“The Fifth Risk”

Michael Lewis

It took me a bit to realize that this was a reread—I thought that I’d just read some of the marketing materials when the book first came out, maybe an excerpt, but no—by the time I got to the end of the book and it continued to feel familiar, I had to admit that I’d read it before and just missed marking it as read in my big list o’ books.

Still, it holds up well! Honestly, I think it’s almost more interesting now, during the Biden administration, than it was during the Trump years. Sure, it felt more urgent when these things were being actively undermined, but now, it works well as a reminder that our institutions are still fragile. Just because everything is alright in this moment doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Hanford’s still got about 100 years and $100 billion in work necessary to clean it up; publicly-funded databases are still one executive order away from being inaccessible to the public that funded them. The core function of government is to handle these big problems, the things that business incentives just don’t work for.

Given the subject matter, it feels like this book would be a tome, something that’ll take you ages to work through. In fact, it’s quite short and easy to read—and, in a way, reminds me of some of McPhee’s stuff. It’s an exploration of the huge, banal things that the US government does every day to keep the world turning.

Overall, it’s an interesting read, and not a huge time investment. I heartily recommend it; check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

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