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The Fifth Risk

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  4,224 Ratings  ·  534 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…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)

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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
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, american, nonfiction
"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 t
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
⚣❣☙ Michaelle ❧❣⚣
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
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 Michel 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 som
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
Maru Kun
Sep 27, 2018 marked it as to-read
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.
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 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
Peter 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
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read many, many books on disasters--both natural and man-made--and I don't think any of those have scared me more than what I read in this book. My first thought after reading about the non-existent transition team for President Trump's new administration was, "Surely this can't be true." But the author presents example after example of a leadership team that has no idea of what the organizations do that they are supposed to be leading, and don't care that they have no idea. I guess this sh ...more
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.
Lis Carey
What happens when the people responsible for running our government have no idea how it works--and don't really care?

This is a look at how complex the actual workings of our government really are, what the federal agencies actually do, why it matters, and how completely unprepared and indifferent the Trump team was.

This is not a partisan work. Not at all--unless you count caring about government working properly as "partisan." But in that case, the "parties" you're talking about aren't Democrat
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grbpp, on-kindle
(4.0) Really enjoyed this, more for the eye-opening look at what various pieces of the executive branch actually do

Yes, there are several episodes of Trump transition teams never showing up, showing contempt for the government employees welcoming them and eager to teach them what they need to know to keep the country safe, fed and afloat. It’s frightening to learn both how critical some of their work is and how likely it is that Trump’s representatives will intentionally or ignorantly foul it al
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
Jim Cooper
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
By taking a dive into the Commerce, Agriculture, and Energy departments, this is a love letter to big government - the behind-the-scenes federal employees who keep our nuclear weapons safe, feed the poor, help farmers grow their crops, and feed our weather apps with data. I generally think of myself as a small-government libertarian, but Lewis makes the case that on the whole, our tax dollars are being spent by smart, hard-working men and women (when elected officials aren't getting in their way ...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
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars, nonfiction
Insightful and informative. Lewis' new book sheds light on the goings-on inside numerous government departments and agencies, particularly the DOE, DOA, and Commerce Department. I confess to ignorance on many of these departments, so there was value to me in that regard alone. But "The Fifth Risk" doesn't just highlight the services provided by these departments, it also reveals the risk associated with mismanagement of these assets. And herein lies the concern. Trump's appointees (and lack of a ...more
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
Jim Breslin
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis provides a glimpse into the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and government data scientists. He explores the work done by these career employees and how they have minimized the risk for Americans in everyday life. This is work that we often take for granted - insuring that our nuclear weapons aren't lost or stolen, testing sites of various national events to insure terrorists aren't utilizing dirty bombs, keeping our nuclear waste contained, insu ...more
Patrick McCoy
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I remember being distraught when Trump began naming his cabinet, it was a a big "FU" to government and the agencies run by the government as he nominated people who were not only not qualified to lead those departments, but often were in open opposition to them. Ultra-corrupt Scott Pruitt had tried to sue the Environmental Protection Agency and Betsy De Vos, besides having no formal education experience, was anti-public education and supported charter schools and the dismantling of public educat ...more
Jan C
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, 2018
Frightening. Amazing. Informative. Scary. These are all words that pop into my head after reading this book. This is the first Michael Lewis book I have read. I have others on my kindle but haven't read them yet. I will rectify that very soon. Fantastic writer. And to promote the book he's been on a lot of news shows.

What would happen to the government if the people who took over didn't care about the government, didn't understand how it functions or works, were only interested in how they could
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The government is very important. It protects the people by coming up with laws, monitoring the country with satellites, thermometers, cameras and store all these data so that we can better predict the risk of tornados, storms and floods. The problem is, only NASA is famous, but not NOAA (weather data), Department of Energy (nuclear weapons management, clean up, and checking on Iran compliance), USDA (safety of meat).

Now Trump is deliberately leaving posts empty, or putting people loyal to him
Andy Grabia
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
“‘I’m routinely appalled by profoundly ignorant even highly educated people are when it comes to the structure and function of our government,’ she said. ‘The sense of identity as Citizen has been replaced by Consumer. The idea that government should serve the citizens like a waiter or concierge, rather than in a ‘collective good’ sense.’”

“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 wh
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
A dramatic telling of the undramatic parts of the US government's bureaucracy. It's a surprisingly inspiring book that makes you want to go join the civil service and improve your society.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
“It’s what you fail to imagine that kills you.” This is appropriately the last line on Michael Lewis’ book The Fifth Risk. The line, per se, is talking about how the National Weather Center used data to help the people of Elk City, Oklahoma, better heed the warning that a killer tornado was going to hit them. But it’s actually an appropriately good line for whole book, which is about how the Trump Administration is sabotaging the departments of the federal government to an end of diminishing our ...more
Oct 03, 2018 rated it liked it
So I agree with the professional reviewers that suggest it feels a bit underdone, not quite there, but clearly on the right track in terms of his analysis and thinking. It's a short book, basically three pieces on a single theme.

Basically, Michael Lewis has written a book about a) what government agencies actually do, and b) what happens when you give control of them to people who not only don't know what they do and how valuable that is, but are also either ideologically hostile to the concept
Dick Reynolds
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lewis has done his usually wonderful job of examining arcane subjects and making them both interesting and entertaining, this time focusing on our Federal government. He begins by detailing the circumstances involved in the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations. (I had some serious reservations about the incoming government but it’s much worse than I thought.) Believe it or not, New Jersey governor Chris Christie emerges a hero by trying to assemble Trump’s transition team. He ...more
Stefan Fergus
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5* - the first two parts were superb. Final part still very interesting, but not as tight.
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a solid book -- and taught me a lot of stuff that I didn't know about my government. But it wasn't nearly as well put together as some of Lewis's other work. I had just read The Coming Storm, and the last third of this book was basically that book (wish I had known that first).. and I think it was all based on columns that were already written with some new research and information thrown in.

It was pretty depressing overall, but doesn't really do much to help solve the problems we're fa
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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.
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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.” 4 likes
“At one point he turned to Christie and said, “Chris, you and I are so smart that we can leave the victory party two hours early and do the transition ourselves.” 3 likes
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