the book make you (more) disgusted with the Trump administration's failure to govern responsibly? Only if you read it and if you are a rational, reasoning human/thinker/analyst. If, instead, you believe that Trump was sent by the lord almighty to to smite the evil, wealth-sapping liberal forces in Washington arrayed against liberty-loving freedom seekers, armed with red tape and aspiring to tame and constrain the holy market envisioned by Ayn Rand, well ... you're probably not open to the information or the message found within the covers, so don't bother. (And, of course, sorry if I've offended you....) In any event, to my mind (with all of my biases and quirks), this has become the first book I'll be recommending for folks trying to understand the current (post November-2016) political landscape and why it matters to the nation. In so doing, it'll jump a fair number of excellent, important books in the queue. Among other, I've been recommending a decidedly mixed-bag of eye-openers: . (a quick, important read ... getting more important every day), Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . Robert Reich, The Common Good, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . and, on that note, more broadly, from abroad (no pun intended): Jean Tirole, Economics for the Common Good, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . Rebecca Traister, Good and Mad, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . (more catharsis than light, but), David Frum, Trumpocracy, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . Sarah Churchwell, Behold, America, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . Max Boot, The Corrosion of Conservatism, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . Sarah Kendzior, The View From Flyover Country, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... . . and, without drifting too far afield, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... . And, following the Kavanaugh SCOTUS hearings, in fiction (work with me here), Fredrik Backman's Beartown (and the sequel, Us Against You), https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ... anyway, you get the idea... As a former fed (and current policy wonk, of sorts), there's a lot of preaching to the choir going on in Lewis's most recent book, but... but ... if we believe (or want to believe) that we're a representative democracy, well, then, I sure wish more Americans would read this.... Update: My spouse read the book and, in a word, was unimpressed. Moreover, she concluded that it was not up to Lewis' normal standard. I concede that it's a different animal from much of his earlier work, but ... other than that, we've simply agreed to disagree. (In other words, I stand by my review ... even in the face of vociferous disagreement.... Life (and domestic tranquility), ultimately, entail(s) compromise.)

  15. 4 out of 5

    ⚣Michaelle⚣

    Holy shit. I read the excerpt at The Guardian and everything that's gone wrong up 'til now (starting just before the election) makes total sense. Also, if that small bit is any indication, the writing is really engaging. I mean, how in the hell did Michael Lewis manage to make me feel even the slightest bit sorry for what Chris Christie endured trying to head up the transition team? Sure, it was a bit self-serving (the next-best thing to being President), but still...he worked hard to work within Holy shit. I read the excerpt at The Guardian and everything that's gone wrong up 'til now (starting just before the election) makes total sense. Also, if that small bit is any indication, the writing is really engaging. I mean, how in the hell did Michael Lewis manage to make me feel even the slightest bit sorry for what Chris Christie endured trying to head up the transition team? Sure, it was a bit self-serving (the next-best thing to being President), but still...he worked hard to work within the law, to vet the possible employees for government positions, and to provide the best candidates for the job (working with a team, according to their expectations/requirements)...only to be canned and have it all thrown out because someone (Kushner) was still salty Christie did his job prosecuting Kushner's dad for fraud? (Kushner, who also almost had us join with Saudi to boycott/sanction/embargo a country that hosts one of our own military bases because he was mad they wouldn't give him a business loan?) (Oh, I'm referring to Qatar, in case you're wondering; I hope that's covered in the book.) Damn, I can't wait to read the rest.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Iris P

    Do you think you know what the US Department of Agriculture does? Or the Department of Energy? How about the EPA? Michael Lewis spends a big part of his book, The Fifth Risk, enlightening the reader about what these and other US government agencies actually do. He also provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the Trump's administration transition process and its first months in office. Reading what went on during that period was scary, even terrifying at times. This is not only because it Do you think you know what the US Department of Agriculture does? Or the Department of Energy? How about the EPA? Michael Lewis spends a big part of his book, The Fifth Risk, enlightening the reader about what these and other US government agencies actually do. He also provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the Trump's administration transition process and its first months in office. Reading what went on during that period was scary, even terrifying at times. This is not only because it provides an articulate narrative of how much have gone and could still go wrong, but also a fascinating perspective of the US government, the business it does quietly, efficiently and without much fanfare, and how much we as citizens take these actions for granted. Like I commented on another's Goodreads review, the subtitle of this book could've been "It's even worse than you think" but reading Lewis book, gave me some hope that while some many in this administration seem hellbent in dismantling as much government norms and structure as they can, many more public servants continue proudly doing their jobs and what they think it’s best for the country and the world at large. There are plenty of awards the US government extends to both members of the military and civilians every year, but perhaps it's time to make a much larger production of these ceremonies, a national day to highlight and celebrate public servants and what they do every day to keep our air clean, our food edible, to give us accurate weather reports, to keep our nuclear armament safely stored. The audiobook is expertly narrated by Victor Bevine.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Geevee

    The Fifth Risk is very enjoyable and readable, but it was also, for me, a bit mixed in format and lacked sources, references or an index. What I mean by this, is that reading from the other side of the Atlantic this book, to paraphrase football (soccer) commentators, was a game of two halves. There was the central message of the Trump administration's preparedness for transition from the outgoing Obama management teams to the new Republican crew. The other half was the work that Federal Government The Fifth Risk is very enjoyable and readable, but it was also, for me, a bit mixed in format and lacked sources, references or an index. What I mean by this, is that reading from the other side of the Atlantic this book, to paraphrase football (soccer) commentators, was a game of two halves. There was the central message of the Trump administration's preparedness for transition from the outgoing Obama management teams to the new Republican crew. The other half was the work that Federal Government does. The transition - or complete absence - in this account shows Trump's team to be disinterested, ill-prepared and very much distant to the task. The outgoing Federal department management teams, following on from the Bush team's handover to Obama's, had themselves prepared detailed and full analyses and guides on every aspect and facet of their departments roles and work. The pity, and sheer surprise to readers, is that no-one from Team Trump turned up. When they did it was people whose interest and time spent with the experts was cursory at best. There were conflicts of interest and people just simply unqualified or ill-suited to senior management. The other half of the book was the role and scope of Federal departments. This was fascinating, and indeed I wanted more as it was rivetting and surprising on what they do and under which department things are done. We learn about the USDA amongst others, and also the Department of Commerce. Commerce...dull right? Except it isn't and it's a jewel in the Federal crown (if you excuse that obvious paradox). It does lots more than "just" commerce, including having the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and that has the National Weather Service under its remit. All these departments within Commerce do massive amounts of things, including lots and lots of national security stuff and people safety work. It supports air traffic control, supplies weather data, helps feed people in poverty and much, much more. Interestingly, it is also home to the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (have a look it is fascinating and reassuring too). NOTE EDIT 21/01/2020 this last sentence is incorrect and the DTRA in fact resides in the Department of Defence. The Department of Commerce has a massive budget yet Trump's team sent no-one for days and weeks. They asked no questions; made no contacts or significant appointments; they made no effort to understand what this mammoth and unexcitingly named department did. Worrying and even stupifying. Budgets within the Department of Commerce have since been culled. R&D and data science work (yep they do this too) has been scaled back or stopped. The impacts of these projects losing funding, and the people who are some of the country's and the world's best leqving, is creating capability gaps and setting back potential solutions, ways of working or even intelligence for national security by years. In summary a good read but it does lack sources and references, but on the balance of evidence on what we know of Trump, his family team and their allies, and the approaches they have taken and have been documented, the points Michael Lewis makes are highly likely to be accurate...and that's a worry if you understand how federal government and its departments works. As for the information on the Federal departments that help the USA function and keep safe, this Brit and "Americophile" urges every American to read and learn about the Department of Commerce and its departments, and be proud and thankful you have folks doing these jobs with little thanks, reward or general understanding by the populace.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    I'll do a longer review of this at some point. For now, Lewis makes it abundantly clear that the Government roles that Trump has shown zero interest in filling (forgetting all his friends, family and numerous goonish hangers-on who have been given roles they've no intention of even vaguely assuming) are all incredibly important - there are no positions that the likes of Chris Grayling or Dominic Raab could ever fill without being rumbled in days; that the effect of their being lapsed, ignored or I'll do a longer review of this at some point. For now, Lewis makes it abundantly clear that the Government roles that Trump has shown zero interest in filling (forgetting all his friends, family and numerous goonish hangers-on who have been given roles they've no intention of even vaguely assuming) are all incredibly important - there are no positions that the likes of Chris Grayling or Dominic Raab could ever fill without being rumbled in days; that the effect of their being lapsed, ignored or unfulfilled may take decades to measure; that the damage this abysmal set of Mafioso pimps and bandits is doing may be impossible to either quantify or repair; that so many unsung heroes for so long did so much valuable and selfless unseen work, and their basic goodness was utterly crucial to the running of the United States, and the survival of its poorest; that the fallout from the nuclear-weapons machine is an ongoing, costly and extremely precarious process; and that Trump's legacy will be one far more devastating than most people - but not the deeply worried protagonists of this great-but-terrifying book - imagined. Simply by doing nothing - bar obsessively plunder and incessantly hammer anyone who dares mention climate change - in so many areas, by failing to understand or care what a Government does, Trump is killing millions and dismantling decades of indispensable work that always required ongoing momentum and bipartisan scrutiny and diligence. It's not simply a question of a moron delegating to opportunistic fools - his ignorance, for however long he clings on, will create immeasurable and potentially unfixable devastation in fields that need experts.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    The Fifth Risk was a really informative look at what U.S. government agencies do and how important it is for transitions from one administration to another to go smoothly, with lots of cooperation and avid involvement from all parties, and as few politically motivated appointments from the private sector as possible. I recommend this to all Americans, because this is information all of us should have.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    I'm enough of a Michael Lewis fan to have ordered The Fifth Risk months ago without knowing what it's about. At that time, I assumed the title was Lewis's typical, enigmatic key to the book's meaning (think Lewis titles like Moneyball, The Blind Side, and Flash Boys). Having now read the book, the title does deliver on its promise of encapsulating the book's intention. But that's about all The Fifth Risk delivers for me. Though it opens with a dramatic insight into the story to come (think the b I'm enough of a Michael Lewis fan to have ordered The Fifth Risk months ago without knowing what it's about. At that time, I assumed the title was Lewis's typical, enigmatic key to the book's meaning (think Lewis titles like Moneyball, The Blind Side, and Flash Boys). Having now read the book, the title does deliver on its promise of encapsulating the book's intention. But that's about all The Fifth Risk delivers for me. Though it opens with a dramatic insight into the story to come (think the beginning of Liar's Poker), the book then slows to a leisurely crawl. As usual, Lewis has done lots of research and found idiosyncratic people to tell his story; those people are interesting, but not all that interesting. Here, unlike his other books, Lewis's characters, though informative, are not compelling, and their stories are not revelatory. What's also missing is Lewis's typical untangling of a complicated subject and reassembling it into a coherent narrative (think much of The Big Short and The Undoing Project). In contrast, The Fifth Risk focuses on the Trump administration's not filling many government positions and also ignoring the role of science in governmental decision making. Though Lewis documents his thesis well, it's not ground breaking news, and it's not particularly complicated. Another critique. The book is a compilation of Lewis's earlier writings. For instance, the final third of The Fifth Risk is a replay of Lewis's recent The Coming Storm, promoted misleadingly as "only in audiobook." I enjoyed the audiobook, and the information adds to Lewis's risk argument, but this section feels tacked on rather than an integral part of the narrative. In fact, the book's main sections --two magazine articles and an audiobook--feel glued together into a single binding rather than a unified piece of literature. Perhaps I'm guilty of expecting too much from Michael Lewis. Yes, the book is clearly written; it is informative as well. And it makes a careful partisan argument without being overly obnoxious in tone (if you overlook a few flippant remarks). But the book does not rise above the high bar I hold for Lewis's work. The Fifth Risk is more than pedestrian, but it fails to sparkle. It aroused not one Aha! moment in me, and that's very unusual.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Maru Kun

    This looks very interesting based on this excerpt from The Guardian. The review from The New York Times suggests that this will be very interesting as well. This looks very interesting based on this excerpt from The Guardian. The review from The New York Times suggests that this will be very interesting as well.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    UPDATE UPDATE, Nov 22, 2020: Every time I see Trump's so-called "press secretary" claim that he "was never given an orderly transition," it makes me want to scream. Even though this national nightmare is finally ending, THIS BOOK IS STILL ESSENTIAL READING to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again... UPDATE, March 20, 2020: Just saw Michael Lewis interviewed on TV, discussing his book in relation to the current COVID-19 crisis. He explained that the first four risks identified (and then UPDATE UPDATE, Nov 22, 2020: Every time I see Trump's so-called "press secretary" claim that he "was never given an orderly transition," it makes me want to scream. Even though this national nightmare is finally ending, THIS BOOK IS STILL ESSENTIAL READING to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again... UPDATE, March 20, 2020: Just saw Michael Lewis interviewed on TV, discussing his book in relation to the current COVID-19 crisis. He explained that the first four risks identified (and then quickly left behind) in this all-too-prescient book were Iran, North Korea, keeping track of nuclear weapons and the threat of cyber-terrorism. But the fifth risk, the one he continues to lose sleep over, is "program management;" i.e., the Trump administration's ability - or more correctly, absolute inability - to respond to the unexpected. And so here we are today... Even more than when it first came out, The Fifth Risk is perhaps the most depressing and relevant of all the anti-Trump books out there - no small claim, since they are well into the 100's by now. If you haven't already done so - and if you think you can stand getting even more depressed than you already are - this book is one that everyone needs to read. ORIGINAL REVIEW, (started December 12, 2018): I'M ONLY ON PAGE 12 AND THIS IS ALREADY THE MOST DAMNING INDICTMENT OF THE OVERALL TRUMP ADMINISTRATION I HAVE READ TO DATE! While this is indeed another "Trump book," it's unique in that it focuses more on Trump's "team" and its unpreparedness, inability and continuing lack of interest in staffing up - much less understanding - the various departments and other pieces of the Federal government. Looks to be an absolutely fascinating read - but make no mistake; we are all screwed, people... FINAL REVIEW, (December 18, 2018): This is a brilliant, near perfect book (except for a somewhat sudden ending which IMHO screams out for a 4-5 page epilogue), that will depress the living hell out of absolutely anyone who reads it. There are obvious villains,* both true evil-doers taking senior positions to line their own pockets/boost their own egos, as well as the "dangerous fools" who are just totally out of their depth.** But Lewis wisely chooses to focus on the numerous heroes who "were in it for the mission, not in it for the money" - and who apparently are ALL no longer serving the government.*** PLEASE read this book!! Whatever your personal politics, there should be no disagreement that we need passionate, dedicated and qualified people running these departments of the government, which are all infinitely more complicated than I ever realized. Among so many other things, we should never again replace a former Nobel-winning physicist with a former governor who can't even remember the name of the department he is chosen to lead; or replace a former astronaut with an Iowa talk show host with ZERO scientific credentials. Otherwise...it's time to start looking into New Zealand's immigration policies. * Wilbur Ross, Barry Myers, etc. ** Rick Perry, Sam Clovis, Sonny Perdue (although he probably belongs on the first list), etc. *** DJ Patil, Max Stier, Kathy Sullivan, John McWilliams, Ali Zaidi, Kevin Concannon, Cathie Woteki, Lillian Salerno - and in a surprising cameo appearance, even Chris Christie!!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lorna

    The Fifth Risk is the latest book by Michael Lewis, basically exploring the events that transpired after the 2016 election and outlines how the Obama administration prepared to ease the transition of leadership as the Trump administration came into power. It outlines the resistance that was met, and the total lack of even a fundamental knowledge as to how the government runs. I have read a lot of these books recently and, I must say, this book frightened me in ways that no other has yet done. Le The Fifth Risk is the latest book by Michael Lewis, basically exploring the events that transpired after the 2016 election and outlines how the Obama administration prepared to ease the transition of leadership as the Trump administration came into power. It outlines the resistance that was met, and the total lack of even a fundamental knowledge as to how the government runs. I have read a lot of these books recently and, I must say, this book frightened me in ways that no other has yet done. Lewis's narrative highlights how utterly ignorant as to the workings of government and unprepared the Trump administration was to take over the governing of this nation. What is abundantly clear is that it will take decades to restore some semblance of order and democracy to our nation. "Another way of putting this is: the risk we should most fear is not the risk we easily imagine. It is the risk we don't. Which brought us to the fifth risk." "The fifth risk did not put him at risk of revealing classified information. 'Project management,' was all he said." "There was another way to think of John MacWilliam's fifth risk: the risk a society runs when if falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions. 'Program management' is not just program management. 'Program management' is the existential threat that you never really imagine as a risk. It is the innovation that never occurs, and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you." "Here is where the Trump administration's willful ignorance plays a role. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gain without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it's better never to really understand those problems. There is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview." "There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn't between Democrats and Republicans. It was between the people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money."

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    Journalist Michael Lewis published The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, detailing the Trump administration’s dismantling of federal agencies. Lewis didn’t write of the gutting of the Obama-era multi-agency pandemic response team in The Fifth Risk, but the administration’s response to the pandemic is exactly what he foresaw when he described the Trump transition team’s venal obliviousness to the responsibilities of governing: “A bad transition took this entire portfolio of catastrophic risks—the bi Journalist Michael Lewis published The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, detailing the Trump administration’s dismantling of federal agencies. Lewis didn’t write of the gutting of the Obama-era multi-agency pandemic response team in The Fifth Risk, but the administration’s response to the pandemic is exactly what he foresaw when he described the Trump transition team’s venal obliviousness to the responsibilities of governing: “A bad transition took this entire portfolio of catastrophic risks—the biggest portfolio of such risks ever managed by a single institution in the history of the world—and made all the bad things more likely to happen and the good things less likely to happen. In 2007, constitutional law scholar Sanford Levinson warned that the American system is dangerously outdated. Talking to Bill Moyers, Levinson explained the problem: “a veto power that allows presidents to stop legislation 95 percent of the time; a contradiction of the ‘one person, one vote’ principle in the Senate which gives Wyoming, with one-seventieth of the population of California, the same political power; and an escape clause in impeachment that doesn’t allow for removal of the chief executive for lack of the nation’s confidence, only for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” The Electoral College was rotten from the start, a compromise with Southerners who opposed electing a president by popular vote because 40 percent of the South’s population was enslaved, putting them at a disadvantage in a popular vote. Organizations with ties to the libertarian, pro-industry Koch family are vigorously pursuing a constitutional convention. Prominent among this is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy group that bankrolls politics at the state level, promoting a wide range of what used to be considered fringe causes, from charter schools to anti-environmental measures backed by the oil industry. They are succeeding. Nearly thirty states support a constitutional convention. If enough states sign on, the Koch Sell Game is likely to replace Enlightenment notions of universal human rights as the guiding principle of our next Constitution. With the executive branch cratering and the legislature limping along, citizens seek recourse from the courts—a trend Comaroff calls “lawfare”—or become beggars, relying on the whims of billionaires. Neither are a substitute for good government. Start with the courts: since the Reagan years, the pro-business Federalist Society has been stacking the courts, so increasingly these, too, reflect that new system of finance über alles. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s cowboy anti-communism made institutions the enemy, whether government bureaucracies or labor unions. Libertarianism here means freedom for corporations and slavery for everyone else. --The Baffler, July 21, 2020

  25. 5 out of 5

    Trudie

    * 4.5 * It is oft mentioned that Michael Lewis could turn his hand to any topic and make it interesting and I believe that to be true. He has a talent for seeking out the unsung heroes any any situation and in so doing navigating his readers around often complex topics - high frequency trading, baseball statistics, macroeconomics and now the workings of the US federal government. The Fifth Risk is both terrifying and fascinating and as a non-US reader I found it explained a lot about the current * 4.5 * It is oft mentioned that Michael Lewis could turn his hand to any topic and make it interesting and I believe that to be true. He has a talent for seeking out the unsung heroes any any situation and in so doing navigating his readers around often complex topics - high frequency trading, baseball statistics, macroeconomics and now the workings of the US federal government. The Fifth Risk is both terrifying and fascinating and as a non-US reader I found it explained a lot about the current US pandemic response. Take this interest snippet : How to stop a virus, how to take a census, how to determine if some foreign country is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon or if North Korean missiles can reach Kansas City: these are enduring technical problems. The people appointed by a newly elected president to solve these problems have roughly seventy-five days to learn from their predecessors. After the inauguration, a lot of deeply knowledgeable people will scatter to the four winds and be forbidden, by federal law, from initiating any contact with their replacements. This also seemed somehow prophetic and wise : If your ambition is to maximise short-term gain without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing cost. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it's better never to really understand those problems. There is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview This might not be Lewis's best work, he loses his focus a little at the end there ...hence 4.5 not 5-stars but it might be the one book of his that I think needs to be widely read, not least so we all can be on the same page as what a government is and is not.

  26. 5 out of 5

    ScienceOfSuccess

    I have no idea what to say. Every page I was thinking "please say bazinga, this cannot be true even in trump government" and there was no bazinga. I love the way USA works, with total capitalism, money-democracy, and lobbyism. But this book damn. I have no idea what to say. Every page I was thinking "please say bazinga, this cannot be true even in trump government" and there was no bazinga. I love the way USA works, with total capitalism, money-democracy, and lobbyism. But this book damn.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    What does government do for us? Do we really need it? What happens if government ceases to do those things? These are the questions Michael Lewis comes to grip with in his powerful little book, The Fifth Risk. By drilling down into the day-to-day realities in a handful of little-recognized federal agencies, Lewis convincingly demonstrates how government protects us from some of "the most alarming risks facing humanity." By extension, he relates the dangers we (and the world as a whole) now face What does government do for us? Do we really need it? What happens if government ceases to do those things? These are the questions Michael Lewis comes to grip with in his powerful little book, The Fifth Risk. By drilling down into the day-to-day realities in a handful of little-recognized federal agencies, Lewis convincingly demonstrates how government protects us from some of "the most alarming risks facing humanity." By extension, he relates the dangers we (and the world as a whole) now face as the direct result of inattention, greed, and misguided policy by the Trump Administration. How government protects us At the outset, Lewis makes the case that "The basic role of government is to keep us safe," to quote one of the expert government-watchers he interviewed. He points out that "The United States government employ[s] two million people, 70 percent of them one way or another in national security." As Lewis makes clear at length, that 70 percent doesn't include just those working in the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security. They also toil away in such little-recognized departments as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Clearly, if a hurricane or a tsunami is on the way to your town, you sure want to know about it—and that's one of the principal functions of the National Weather Service, one of NOAA's agencies. NOAA supplies ALL the data on which our weather forecasts are based. That includes private entities and individuals such as Accuweather and The Weather Channel. Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration is trying to cut NOAA's budget. Just imagine how American business, let alone the American public, would conduct our daily activities if we couldn't depend on accurate weather forecasts. The Department of Commerce has little to do with commerce For some obscure reason, NOAA is located in the Department of Commerce. In fact, it turns out that the Department of Commerce has little to do with commerce and trade. As a practical matter, the department is a depository for much of the government's vast stores of data—not just on the weather but on the census, the economy, patents and trademarks, and many other matters. "The Department of Commerce should really be called the Department of Information," Lewis writes. This came as a shock to Trump's new Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, once he learned what the Department actually does. As Lewis makes clear, many of Trump's other top appointees were in for similar shocks. They came to their jobs completely unprepared, unwilling to learn from the extensive efforts by their predecessors to brief them, and often determined to undermine the work of the new departments in their charge. You're right to be worried about the consequences. A "bungled transition" is the root cause of much of the trouble It's common knowledge that Donald Trump came to the Oval Office totally unprepared for the job and unwilling to learn what it might entail. In truth, he hadn't expected to win the election (and may well not have wanted to do so). "His campaign hadn't even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech," Lewis reports. But the problems the country (and the world) are now facing as a result run far deeper than Trump's own lack of preparation. Michael Lewis finds the bigger cause in a "bungled" Presidential Transition. Trump insisted he didn't want to form a Transition Team. Somehow, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie managed to convince him, anyway. Christie assembled a small team beginning months before Election Day. Shortly afterward, he delivered to the President-elect a list of (presumably) qualified people to fill many of the 4,000 top government jobs. Nothing happened. Then, a month later, Christie and his entire team were fired, and the team's report disappeared. A new Transition Team dominated by Steve Bannon and Trump personally began work from scratch in December, barely a month before the new Administration would assume power. Is it any wonder that the result was chaotic? Should we be surprised that so many of the most senior positions were filled with people who were ill-suited for the jobs they were given? Interview with a Chief Risk Officer One of the many former high-level government officials Lewis interviewed was John MacWilliams, who had served as the Chief Risk Officer of the Department of Energy (DOE) late in the Obama years. Like Commerce, DOE is a conglomerate department that encompasses a host of functions no unsuspecting member of the public might guess. "About half its budget in 2016 went to maintaining the nuclear arsenal and protecting Americans from nuclear threats," Lewis notes. MacWilliams pointed out to him that, in fact, DOE is "'the place where you could work on the two biggest risks to human existence, nuclear weapons and climate change.'" Lewis asked MacWilliams to identify the "top five risks I need to worry about right away." So, what is the "Fifth Risk?" Accidents with nuclear weapons and climate change top the list of five. They're the first risk. The second and third are a potential attack by North Korea and the threat that Iran might develop a nuclear weapon now that Trump has pulled out of the Iran treaty. MacWilliams identifies the fourth as the fragility of our electrical grid. What, then, is the Fifth Risk? "'Project management,'" MacWilliams says. To illustrate, he pointed Lewis to the decommissioned plutonium production facility at Hanford, Washington, which the author toured. There, a local official explained that "'There are Fukushima-level events that could happen at any time.'" Without competent and attentive management, anything could happen there. We take for granted that our government protects us from such threats. But are we safe to do so under this Administration? Who might be appointed to manage the 200 square miles of nuclear risks at Hanford? "There is an upside to ignorance" Lewis notes that "There is another way to think of John MacWilliams's fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions." This is exactly what the Trump Administration hopes to do with Hanford, by cutting its budget—and with so many other government programs. "There is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview." And isn't this just exactly what's going on throughout the federal government under Donald Trump?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This book is kind of maddening. I'm giving it 3 stars. One could make a case for 2, 4, or (if I had a different worldview) 5 stars. In my view, parts of this book seem right on and really important. Other parts belie the author's bias, therefore, makes me question how much of this book can be trusted. The book isn't traditionally sourced. It is unclear how he knows what was spoken where he wasn't present. For example, he says Chris Christie said this, thought that, or did the other, but he doesn This book is kind of maddening. I'm giving it 3 stars. One could make a case for 2, 4, or (if I had a different worldview) 5 stars. In my view, parts of this book seem right on and really important. Other parts belie the author's bias, therefore, makes me question how much of this book can be trusted. The book isn't traditionally sourced. It is unclear how he knows what was spoken where he wasn't present. For example, he says Chris Christie said this, thought that, or did the other, but he doesn't say where that information came from. These are the main points I got from the book: 1. Trump, his transition team, and some of his appointees have (or had) little to no regard for important, valuable, and sometimes critical functions the government performs. They also appear to have little regard for the professional government employees. Examples are given from the transition and from the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture. 2. Following point #1, the government has lost a lot of institutional and subject matter knowledge that it developed over past administrations. 3. Because of #1 and #2, we (the country, the world, all of us) now face significantly higher risks of failure, in some cases catastrophic failure (such as a nuclear accident), and significant opportunity cost for not continuing programs whose benefits far outweigh the costs. By way of expanding on the main points, Lewis reports several interesting stories based on his interviews of "life in the trenches" of some of these government programs: weather prediction, crop insurance, business loan guarantees, nuclear materials management, and others. I found these stories to be the most believable part of the book. Less believable, because there is little to no sourcing, is the assertion that Trump and his team didn't expect to win, didn't want to win, and were shocked and dismayed when they did. The quote that received a lot of media attention when the book first came out is that Karen Pence rebuffed a victory kiss from her husband, saying, "You got what you wanted, Mike, now leave me alone." A few other little snide comments suggest Michael Lewis may be less than objective or truthful in his portrayal. When discussing Brian Klipperstein, a transition team person sent to the USDA, Lewis says "Bless his heart! ... And just you never mind why Uncle Joe likes to be alone with his favorite sheep." Really? My trust in this part of the book plummeted. Another related aspect is that apparently Lewis got most or all of his information by interviewing employees of the 3 departments who, I think it's fair to say, are anti-Republican and pro big government in general, and extremely anti-Trump in particular. Am I to trust all of Lewis's fantastical account of the transition ineptitude, coming from these sources? I don't know. I'm prepared to believe that some of it is true, maybe a lot of it is true, and that alone is troubling enough. A final point about the book is this: Lewis and essentially all of the government employees believe that it is (or should be) the federal government's role to perform all of the tasks he talks about in the book. That's actually not a universal view within the country, and is (I believe) a source of a lot of the political wrangling in the country. For example, should it be the role of the FEDERAL government to feed hungry children? And if we assign that role to the federal government, what are the ramifications to our society of subsidizing irresponsibility in parents, and what does that say about the role of state or local governments or of charity? I'm touching only lightly on this here, but the unquestioning belief that the federal government must (or ought to) provide nutrition, shelter, healthcare, and other services to its citizens perhaps ought to be questioned. It's a tricky subject. Along these lines, another example mentioned in the book has to do with the rural water supply. The statement was made, that without a particular government program, rural water would cost $70 instead of $20 (I assume "per month"), and that would be unfair. Well, there are pluses and minuses to living in a rural area. One of the minuses would be that services like water delivery and internet are more expensive to deliver. Why should we, as a nation, subsidize those services so that they are equal in quality and cost to those who live in an urban area? One of Lewis's interviewees seems to take that position. I think the position is debatable. I've read and enjoyed several of Lewis's other books. This book makes me question how accurate those other books are, since I had no other point of reference for the topics covered in books like The Big Short or Moneyball. I do think The Fifth Risk tells an important and worrisome story (some of which predates the Trump administration). I think Lewis's skill in storytelling might have come at the expense of a fairer evaluation of some of those stories.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    The cover photo of Michael Lewis’s latest book, “The Fifth Risk”, is the game of Jenga, painted to look like the American flag. For those not familiar with the game, it is an alternating set of three wooden rectangular bricks, roughly eight or nine rows high. The point of the game is to safely remove lower bricks and stack them on top without toppling the entire structure. It’s a pretty straightforward metaphor when related to the Trump Administration. Trump’s lack of any viable strategy or tran The cover photo of Michael Lewis’s latest book, “The Fifth Risk”, is the game of Jenga, painted to look like the American flag. For those not familiar with the game, it is an alternating set of three wooden rectangular bricks, roughly eight or nine rows high. The point of the game is to safely remove lower bricks and stack them on top without toppling the entire structure. It’s a pretty straightforward metaphor when related to the Trump Administration. Trump’s lack of any viable strategy or transition plan in coming into the Oval Office set him apart from nearly every preceding presidency in history. Trump, believing in his own singular greatness, did not feel the need to have a plan in place. Now, nearly two years into his term of office, Trump’s Jenga tower is a wobbling, precarious set of stacked bricks without any foundational support. Anybody who’s ever played Jenga (and anyone who understands basic physics) knows what happens when the weight at the top becomes too great for the bottom to support. America, however, is not a game of Jenga. It’s a nation of real people, but Trump, according to Lewis, is treating government like a game, one in which he has decided to rewrite the rules, and the stakes are people’s lives. Think this is just a liberal exaggeration? Let’s consider the Department of Energy (DOE), the department that Rick Perry now runs (supposedly). Perry, himself, admitted that before being briefed on what the DOE actually does, he figured he’d just be a glorified spokesman for the oil industry. He had no idea that the DOE was also the governmental body in charge of monitoring and maintaining the safety of our country’s nuclear arsenal. (https://newrepublic.com/minutes/13996...) “Oops” doesn’t come close to covering this completely asinine misunderstanding and willful ignorance. Unfortunately, willful ignorance seems to be the trademark of the Trump Administration. This is why we have a woman in charge of the Department of Education who knows nothing about education, a person in charge of the Department of Housing and Urban Development whose day job before running for president was a neurosurgeon, and a guy in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency who wants to roll back fifty years of regulations of businesses and resurrect the coal industry. Thankfully, Scott Pruitt is gone from the EPA. Unfortunately, what did him in wasn’t his fervent anti-environmental stance but his unchecked ambition. (https://www.vox.com/2018/7/7/17540488...) Also unfortunately, we still have Betsy DeVos in charge of the Department of Education and Ben Carson in charge of HUD. Lewis’s book is a frightening look at what a government looks like when it’s run by people who have no idea how to run a government. Not only that, but they don’t seem to have any interest in learning how government is run and what a government actually does. The Republican Party has become the party of the super-wealthy. Nobody in Trump’s camp---including Trump---cares about the bottom 99% of the country. We have been left to fend for ourselves, which wouldn’t be so bad except for one thing: our government actually provides so much of our everyday needs that we take a majority of it for granted. Well, it used to provide many of our needs. Trump’s goons have basically trimmed nearly everything that the government does (with the exception of the military, of course---Trump’s sacred cow) from the budget and/or has taken hostage services and data that professionals, scientists, diplomats, and academics need for their work. It’s safe to say that they aren’t hoarding data for the greater good. No, their goal is to market---and profit from---data which has heretofore always been public domain. Like most of Lewis’s books, “The Fifth Risk” takes a fascinating look at the outliers within our government, the people who have had a vital impact on a majority of American’s lives and have never received recognition or rewards for it. They don’t do it for that. They do it because it’s important for the foundation of a healthy democratic society. Then, there is Trump and his basket of deplorables that he has placed in positions of power that should have never been given positions of power. Because almost without exception, these people are in it solely for the money and helping themselves, the safety and protection of fellow Americans and the world be damned. The select few at the top are destroying our country from the top down, but they are so myopic in their self-interest that they can’t see that when our precariously-stacked game of Jenga ultimately collapses, it will take them down with us.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    This is the most disturbing account of the Trump presidency I have read. Lewis simply writes about how the current administration has dealt with vital parts of our government which we all benefit from each day. I've watched it happen in my legal practice with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Lewis details the horror in the Department of Agriculture, the DOE, and data science. It is simply awful. This is the most disturbing account of the Trump presidency I have read. Lewis simply writes about how the current administration has dealt with vital parts of our government which we all benefit from each day. I've watched it happen in my legal practice with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Lewis details the horror in the Department of Agriculture, the DOE, and data science. It is simply awful.

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