Book review: ‘The Fifth Risk’ by Michael Lewis

By: | Published: December 9, 2018 4:03 AM

Lewis’ book makes it clear that even after winning, not only did Trump and his associates have no idea how to run the administration, they didn’t even want to learn.

Lewis comes up with a wonderful expose, all based on true incidents and information from knowledgeable persons, on how unprepared Donald Trump was to handle the presidency and run the administration of the world’s most powerful country. (File photo)

With a Michael Lewis book, you can expect an engrossing read even if he writes about mundane issues like the stock markets or banking, able to make non-fiction as engaging as fiction. But his latest offering, The Fifth Risk, is about a subject of immense interest—Donald Trump.

Lewis comes up with a wonderful expose, all based on true incidents and information from knowledgeable persons, on how unprepared Donald Trump was to handle the presidency and run the administration of the world’s most powerful country. One reason, which is now well documented, is that Trump and his campaign managers never thought he would actually win!

Lewis’ book makes it clear that even after winning, not only did Trump and his associates have no idea how to run the administration, they didn’t even want to learn. So unsure was he and his team that he would win that they hadn’t even prepared the acceptance speech for the president-elect to deliver immediately after being elected.

Consider this gem, one that shows how unprepared Trump was and how he and his team didn’t want to learn: by law, every candidate in the US presidential race is required to put in place a transition team—if he or she wins the elections, this team helps with the transition into office, while also finding the right candidates to man other important posts. Trump and his top advisers didn’t form any such team for two reasons: one, it would mean spending money from the campaign funds, and secondly, and more importantly, Trump was sure he wasn’t winning!

The transition team of the candidate who goes on to win the election—there is about a three-month gap between the result day and inauguration day—is carefully vetted so as to receive classified information. During the three-month period, this team works closely with members of the outgoing administration to learn the ropes and familiarise itself with the intricacies of running the executive branch.

With ample examples and narratives provided by brilliant, happy-to-be-in-the-shadows bureaucrats, many of whom left successful careers elsewhere to come work for the government, Lewis takes us into the heart of all that is wrong with the current Trump administration. And, he picks three nondescript departments—department of agriculture, department of energy and department of commerce—to tell his story.

In telling the stories of these departments—how, for example, penicillin was effectively discovered by the department of agriculture—Lewis gives out small but significant nuggets that make for good reading.
When he narrates how the Trump administration appointed Barry Myers, head of AccuWeather, a private company, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Lewis is exposing the crony capitalism at work under Trump.

The Fifth Risk is all about governance and/or the lack of it. But the manner in which Lewis tells the story is what sets him apart from other writers writing on the same subject currently.

One thing that strikes you—and makes you ask a serious question—is the fact that there are several Indians featured in the book, all holding very important positions. Why don’t we have these people working in India to make our country better? Lack of opportunity, lure of money or our national disdain for anything intelligent or intellectual?

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