The Fifth Risk

The Fifth Risk

Book - 2018 | First edition
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"What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works? 'The election happened,' remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. 'And then there was radio silence.' Across all departments, similar stories were playing out: Trump appointees were few and far between; those that did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Some even threw away the briefing books that had been prepared for them. Michael Lewis's brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it's not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do. Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. 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 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. If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes--unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system: those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night."--Dust jacket.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2018]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781324002642 (hardcover)
1324002646 (hardcover)
Branch Call Number: 320.97309 LEW
Characteristics: 221 pages ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: 5th risk


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Jan 20, 2019

I could not put this book down. At 71 years old, I may be a late-learner, but NOBODY ever taught me as much about our government as this book did. I studied history in college and I was never taught, nor was it ever suggested that I learn exactly what our government agencies DO! I was awed by my lack of knowledge about the wheels that run this country. One reviewer wrote that the book is basically two disjointed books. I totally disagree. It's subtle, yes, but it is completely obvious what point Lewis is making. The book is a pleasure to read, flowing easily from one government organization to another and linking them together in ways I never imagined. Because I am by nature skeptical, I checked people/places/facts on Google. Everything checked out. I recommend this book to anybody who is interested in a few of the ways our tax dollars are being spent and in a few of the ways our current administration is trying to destroy them. It's an eye-opener.

Jan 16, 2019

Reads like a long-form New Yorker article, so it is a quick read, but well written and important.

Dec 28, 2018

I very much wanted to like this book more than I did, having enjoyed several of Lewis' previous books. But this seemed like two separate books, neither of which were fully fleshed out. The first two sections describe the Trump transition team's preparation (or seemingly lack thereof) to take responsibility for overseeing the federal government, woven with fascinating examples of what some of the government agencies actually do. Then Lewis either apparently loses interest in this approach or simply changes focus to the importance of the valuable data that is collected by various agencies and the ever-growing research possibilities. The final chapter/section feels as if it should have been split in two, but there isn't enough content for two full chapters. And then, following a rather riveting account of how tornadoes are forecasted (and why warnings may or may not be taken seriously), the book just ends...without even a wrap-up that ties all of this stuff together. At least it was a quick read.

Dec 28, 2018

Michael Lewis is my favorite author, perhaps of all time. I like everything he writes, even when the subject matter is somewhat grim, as is the case with this book. Here he talks about some of the key government agencies and the heroes in them that make the bureaucracies work for the American people. These are smart and dedicated people. When the transition happened, no one showed up to learn from existing Obama appointees. Duh. For the replacements, it's often better for them to be ignorant of the problems that the agencies solve. We need to change how we view government. It's not all evil. We need to celebrate the dedicated workers in the agencies. We are gutting our government by appointing people who want to tear down and destroy the agencies to which they've been appointed: think Ryan Zinke at the EPA.

JCLIanH Dec 28, 2018

If anyone was going to make the inner-workings of the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce interesting, it was going to be Michael Lewis. Here he delivers an insightful and engaging look at the hazards of mismanagement. Part of it is a horrifying look at how the Trump Administration bungled its transition and had little understanding of what governmental departments actually do, but the main thrust of Lewis' book is shining a light on the work done by people in the government who never get any credit when things go well and shoulder the blame when things don't. Though the subject matter sounds a little dry, Michael Lewis has built a career out of taking dry and complicated topics (wall street, the financial crisis, baseball analytics) and turning out absolutely captivating works of non-fiction.

Dec 17, 2018

Lewis provides a good narrative about what did and did not happen within Federal agencies after Trump was elected. The first thing that happened at Commerce, Energy, and Agriculture was Nothing! Despite Federal law requiring a presidential transition process, no one showed up at the various agencies for days or weeks after the election. It turns out that Trump considered the transition to be a waste of time and money, something that he and his staff could figure out in an hour or two. When people did show up, agency staffers found that they usually knew nothing about what the agency did and didn’t care. They had agendas of their own to carry out, often including shutting down or drastically changing agency functions. Lewis illustrates his narrative with fascinating examples of what goes on in some of the agencies that most people are unaware of: Nuclear weapons material tracking in Energy and The National Weather Service in Commerce. The fifth risk? It's what you fail to imagine that kills you.

Dec 10, 2018

This is an excellent expose about how the current administration is undermining the work of federal agencies and employees, who labor without the public's knowledge (I know, I was one of them) and I learned a lot about what my own agency did outside of my position in a large division. Movies and TV sometimes portray the government as "evil" and always the bad guys (as in some Spielberg movies) but for the rank and file workers who stay in for decades, it's a valuable service much like the military, only without publicity or gratitude. Current appointees are alarmingly careless and clueless. This book will keep intelligent Americans awake at night in anger and worry.

Dec 07, 2018

Author, Michael Lewis, at UC at Berkeley, does exquisite, accurate and informative interviews with key players in the federal government agencies, current, past and future. His writing is clear and organized and really fun to read. I have loved all his books for the detailed observations he has made about institutions and key players. You will understand what makes a government run well and why some federal governments do not.

Nov 29, 2018

An outstanding look at some of the unsung heroes in the federal government, and how the current administration is making their jobs more difficult. It's refreshing to see civil servants portrayed as something other than villains.

Nov 11, 2018

A very important book for anyone who seeks to understand some of the very insidious ways DT is undermining the American government.

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