In addition to the book under discusIon -- THE FIFTH RISK -- Michael Lewis is also the author of a number of other well-known books, for example, The Big Short, Moneyball, and a book we discussed a year or so ago -- The Undoing Project; A Friendship that Changed our Minds -- (about psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and their research on the limits of human reason).
In this book, Lewis describes the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election on the federal departments of Energy, Agriculture and Commerce. He tells his story through key informants and dedicated public servants from each of these departments.
The U.S. government may be the most complicated organization on earth, according to Lewis, with over two million federal employees (70% in national security) and over 4,000 political appointees. A lot of the problems the government addresses are not ideological -- for example, how to stop a virus, how to take a census, how to deliver services to individual citizens -- but are part of the efforts of the government to contribute to citizen well-being.
Accidents with nuclear weapons and climate change pose some of the top risks. Threats from North Korean and Iran are also critical. A fourth risk is the fragility of our electric grid. The fifth risk of the book title refers to the organizational competence (and will) to carry out the assigned mission.
The book begins with a prologue describing the efforts of Chris Christie to create a transition team (as required by federal law). He was fired by candidate Trump because of the costs to the election campaign for this effort. Subsequent chapters deal with lack-of-preparedness impacts on Energy, Agriculture and Commerce. On the latter Department Lewis would rename it more descriptively as either the Department of Data or the Department of Science and Technology. His analysis of the National Weather Service and NOAA (Ocean and Atmosphere) is particularly cogent and revealing.
The book is timely, popular, and written with a straight-forward journalistic style with colorful anecdotes and engaging profiles of key players.