Michael Lewis is the best damn non-fiction American writer there is today. There, I said it. Go prove me wrong. ‘The Fifth Risk’ is essentially a couple of long magazine articles shoved into a book which is ok with me. Why? Cause it is Michael Lewis making heroes out of federal bureaucrats that’s why. Who else can make someone at the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Commerce sound like a total dedicated bad ass? Michael Lewis is who can damn it.
The federal government gets pooped on a lot and some times rightfully so. But, the feds also do things that keep this great country of ours from slamming into the rocks.
Take for example those who work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. You know, where the National Weather Service is? The one that puts out hurricane forecasts that then President Trump made a mocker of by adding some black sharpie-ness to a hurricane cone of uncertainty saying it was possibly going to hit where it wasn’t? Yeah the one that alerts us to tornadoes, the aforementioned hurricanes and supplies pretty much any and all data about weather forecasts you see on your local news or phone app. These people care. They are super nerds pillaring away without credit and we rely on them more than we know. Why it’s in the Department of Commerce is beyond any rational explanation but hey, it’s America after all.
Lewis finds these stories then tells them in a way only he can. A way that leaves you wondering, ‘man, these folks are great!’ It makes you feel bad because the only time you hear about them is when something goes wrong. I mean, without this book how many of us would know that there is an actual award ceremony for federal workers? How cool is that?
Truth be told, the inspiration for this book came out of the Trump Administrations fumbling of everything in the Presidential transition. The one required by law to happen so that this giant bureaucracy can continue to do things like secure the nuclear waste, make sure social security checks go out, food is checked and intelligence collection continues on adversaries like ISIS. And by fumbling I mean people weren’t appointed nor showed up when they were.
While there can certainly be disagreements about how many appointees should or should not go through senate confirmation, at the end of the day the Department of Energy needs someone who is capable of overseeing that 120 million gallons of high-level waste in Washington that was put there back in the early days of the cold war.
Yeah. The federal government is in charge of that and if no one is appointed or has the ability to understand the Department of Energy…well Putin invading Ukraine and wildfires might be the least of our worries.
Bottom line is that the federal government does a whole lot of things that we take for granted and the people who work there do it for the mission and not for money or recognition. We need more of them considering a whole bunch are coming up to retirement.
My hope is that a future president will read this book and take the transition as seriously as Bush and Obama did. My other hope is that people in general read this, stand up and say ‘what can I do to help?’