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The fifth risk
2018
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Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

THE WITCH ELM, by Tana French. (Viking, $28.) French has stepped away from her standout Dublin Murder Squad series to deliver a nervy, obsessive novel - equal parts crime thriller and psychological study - about an art gallery publicist and an unsolved murder in his family. YOUR DUCK IS MY DUCK: Stories, by Deborah Eisenberg. (Ecco/ HarperCollins, $26.99.) These six stories, like all of Eisenberg's work, are blazingly moral and devastatingly sidelong. She is an artist of the unsaid: the unacknowledged silences and barely intimated strangenesses of the world. THE FIFTH RISK, by Michael Lewis. (Norton, $26.95.) Lewis brings his breezy, appealing style to an examination of three relatively obscure government departments, energy, agriculture and commerce, shining a light on the life-or-death work these agencies perform, and showing how the Trump administration is doing what it can to undermine them. GANDHI: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948, by Ramachandra Guha. (Knopf, $40.) This second volume of a monumental biography looks at both the public and private life of a major figure of the 20th century. Guha admires Gandhi's achievements, but does not gloss over the man's flaws. GOOD AND MAD: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, by Rebecca Traister. (Simon & Schuster, $27.) Traister, a columnist for New York magazine, argues that women's anger, long a catalyst for social change, has rarely been recognized as righteous or patriotic. Her timely new book is both a corrective and a call to action. IN PIECES, by Sally Field. (Grand Central, $29.) This somber, intimate and at times wrenching self-portrait - written by the actress herself and not a ghostwriter, with minimal rationalization, sentiment or self-pity - feels like an act of personal investigation, not a Hollywood memoir. LOOKING FOR LORRAINE: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, by Imani Perry. (Beacon, $26.95.) This impassioned study by Perry, a scholar at Princeton, yields a fascinating portrait of the influential black playwright and activist, who died young in 1956, cutting short a life of unusual promise. BROTHERS OF THE GUN: A Memoir of the Syrian War, by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple. (One World, $28.) Hisham, a journalist from Raqqa, details his country's descent into endless bloodshed. Crabapple's abundant illustrations capture the chaos. UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE, by Jen Doll. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $18.99; ages 12 and up.) This bighearted Y.A. debut follows a 16-year-old feminist whose summer job selling items from lost airport luggage punctures her Alabama town's conservative bubble. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books

  Publishers Weekly Review

Lewis (The Big Short) exposes a less sensational but significant danger posed by the Trump administration's approach to governance. As he recounts in an ambiguously sourced prologue, Trump's transition team actively refused to learn about much of what the federal government does, and made ill-considered leadership and budget choices regarding three obscure, but vital, agencies: the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. Members of each department in the Obama administration prepared detailed briefing materials to educate incoming appointees about the agencies' missions and responsibilities, only to have their work ignored or discounted; for example, when Trump's commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, was told that the department's mission was mainly science and technology, Ross responded, "Yeah, I don't think I want to be focusing on that." Lewis accessibly explains the important things that Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce actually do, including "reducing the world's supply of weapons of mass destruction," safely disposing of nuclear waste, administering nutritional assistance programs, and collecting data to improve weather forecasting. He also persuasively documents the dangers that result from placing people without the necessary skills in charge of these departments and from cutting funding. This is an illuminating primer on some of the government projects most crucial to the well-being of the populace, and its relevance to readers won't end with the Trump era. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
"The election happened," remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. "And then there was radio silence." Across all departments, similar stories were playing out: Trump appointees were few and far between; those that did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Some even threw away the briefing books that had been prepared for them. <p>Michael Lewis's brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it's not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do.</p> <p>Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it's better never to really understand those problems. There is upside to ignorance, and downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.</p> <p>If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes, unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system--those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night.</p>
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