Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Report: "The Fifth Risk"

The Fifth RiskThe Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Michael Lewis, the aficionado of data deciphering whose exhaustively researched books inspired the brainy films "Moneyball" and "The Big Short," shifts his laser focus to the buried world of federal government work for his latest opus

This is a pure, unfettered hit piece on what Lewis frames to be the incompetence and willful ignorance of the Trump regime, which has dismissed much of the groundwork laid by previous administrations to chase childish, boorish ideologies, sacrificing the safety and benefits of the public. Trump supporters, of course, would counter-argue that the goal is to trim the fat out of a do-nothing government, and Lewis is out to undermine that perspective.

The risk specified by the title is that which the public doesn't bother to imagine, and in turn hasn't prepared for. Without key chess pieces in place to fend off unimagined catastrophes, Lewis argues, Trumpism has left us vulnerable to an array of threats ranging from nature, to terror, environmental abuse, foodborne illness and crumbling infrastructure.

The book feels like it could and should have been a magazine article instead of a full-fledged book. Lewis pads out his core points with superfluous personal stories of his subjects. The point is to humanize what many people imagine to be soulless drones, but the effect turns out to be monotonous small-talk and gratuitous oversharing.

The Audible adaptation adds to the sense of urgency, thanks to Victor Bevine's passionate, often mock-bewildered narration, which lends a frantic, the-sky-is-falling pace to the proceedings.

I credit Lewis for teaching me much about what I never comprehended about what exactly the various sectors of the federal government does, the earnestness of many of those in public service, and the ruthlessness of Accuweather, which Lewis contends has infiltrated the Commerce Department in an effort to block National Weather Service data so it can co-opt it and sell it to the public under its own label.

This book is a horror story of sorts, granting you a peak inside the sausage factory of government work to show you how close society may be teetering to disaster. You get the feeling he could have done the same in a third the amount of space, but I don't blame him for stretching it out into a more lucrative commodity. Hey, a guy's gotta make a living.

Publisher provided review copy.

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