From its beginning to its final line ('It’s what you fail to imagine that kills you'), Michael Lewis reveals so much, and writes so insightfully, as he tackles what would seem to be the most mundane of his many magnificent investigations. The federal bureaucracy? But, instead of dull and wonkish, his new book is a spellbinding, alarming analysis of the most serious threats to Americans’ safety happening now from inside the U.S. government. And, Lewis nails the most catastrophic threat to your continued existence ... The book is a brilliant indictment of Trump and his appointees’ foolhardy ignorance of what federal agencies actually do and how.
In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis reminds us that government middle managers often carry large responsibilities, a proposition few would challenge. He also argues that their current top boss, Donald Trump, is incompetent, a claim that deserves closer examination. Mr. Lewis, a celebrity journalist of sorts, writes breezy nonfiction books that read so much like literary fiction that sometimes...Hollywood producers rush to put them on the silver screen. It’s a little hard to imagine The Fifth Risk ending up as a movie, but one never knows.
The Fifth Risk, paints a dire picture of the chaos and mismanagement in the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Commerce during the transition from President Barack Obama to President Trump. Within these seemingly dull, benign bureaucratic systems, Mr. Lewis encountered devoted public servants struggling with understaffed and neglected agencies while confronting potentially catastrophic risks ... Michael Lewis has spent his career excavating subjects that seem, at first glance, almost aggressively boring: esoteric areas like sabermetrics, heuristics, mortgage-backed securities and credit-default swaps, algorithmic trading based on high-frequency financial data, sovereign debt. No matter how arcane the material, he invariably finds some fascinating narrative thread to suck readers in. His latest work, about government bureaucracy, is no exception.
Michael Lewis’s, The Fifth Risk looks like a book — it has hard covers, chapters, acknowledgments and the rest — but it reads like a love letter. It is a love letter to underappreciated people and old-fashioned notions, and to underappreciated people holding fast to old-fashioned notions. With Trump-era politics turning Washington into Crazytown, Lewis has written a countercultural, almost subversive, book: one that praises the intellectual curiosity, dedication, foresight and sense of mission he finds among America’s federal workers ... The Fifth Risk challenges us to expect and appreciate those qualities at the highest levels of our federal workforce. Better yet, to demand them.
Lewis is a supple and seductive storyteller, so you’ll be turning the pages as he recounts the (often surprising) experiences of amiable civil servants and enumerating risks one through four (an attack by North Korea, war with Iran, etc.) before you learn that the scary-sounding 'fifth risk' of the title is — brace yourself — 'project management.' Lewis has a reputation for taking fairly arcane subjects — high finance, sovereign debt, baseball statistics, behavioral economics — and making them not just accessible but entertaining. He does the same here with government bureaucracy, though The Fifth Risk feels a little underdone compared to some of his previous books ... For the most part, though, he keeps the narrative moving, rendering even the most abstruse details of government risk assessment in the clearest (and therefore most terrifying) terms.
In The Fifth Risk, [Lewis] gives us his up-tempo impersonation of Hannah Arendt, and things go every bit as badly as you might expect. Instead of offering a groundbreaking thesis in the vein of Eichmann in Jerusalem’s banality of evil, Lewis delivers Nobodies in Washington, a report on the banality of good in Trump’s America ... What emerges from the exercise is 250 pages of forgettable prose that serve mostly as a reminder of liberals’ unending faith in the power of rules to tame the tyrannical impulses of government. The Fifth Risk is a political book with nothing interesting to say about politics ... Because this material is boring and Lewis himself seems bored by it—when is a caricature ever interesting?—he lightens things up with a few twinkly eyed wisecracks here and there. But even the gags feel forced.
...a civics lesson worth taking. It’s a canny book, in many ways the antithesis of Bob Woodward or Michael Wolff’s bombshell reenactments of life inside Trump’s Oval Office. It won’t sell as many copies, but its message is more enduring ... Lewis does little to disguise his partisan leanings. Although his prose is, as ever, lucid and sparky, the storytelling becomes a tad formulaic and this is clearly a long article stretched into a short book ... one benefit of this disruptive presidency will be books such as this, which reminds us why good institutions matter.
Now Lewis has produced a surprisingly readable and compelling love letter to bureaucracy and the unglamorous but vital things that the US federal government — and by extension all competent technocrats — spend their days doing ... Part of the book’s power lies in the sense that all of this good work is under threat from forces in Donald Trump’s administration that are at best indifferent and in some cases actively hostile to the work Lewis’s subjects are conducting ... [Lewis] makes [his point] clear with instance after instance of the Trump administration failing to heed or even meet with his heroic bureaucrats...
The thought that Donald Trump may have been totally unprepared to become president in November 2016 is one that's not new to those who have been following the day-to-day crises and dramas of the Trump White House closely. But a case for this argument is revealingly and startlingly made by Michael Lewis in his fascinating — and at times harrowing — new book The Fifth Risk ... The Fifth Risk meanders a bit, with a few profiles of earnest government workers that are interesting, but then lead us to another earnest government worker. Still this is a slight criticism. Lewis tells an important and timely story, one that all of us who pay for, care about, and want government to work should hear.
Lewis... makes a compelling argument that the 'willful ignorance' of the Trump administration allows it to maximize short-term financial and political gain 'without regard to the long-term cost' ... As The Fifth Risk documents, expertise and experience matter, a lot — and, alas, many deeply knowledgeable people have left government service, and are now forbidden by federal law from making contact with their replacements. Most important, perhaps, this book makes it more difficult to deny that government can be and has been the solution, not the problem.
In between these disheartening tales are stories (some less interesting than others) of heroic bureaucrats cut adrift by the Trump administration. Mr. Lewis paints their departures from public service as a loss for America, but the greater tragedy may be the increasing irrelevance of many of the talented, mission-driven government workers who are no doubt still there.
If Bob Woodward’s best-selling Fear pulled back the curtain on the willful ignorance and toxic politics behind the Trump administration’s brand of federal governance, Lewis reveals the frightening effects such governance could have on the massive and critically important agencies under its purview, including the Department of Energy (think nuclear), the USDA (food security), and NOAA (natural disasters).
It takes a writer of uncommon skill and perception to engage readers in a book about the federal bureaucracy when the nation’s attention is fixated on the president’s tweets, scandals and moves to stack the Supreme Court and delegitimize democratic institutions. Yet Michael Lewis rises to the challenge in his new book, The Fifth Risk ... Lewis moves the focus deeper into the government, to the less startling but more abundant, less obvious and nevertheless consequential ways a White House is charging ahead with willful ignorance. He gives readers plenty to think about — and more to worry about in this unprecedented time.
At first, the author’s curiosity about the relationship between individual citizens and massive federal agencies supported by taxpayer dollars did not lead him to believe the book would become a searing indictment of Trump. However, Lewis wisely allowed the evidence to dictate the narrative, resulting in a book-length indictment of Trump’s disastrous administration. The leading charge of the indictment is what Lewis terms 'willful ignorance.' Neither Trump nor his appointees to head government agencies have demonstrated even the slightest curiosity about how those agencies actually function ... As with nearly all of Lewis’ books, this one succeeds on so many levels, including as a well-written primer on how the government serves citizens in underappreciated ways.
Lewis 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 ... 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 ... 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.