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The Fifth Risk

Undoing Democracy
Narrated by: Victor Bevine
Length: 5 hrs and 10 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (69 ratings)
Non-member price: $27.33
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Publisher's Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis.   

The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy - an agency that deals with some of the most powerful risks facing humanity - waited to welcome the incoming administration's transition team. Nobody appeared. Across the US government, the same thing happened: nothing.   

People don't notice when stuff goes right. That is the stuff government does. It manages everything that underpins our lives from funding free school meals, to policing rogue nuclear activity, to predicting extreme weather events. It steps in where private investment fears to tread, innovates and creates knowledge, assesses extreme long-term risk.  

And now, government is under attack. By its own leaders.  

In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis reveals the combustible cocktail of wilful ignorance and venality that is fuelling the destruction of a country's fabric. All of this, Lewis shows, exposes America and the world to the biggest risk of all. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.

©2018 Michael Lewis (P)2018 Penguin Books Ltd

What members say

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Lewis has done it again

What I love about reading his work is that Lewis succeeds in making even the most dry content utterly and completely bewitching. The book explores particular departments of the American government, some of its vital past and present players and shines a light on the changing landscape of democracy as we know it. The book is an exploration of these ideas, invites the reader to consider these points and wants you to pick apart issues you didn't even know about, using new information you never knew was relevant.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Boring

Struggled through this one. I have listened to every Michael Lewis audiobook and this one is the only one that failed to keep my interest. Perhaps being a non american has something to do with it. As usual Lewis uncovers some little known but important issue and weaves a narrative. However i was not entertained.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Obviously political message

This feels like a short book rushed out in time for the 2018 mid-term elections. A valid message but unworthy of the writer of such excellent books in the past.

The two messages: the fifth risk is project management and "it's what you don't imagine that will kill you" are pertinent for this time. The anecdotes from the excellent employees in various government departments bring out the necessity of having the truly expert protect the country.
But it could have been much more thoroughly developed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Mind expanding

it's amazing to catch a glimpse of how many critical functions are performed buy agents of the federal government that most people have no clue about.

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The best book published thus far on the Trump Adm.

While the book doesn't explore trumps high level decisions it follows the down river consequences of his blatant disregard for the functioning of government. The floor in this reasoning came to light in the most recent government shutdown where trumps administration could not see any disasters consequences from a government shutdown. Government is a complex Institution disregarding its function is something you make at your own peril and only heights the fifth risk to humanities existence.

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Wow!

Read this book! It’s brilliant and scary. This is the invisible working of government Amazing! Well-written & researched Michael Lewis’ trademark.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wait for your President to care for this

Once again Michael Lewis explains complex problems in a way a Trump should be able comprehend. Federal bureaucracy discussed and it makes you wonder how important these agencies are. Great listen!

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Prashanth
  • 11-12-2018

Good sub-stories but not cohesive

The book starts off well and starts showing how the current leadership is doing things and how it is undermining all the previous doings of past leaderships. The listener gets a sense of things are heading for the worse and a sense of doom.

However after the first couple of chapters the stories are more about how someones capabilities was undermined and how they were mistreated by the current leadership. It doesn't really tie it in to the democracy or how those actions are 'undoing democracy' and only just gives a feeling that a wrong was done.

In all it leaves more questions and concerns than answers and you feel very incomplete after listening to this.

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  • LexiMorph
  • 10-12-2018

Ignorance is Bliss, Until...

Superb in every way. The problem is that many of the people who most need to read/listen to this will probably not, for all of the reasons elucidated in this book.

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  • Matt L.
  • 07-10-2018

Very poor

very poor compared to previous Michael Lewis books. No real thread or conclusion and little related to Trump from halfway onwards

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-10-2018

Left feeling cheated

I’d read an excerpt from this in the Guardian newspaper which made me think it was another insider’s take on the Trump administration. It isn’t.

There are a few anecdotes but this is no “Fear” or “Fire and Fury” or even “Unhinged” - its considerably shorter than those and if you are expecting something similar you will be disappointed.

It feels like there are a few tales massively padded out with tangents and waffle. Typically it is pages and pages about what a government department does, what the common man would imagine the department does, how this perception differs across state, and then usually “but they heard nothing from Trump when he got into power”

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Jamie Holdoway
  • 14-10-2018

Not vintage Lewis

The book contains a collection of interesting facts/themes, but not a clear overriding angle, which is so often Lewis’ hallmark.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Mdta
  • 22-02-2019

Light and a little one sided

I like Michael Lewis' books. I had high hope for this one and the topic (administration) it covered. Sadly, I feel like it was a little one-sided and its intentions were clear from the start.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter O'Driscoll
  • 16-03-2019

superb listening and very educational

very insightful read and provides a great insight into US government departments and the shortcomings of current governments leading these departments. loved the part on using data science for the 1st time by Obama Admin to create insights into policing, health and prediction of natural disasters

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  • G-Montoya
  • 10-03-2019

Not too sure...

I am a huge fan of Michael Lewis and read most if not all of his books. I am not too sure about this one though.

Perhaps it is more relevant to the American people?

I really liked the first half of the book but perhaps then main point about the risks of not managing government transitions got lost in the details of tornadoes and others...

Perhaps I missed something?

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  • Alejandra Diaz
  • 10-03-2019

a must-listen book

I work in public services and this book has open my eyes to the perils of democracy at the hands of those elected.

it was compelling, full of interesting facts and details that most people we oils not know but make the cast majority of the functional lives in society.

really recommend this book

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  • Mark Skingley
  • 22-02-2019

The hidden story

Michael Lewis as usual finds the hidden story & tells it with clarity through the eyes of those at the centre of the storm.

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  • BOOTH
  • 13-01-2019

Good start but then get repetitive

Definitely not the best book from Lewis. The first quarter is very interesting but then it gets repetitive and it is simply about the life of people who worked in the government and not anymore on the Trump administration.

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  • Sebastian D'Anconia
  • 31-12-2018

A love letter to undemocratic institutions

An emotional, anecdotal love letter to everything the federal government does. It completely lacks the objectivity and journalistic principles of Lewis's previous work and reads simply as an anti-Trump hit job that will get swept away in the fake-news counter attack from Trump supporters.

The book starts with a fascinating account of how disorganised the Trump transition team was (it seems most transition teams are disorganised, but Trump's was especially so). This is the most interesting part of the book and is genuinely entertaining and informative. It shows how much government work is lost in transition.

It then becomes a pornography of pro-government interviews and explorations of the different parts of government, what they do, how under appriciated every aspect of government is, how charitable and public spirited every single government employee is and how the evil idealogues at Heritage (and other right wing think tanks) and trying to destroy the benovlent God of the Federal Government.

The book reamins interesting even during this, because many of the functions of the government are truly opaque and it is fascinating to learn what they do. However, there are some frankly incredible claims made about the government. Such as, without the federal government rural America would not have drinking water. This left me absolutely flabbergasted. As if fresh drinking water can only be provided by the state and isn't availible in every shop or can't be ordered in bulk or bought privately in huge portable water stores, or captured and refined privately by communities.

Another claim was that government research funds lend to people and businesses the private sector would not. But later Lewis claims that JP Morgan would love to have these loans on their books. So the private sector would make these loans.

Lewis's most compelling case for the work of government is around weather and big data. The story around the value of this data that the government has been able to capture and the attempts that Accu Weather have made to undermine people's access to their data (which tax payers have paid for) is thought provoking. But I still find the central claim that only government has the incentive to capture and manage big data ludicrous when we see private giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook doing this every day.

The big weakness of this book is that Lewis absolutely ignores the costs of these institutions (particularly opportunity cost). He writes as if he believes that if the government didn't spend all this money, then they money would just sit there. It wouldn't be utilised by private individuals and organisations to create products and services which improve living standards. He doesn't explore any of the private developments, scientific and economic, that have been blocked or hampered by government or were simply unable to compete with government equivalents that don't have to operate under market conditions. And he does not explore the massive overall tax burden these huge institutions impose on people, making them poorer.

The biggest weakness to his argument that all these institutions are essential is he doesn't explore those countries who are achieving better public outcomes with less government, such as Denmark, Singapore, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, New Zealand Australia etc.

Finally, the subtitle to the book, undoing democracy, is inappropriate. If anything the book demonstrates how undemocratic and arbitrary many of these institutions are. The whole system is so opaque and complex there is little to no democratic accountability and much corruption. While Trump is hardly a champion of transparent government, he certainly isn't responsible for the completely undemocratic condition of these institutions. But, counterintuitively, perhaps his incompetence is finally shining a light on these dark areas of government that are spending billions and opening the debate about what's really important.

Still worth the price of the book despite its weaknesses and the Audio is expertly read.