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The Fifth Risk

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  9,762 ratings  ·  1,229 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
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
⚣❣☙ 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Jan Rice
The United States employed two million people, 70 percent of them one way or another in national security. It managed a portfolio of risks that no private person or corporation was able to manage. Some of the risks were easy to imagine: a financial crisis, a hurricane, a terrorist attack. Most weren't: the risk, say, that some prescription drug proves to be both so addictive and so accessible that each year it kills more Americans that were killed in action by the peak of the Vietnam War. Many
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
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
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
Debbie Notkin
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Michael Lewis is an astonishingly good writer, with a particular talent for making complex or seemingly boring topics human and exciting. The Fifth Risk is no exception. The premise of the book is basically that the Trump administration, aside from all of its active depredations of the government, is ignoring thousands of potential problems, tragedies, and catastrophes by not taking the things the cabinet departments do seriously--in fact, by not believing that any of these things are remotely i ...more
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
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
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Michael Lewis is one of my all-time favourite authors. I even enjoyed his book on baseball (Moneyball) despite having never seen a game and still being largely clueless about the rules. This book is another great effort by Lewis and a fascinating read.

The book is an interesting indictment on the lack of preparedness Trump brought to the presidency, but even better it is a fascinating look at the work of three government departments: Energy, Agriculture and Commerce. The names are nowhere near re
Robert Sheard
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book will just make you even more mad about our dumpster-fire president. Lewis examines three vital government agencies, the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce, giving us an overview of their complicated mandates, and then talks about how the Trump (lack-of) transition team set about to dismantle them in a satanic trifecta of ignorance, arrogance, and corruption.
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
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.
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
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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.” 12 likes
“If your ambition is to maximize short-term gain without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. 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.” 5 likes
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