New York Times Bestseller
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 gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
If you’ve been confounded by the information streaming out of Washington, DC, on the daily, prepare to be totally flabbergasted. Michael Lewis—author of such brilliant nonfiction as Moneyball and The Big Short—details the Trump administration’s half-hearted approach to staffing and operating crucial sections of the federal government, most notably the cabinet-level departments of State and Energy. The Fifth Risk reveals jaw-dropping instances of vitally important posts left unfilled while other high-level positions are handed over to unqualified individuals. Readers on both sides of the aisle may find much to enlighten and alarm them here.
Lewis (The Big Short) exposes a less sensational but significant danger posed by the Trump administration's approach to governance. As he recounts in an ambiguously sourced prologue, Trump's transition team actively refused to learn about much of what the federal government does, and made ill-considered leadership and budget choices regarding three obscure, but vital, agencies: the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. Members of each department in the Obama administration prepared detailed briefing materials to educate incoming appointees about the agencies' missions and responsibilities, only to have their work ignored or discounted; for example, when Trump's commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, was told that the department's mission was mainly science and technology, Ross responded, "Yeah, I don't think I want to be focusing on that." Lewis accessibly explains the important things that Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce actually do, including "reducing the world's supply of weapons of mass destruction," safely disposing of nuclear waste, administering nutritional assistance programs, and collecting data to improve weather forecasting. He also persuasively documents the dangers that result from placing people without the necessary skills in charge of these departments and from cutting funding. This is an illuminating primer on some of the government projects most crucial to the well-being of the populace, and its relevance to readers won't end with the Trump era.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Good book but lost its focus at end
I thought that generally this was a good book that revealed some very disturbing examples about how the Trump administration is managing it’s departments and agencies from a political, as opposed to an operational perspective. It is frightening to learn how this singular re-focus has the potential of reducing or eliminating many of the excellent US government programs and information (data) sources, for political (and politically driven philosophic)reasons alone. The fact that (as detailed in the book) most of the Trump appointees have absolutely no clue about the nature of the public service they have been appointed, or their goals; and the reality that they do not appear to really care about them; or have appropriate backgrounds to run the government venture, is both disconcerting and disheartening.
As a Canadian, I have perceived this to be the case from anecdotal evidence I have been made aware of, but this book confirms it to be true, with real examples. The Canadian, Merit Based Public Service is a superior model as senior portfolio’s are generally not staffed with “political hacks” every election cycle. A much more professional staffing model based on the British Parliamentary system.
I thought the book was pretty good but seemed to lose it’s thematic focus about 3/4 of the way through the book. But overall a very interesting read.
First chapter & half of the second one are fascinating - especially caught my attention what describing what is the "fifth risk".
Rest of the book meanders into story-telling, only loosely related to the subject with no concluding remarks