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 were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Some even threw away the briefing books that had been prepared for them.
Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it’s not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do.
Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is upside to ignorance, and 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.
If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes, unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system―those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night.
“[A] page turner.… [Lewis’] most ambitious and important book.”
– 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.”
“Illuminating.… It’s relevance to readers won’t end with the Trump era.”
– Publishers Weekly
“[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)
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
The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
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