'Will set your hair on end' Telegraph, Top 50 Books of the Year
'I forgot to breathe while reading The Fifth Risk' Michael Hofmann, TLS, Books of the Year
The bestselling, no-holds-barred exposé of the people who are wrecking our democracy, by the master storyteller of our times
'The election happened ... And then there was radio silence.'
The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy - an agency that deals with some of the most powerful risks facing humanity - waited to welcome the incoming administration's transition team. Nobody appeared. Across the US government, the same thing happened: nothing.
People don't notice when stuff goes right. That is the stuff government does. It manages everything that underpins our lives from funding free school meals, to policing rogue nuclear activity, to predicting extreme weather events. It steps in where private investment fears to tread, innovates and creates knowledge, assesses extreme long-term risk.
And now, government is under attack. By its own leaders.
In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis reveals the combustible cocktail of wilful ignorance and venality that is fuelling the destruction of a country's fabric. All of this, Lewis shows, exposes America and the world to the biggest risk of all. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.
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. Due to a production error, this review was originally published without its star.