On the surface, Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk is a book about the failures of the Trump administration. This is why I resisted reading it for a long time, even after it was recommended to me, and even though I like Michael Lewis’s writing in general (I am setting aside the satirical(?) essay in which he gave pointers to men on how to get your wife to give up her high-status career so that she would have more time to pay attention to you, that I did not like). Reading more about the ways that the Trump presidency was undermining the functioning of the U.S. government seemed depressing and frustrating and also just…not that interesting. Why would I need to read a whole book telling me something I already know?
BUT it turns out that The Fifth Risk is mostly a book about something most Americans don’t know much about at all, which is all the stuff the federal government does. It’s a lot of stuff! Lewis focuses on three government agencies: the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Energy. He interviews civil servants who have spent their careers at these agencies, doing things like creating better batteries, figuring out how to find people who have been lost at sea, and funding school lunch programs. As both a process nerd and a total bleeding heart, I loved all these stories of people who were never going to be rich or famous quietly working away to make some corner of the world a bit better.
That being said, there is a fair bit of the book dedicated to how the transition from the Obama to Trump administrations impacted these agencies. Unsurprisingly, in most cases it didn’t go well, in large part because the Trump transition team didn’t seem to know much about the scope of the federal government’s work (in fairness, I didn’t know much about it either before reading The Fifth Risk, but then I wasn’t running for president). Overall, The Fifth Risk is a really interesting take on what the federal government does and the ways that work is both impacted by and resilient to changes in who is in charge . Recommended for: process nerds, former Model UN members, Pete Souza.