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The Fifth Risk

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  31,996 ratings  ·  3,414 reviews
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 w
Hardcover, 219 pages
Published October 2nd 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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Bleuz00m Paraphrasing from Joe Klein's NYT review of "Fifth Risk,"
"..Lewis asks MacWilliams [ MacWilliams is John J. MacWilliams, a Fellow at the Center on Gl…more
Paraphrasing from Joe Klein's NYT review of "Fifth Risk,"
"..Lewis asks MacWilliams [ MacWilliams is John J. MacWilliams, a Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy. Prior to joining CGEP, MacWilliams served as Associate Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy after being appointed in August 2015. He also served as DOE's Chief Risk Officer. Link: ] to list the top five risks.

The first four are predictable:
Broken Arrows [missing or damaged nuclear weapons.]
North Korea.
Iran (that is, maintaining the agreement that prevents Iran from building a nuclear bomb).
Protecting the electric grid from cyberterrorism.

But the fifth, most important risk is a stunner: “program management.” Hence, the title of this book. ".. Link:
[ Joe Klein continues, ]
Lewis defines it this way: “The risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions. … ‘Program management’ is the existential threat that you never really even imagine as a risk. … It is the innovation that never occurs and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.”(less)
Chris Very little about the book focuses on the 45th administration's bad judgement. The beginning relies on Chris Christie interviews and paints the whole …moreVery little about the book focuses on the 45th administration's bad judgement. The beginning relies on Chris Christie interviews and paints the whole administration and their transition as foolish and ignorant.

The book details the functions of a few departments of the federal government in effort to highlight their complexity as well as unknown benefit to the country. While there is always partisan issues, there is still a transition between presidencies in order to make sure everything functions.

Underlying everything is the problem of spreading very specific, often expert or scientific knowledge, to the community at large. This is also further hampered by profit interests in the private sector as well as populist (for lack of a better term) political movements that focus on the now rather than the future.

These issues are contextualized with Trump. We can wonder if his interests are ignorant or purposefully destructive but the appointments of his administration are attempting to destroy the programs they are hired to run. Ironically while Trump mentions creating a national News source, gag-rules are being placed on scientists in these departments and the sharing of data is being stemmed. (less)

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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  31,996 ratings  ·  3,414 reviews

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Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, nonfiction, american
"It's the places in our government where the cameras never roll that you have to worry about the most."
- Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk


I've read several books about President Trump and his administration in the last couple years. They all depress me a bit. I feel like I'm reading some real-time version of Gibbons' 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'. But none of the other Trump books scared me like this one did. Lewis isn't interested in the Fox/MSNBC politics or the Twitter-level anxiety of
Diane S ☔
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
"What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?"

This is the opening sentence in the book summary and also the first sentence inside the book jacket. Lewis takes us inside a few Departments of our federal government, talking to those who work there in the past and present. Showing us what these Departments do what they are responsible for, programs and oversights. Have to admit I didn't know all the things they did, but then again I doubt many
Sam Quixote
Nov 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Didja know the US gov’mint is a complicated beast? Trump didn’t! And now we’s all gonna DIIIIEEEE!

But not really.

Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk is the latest in a long line of Trumperature hurriedly bundled together and booted out the door to cater to the surprisingly large audience who can’t read enough Trump-bashing. Except Lewis’ effort is a bit more nuanced in its critique of the Trump administration, focusing instead on what its lackadaisical attitude to the country’s major institutions co
Bill Kerwin
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 21st-c-amer, politics

Once again Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, chooses as his protagonists a few ingenious manipulators of data, but this time he does so with a difference: the self-effacing statistical warriors he singles out for praise are bureaucrats of the United States federal government, a class generally overlooked and often despised. These bureaucrats, however, are people not only familiar with the resources of their agencies but also committed to using them to make lives better for th
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Melki by: Steve
Shelves: politics
We don't really celebrate the accomplishments of government employees. They exist in our society to take the blame.

Our recent government shutdown, the yugest, most tremendous, and longest shutdown in history, served, if nothing else, to demonstrate just how nice it is to have someone helping our aircraft land, and someone picking up the trash in our national parks. We need qualified people taking care of our nuclear waste, and protecting us against the next pandemic. As a famous Canadian singer
Athan Tolis
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Was reading The Fifth Risk in the tube. A well-dressed man got in, noticed the American flag Jenga on the cover and immediately exclaimed “The Fifth Risk, what do you think?” Before I had a chance to respond, he added in a polite American accent “I love the guy, I devour his books,” perhaps to allow me to temper my answer.

I’m a Michael Lewis fan. I’ve read enough of him to think I know him. So I wasn’t shy about my assessment.

“Tell you what,” I answered. “You know how half his books are about so
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
An insightful investigation of what good government can do, if handled properly. And how the Trump administration does not care for this in the slightest.
To which Trump replied, Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money.

We are meant to serve our elected masters, however odious they might be.
Despite The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy being a relatively short book, it tackles a lot of concerns one can have about administration and how this is mishandled by the
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lewis is not a fan of the Trump Administration. If it is politics that initially shaped that determination (and I am not sure it was), it is facts about our government and how it has evolved to provide us with safety, security and information that are the genesis of this book. I found this one of the scariest books I have read about the immediate future in the USA. It haunts my dreams. It makes every day a little bit more difficult to get through. Why? Because Lewis is a master at articulating t ...more
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is about three important but little-understood government agencies. And, the book is about the willful ignorance of the Trump administration, and its attempts to dismantle the agencies before even having the slightest idea, what these agencies do.

After the two major political parties nominate a presidential candidate, the candidates form transition teams. These teams are required by law to formulate transitions into government that will be as smooth as possible. The transition teams ar
Richard Derus
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: borrowed, returned
(view spoiler)

This book explains why there is no hope for reconciliation between decent human beings and Trumpanzees.
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Lewis is such a remarkable writer that I sometimes find myself envious of his ability to forge a compelling story where there doesn't seem to be anything. It's useful to contrast The Fifth Risk with Bob Woodward's Fear, which I inhaled last month. Woodward's book ferrets out things that happened — crescendos of malevolence and arias of incompetence — unbelievable though they sometimes seem.

In contrast, Lewis' amazing little book — it arrived Tuesday night and I finished it early Thursday morning
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing

One of the most dangerous things said by a politician in recent memory was Reagan’s quip that went something like this: the most scary sentence is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” What Lewis has gone here is snow exactly how the government helps us even when we are ignorant of its doings. The story that will forever stay with me from this book is the rural town celebrating a local farmer who just got a big loan that he thinks he earned and that was underwritten by the bank and say
Daniel Simmons
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For readers who are cynical about the operations of the U.S. government generally, and even more cynical about the (mis)operations of the current administration specifically, there's a lot in these pages to make even your worst fears about public sector project mismanagement seem tame in comparison to reality. Lewis outlines, in his typically snappy/funny/ironic/incisive style, just how devastating the consequences of government inattention and ineptitude can be. But Lewis's greater achievement ...more
Holy shit. I read the excerpt at The Guardian and everything that's gone wrong up 'til now (starting just before the election) makes total sense.

Also, if that small bit is any indication, the writing is really engaging. I mean, how in the hell did Michael Lewis manage to make me feel even the slightest bit sorry for what Chris Christie endured trying to head up the transition team? Sure, it was a bit self-serving (the next-best thing to being President), but still...he worked hard to work within
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
America: please read this book.

In a nutshell, the book asks the question: "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" Not surprisingly, the consequences are, potentially, disastrous.

But the whole point is that too many Americans don't know or appreciate this, and their ignorance (I'm distinguishing actual ignorance from stupidity - I'm giving the benefit of the doubt here - that folks have NO IDEA how important many routine government f
Iris P
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing

Do you think you know what the US Department of Agriculture does? Or the Department of Energy? How about the EPA?

Michael Lewis spends a big part of his book, The Fifth Risk, enlightening the reader about what these and other US government agencies actually do.

He also provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the Trump's administration transition process and its first months in office.

Reading what went on during that period was scary, even terrifying at times. This is not only because it
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'll do a longer review of this at some point. For now, Lewis makes it abundantly clear that the Government roles that Trump has shown zero interest in filling (forgetting all his friends, family and numerous goonish hangers-on who have been given roles they've no intention of even vaguely assuming) are all incredibly important - there are no positions that the likes of Chris Grayling or Dominic Raab could ever fill without being rumbled in days; that the effect of their being lapsed, ignored or ...more
Oct 04, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm enough of a Michael Lewis fan to have ordered The Fifth Risk months ago without knowing what it's about. At that time, I assumed the title was Lewis's typical, enigmatic key to the book's meaning (think Lewis titles like Moneyball, The Blind Side, and Flash Boys). Having now read the book, the title does deliver on its promise of encapsulating the book's intention.

But that's about all The Fifth Risk delivers for me. Though it opens with a dramatic insight into the story to come (think the b
The Fifth Risk is very enjoyable and readable, but it was also, for me, a bit mixed in format and lacked sources, references or an index.

What I mean by this, is that reading from the other side of the Atlantic this book, to paraphrase football (soccer) commentators, was a game of two halves.

There was the central message of the Trump administration's preparedness for transition from the outgoing Obama management teams to the new Republican crew. The other half was the work that Federal Government
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Government agencies with boring titles like the department of energy, the department of agriculture, the department of commerce that hide their vital functions for US citizens and even the basics of what they do. The department of energy keeps track of spent reactor fuel and nuclear warheads and is vital to enforcing treaties on non-proliferation and tries its best to make sure terrorists or other actors don't build a nuclear bomb (dirty or otherwise) to attack an American city. It also is one o ...more
Maru Kun
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This looks very interesting based on this excerpt from The Guardian.

The review from The New York Times suggests that this will be very interesting as well.
Michael Perkins
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Journalist Michael Lewis published The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, detailing the Trump administration’s dismantling of federal agencies. Lewis didn’t write of the gutting of the Obama-era multi-agency pandemic response team in The Fifth Risk, but the administration’s response to the pandemic is exactly what he foresaw when he described the Trump transition team’s venal obliviousness to the responsibilities of governing: “A bad transition took this entire portfolio of catastrophic risks—the bi ...more
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
UPDATE, March 20, 2020: Just saw Michael Lewis interviewed on TV, discussing his book in relation to the current COVID-19 crisis. He explained that the first four risks identified (and then quickly left behind) in this all-too-prescient book were Iran, North Korea, keeping track of nuclear weapons and the threat of cyber-terrorism. But the fifth risk, the one he continues to lose sleep over, is "program management;" i.e., the Trump administration's ability - or more correctly, absolute inability ...more
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Fifth Risk is the latest book by Michael Lewis, basically exploring the events that transpired after the 2016 election and outlines how the Obama administration prepared to ease the transition of leadership as the Trump administration came into power. It outlines the resistance that was met, and the total lack of even a fundamental knowledge as to how the government runs. I have read a lot of these books recently and, I must say, this book frightened me in ways that no other has yet done. Le ...more
Mal Warwick
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
What does government do for us? Do we really need it? What happens if government ceases to do those things? These are the questions Michael Lewis comes to grip with in his powerful little book, The Fifth Risk. By drilling down into the day-to-day realities in a handful of little-recognized federal agencies, Lewis convincingly demonstrates how government protects us from some of "the most alarming risks facing humanity." By extension, he relates the dangers we (and the world as a whole) now face ...more
* 4.5 *

It is oft mentioned that Michael Lewis could turn his hand to any topic and make it interesting and I believe that to be true. He has a talent for seeking out the unsung heroes any any situation and in so doing navigating his readers around often complex topics - high frequency trading, baseball statistics, macroeconomics and now the workings of the US federal government.

The Fifth Risk is both terrifying and fascinating and as a non-US reader I found it explained a lot about the current
Feb 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: waiting
I have no idea what to say. Every page I was thinking "please say bazinga, this cannot be true even in trump government" and there was no bazinga. I love the way USA works, with total capitalism, money-democracy, and lobbyism. But this book damn.
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is kind of maddening. I'm giving it 3 stars. One could make a case for 2, 4, or (if I had a different worldview) 5 stars. In my view, parts of this book seem right on and really important. Other parts belie the author's bias, therefore, makes me question how much of this book can be trusted. The book isn't traditionally sourced. It is unclear how he knows what was spoken where he wasn't present. For example, he says Chris Christie said this, thought that, or did the other, but he doesn ...more
Scott Rhee
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
The cover photo of Michael Lewis’s latest book, “The Fifth Risk”, is the game of Jenga, painted to look like the American flag. For those not familiar with the game, it is an alternating set of three wooden rectangular bricks, roughly eight or nine rows high. The point of the game is to safely remove lower bricks and stack them on top without toppling the entire structure.

It’s a pretty straightforward metaphor when related to the Trump Administration. Trump’s lack of any viable strategy or tran
Kent Winward
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the most disturbing account of the Trump presidency I have read. Lewis simply writes about how the current administration has dealt with vital parts of our government which we all benefit from each day. I've watched it happen in my legal practice with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Lewis details the horror in the Department of Agriculture, the DOE, and data science. It is simply awful.
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Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of Liar’s Poker, The Money Culture, The New New Thing, Moneyball, The Blind Side, Panic, Home Game, The Big Short, and Boomerang, among other works, lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and three children.

Articles featuring this book

  Summer Reading is sponsored by Lifetime’s Book to Screen Movies. We love bookish celebrities, entrepreneurs, and others who consistently b...
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“There was a rift in American life that was now coursing through American government. It wasn’t between Democrats and Republicans. It was between the people who were in it for the mission, and the people who were in it for the money.” 20 likes
“fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions.” 16 likes
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