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The Fifth Risk Hardcover – October 2, 2018
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― New York Times Book Review
"Fascinating―and at times harrowing…. Lewis tells an important and timely story, one that all of us who pay for, care about, and want government to work should hear."
"A hymn to the 'deep state,' which is revealed as nothing more than people who know what they're talking about."
― Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"[A] spellbinding, alarming analysis of the most serious threats to Americans’ safety happening now from inside the U.S. government."
"Displaying his usual meticulous research and fluid prose, [Lewis] makes the federal bureaucracy come alive by focusing on a few individuals within each agency with fascinating―and sometimes heartwarming―backstories.…[A] well-written primer on how the government serves citizens in underappreciated ways."
― Kirkus (starred review)
"Illuminating.… It's relevance to readers won't end with the Trump era."
― Publishers Weekly
From the Back Cover
Praise for Michael Lewis
"Saturation reporting, conceptual thinking of a high order, a rich sense of humor, and talent to burn."
"Michael Lewis has a spellbinding talent for finding emotional dramas in complex, highly technical subjects."
―John Gapper, Financial Times
"[Lewis] has a genius for unearthing tales of the counterintuitive."
―Pamela Paul, New York Times Book Review
"The leading journalist of his generation."
―Kyle Smith, Forbes
"Lewis is the kind of writer who creates his own weather system."
―John Lanchester, London Review of Books
"I would read an 800-page history of the stapler if he wrote it."
―John Williams, New York Times Book Review
"[A] master of the character-driven narrative."
―Charlie Gofen, National Book Review
- ASIN : 1324002646
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; 1st Edition (October 2, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781324002642
- ISBN-13 : 978-1324002642
- Item Weight : 1.04 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Some will accuse me of being tacky and promoting the other two books. Frankly, that is not my purpose. I have no financial stake in any books being sold on Amazon or elsewhere – at least not unless or until I publish my own book. So, be that as it may, the three books currently available are:
1 - The gossip columnist Michael Wolff with his salacious and alarming expose “Fire and Fury.”
2 – Bob Woodward’s inside story alarming us all, “Fear.”
3 – Michael Lewis’s cerebral, studied, insight that should alarm us all more than the above two, “The Fifth Risk.”
Of the three, I suspect “The Fifth Risk” will enjoy the shortest time on the bestseller list. Arguably, though, it is the least partisan, sharpest insight into lessons that should be learned by observing the disarray and dysfunction inside the havoc that is the Trump White House.
If President Trump read only the first 25 pages, with an open mind, I believe he actually would try to turn things around. Even as much as I despise his presidency on his worst days, I recognize he DOES have a sharp insight and DOES have the POTENTIAL to become a GREAT leader, if only…
Just as another reviewer stated, I served in the Navy. Ten years. Made E-6 (first class petty officer) and departed just before Mr. Carter got trounced by Mr. Reagan.
POV: Third person.
BLUSH FACTOR: Profanities are numerous, especially in quotes of the president. I appreciate the honest of such reporting. When I was a correspondent in 1990, I wanted to accurately quote the incumbent republican congressman who utilized family values as one of his key pillars, but, the Oregon newspaper would not permit me the privilege. Of course, f-words in a community newspaper are frowned upon…
THE WRITING: Straight-forward but not in a ‘just-the-facts’ manner. Glance at the excerpt below to see why I enjoyed reading this nonfiction account of the Trump White House, and why I am just as worried that our nation could be stepping onto the slippery slope towards, one day in the distant future, Failed State status.
BONUS: As you read the early chapters you will learn of an unsung hero working to improve the functioning of government and improving the lives of us all: Max Stier. I learned a great deal of encouraging deeds by our federal employees that I’d not previously heard a thing about. It also provides insight into mistakes or oversights of the Obama Administration.
‘…On his visits to the White House soon after the election, Jared Kushner expressed surprise that so much of its staff seemed to be leaving. “It was like he thought it was a corporate acquisition or something,” says an Obama White House staffer. “He thought everyone just stayed.”
Even in normal times the people who take over the United States government can be surprisingly ignorant about it. As a longtime career civil servant in the Department of Energy who has watched four different administrations show up to try to run the place put it, “You always have the issue of maybe they don’t understand what the department does.” To address that problem, a year before he left office, Barack Obama had instructed a lot of knowledgeable people across his administration, including fifty or so inside the DOE, to gather the knowledge that his successor would need in order to understand the government he or she was taking charge of. The Bush administration had done the same for Obama, and Obama had been grateful for their efforts. He told his staff that their goal should be to ensure an even smoother transfer of power than the Bush people had achieved.
That had proved to be a huge undertaking. Thousands of people inside the federal government had spent the better part of a year drawing a vivid picture of it for the benefit of the new administration. The United States government might be the most complicated organization on the face of the earth. Its two million federal employees take orders from four thousand political appointees. Dysfunction is baked into the structure of the thing: the subordinates know that their bosses will be replaced every four or eight years, and that the direction of their enterprises might change overnight—with an election or a war or some other political event. Still, many of the problems our government grapples with aren’t particularly ideological, and the Obama people tried to keep their political ideology out of the briefings. “You don’t have to agree with our politics,” as the former senior White House official put it. “You just have to understand how we got here. Zika, for instance. You might disagree with how we approached it. You don’t have to agree. You just have to understand why we approached it that way.”
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. The period between the election and the inauguration has the feel of an AP chemistry class to which half the students have turned up late and are forced to scramble to grab the notes taken by the other half, before the final.
Two weeks after the election, the Obama people inside the DOE read in the newspapers that Trump had created a small “Landing Team.” It was led by, and mostly consisted of, a man named Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, which, upon inspection, proved to be a Washington, DC, propaganda machine funded with millions of dollars from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. Pyle himself had served as a Koch Industries lobbyist and ran a business on the side writing editorials attacking the DOE’s attempts to reduce the dependence of the American economy on carbon. Pyle said that his role on the Landing Team was “voluntary” and added that he could not disclose who appointed him, due to a confidentiality agreement. The people running the DOE were by then seriously alarmed. “We first learned of Pyle’s appointment on the Monday of Thanksgiving week,” recalls Kevin Knobloch, then DOE chief of staff. “We sent word to him that the secretary and his deputy would…’
Lewis, Michael. The Fifth Risk (pp. 36-39). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
I got about halfway through the book when I realized its value exceeded “Fire and Fury” and, even, “Fear.” Thus, I stopped reading long enough to order the Audible edition. For me, “The Fifth Risk” may not have the headline-grabbing gossip of “Fire and Fury.” It may not have the inside story of “Fear.” Lewis’s “The Fifth Risk” is the sharpest, most USEFUL insight into how the Trump Administration can be fixed and into the lessons learned we citizens should DEMAND be implemented to repairing our republic. Remember, as shown in this book, not all blame can be attributed to Trump, the republicans, the democrats or even the media. Each of us shares some responsibility.
Five stars out of five.
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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?
1) He has great access to the major players and also gets down in the dirt with the people on the front lines. They provide him with a deep background and often some wonderful quotes.
2) Mr. Lewis is very good at constructing sentences and paragraphs. This may seem elementary, but as a former high school English teacher and current college professor, I can assure you that books written by professionals and released by major publishing houses are sometimes poorly thought out and often difficult to slog through. Mr. Lewis is able to inform and entertain. Basically, he is a master storyteller.
The Fifth Risk is what happens when we make long term decisions for short term reasons. Mr. Lewis begins the book with the Department of Energy and how President-Elect Trump did not have a plan to take over from the Obama appointees. This flew in the face of precedent. He goes on to examine the electric grid, school lunches, and notably, the national weather service. And other areas.
People that love President Trump unconditionally will hate this, but then again, they probably aren't the kind of person that would read a Michael Lewis book in the first place. If you have liked (or loved) previous Lewis books, you'll be very pleased.
Top reviews from other countries
his book looks through the other end of the telescope - at a few government services that keep the entire country running safely, they've been put in the charge of a bunch of Trump loyalists who couldn't be bothered to show up to the post-election briefing; services that don't sound very glamorous until you read Lewis's accounts of how much their quiet services stop farmers from being wiped out, towns being torn apart, gets poor people fed, stops non-toxic food on our plates … and nobody will notice until they're no longer there. He takes just two or three examples; tells them with his usual engaging delivery; and leaves you thinking 'if this is what can happen to X, and Y, and Z, what on earth is happening to A, B, C, D …
Essential, and engaging - I wish it hadn't had to be written, but am glad that it has.