Book Review: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis - TrepHub
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Book Review: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Book Review

Hi! It’s Ahmed again with another book review. I know we’re in the middle of coronavirus and everything else that’s going on. And I’ve been under the stay-at-home order from the governor so been staying at home for the last three weeks now. I was self quarantined before because I was afraid that I may have been in touch with someone with coronavirus. I was flying a lot so this is the most fun that I get to have, get outside and make a little video.

So in the last week there’s been a lot of news. Finally, the administration seems to be waking up to the fact that it is not a hoax and that you cannot make certain things go away by calling it a hoax or by pretending that it will go away or with a good hoax.


I met Michael Lewis last year at a conference. Michael Lewis as you may know is the famous author of Flash Boys, Moneyball, and many other of my most favorite books around math, business. He had just written this book called The Fifth Risk and I actually got a signed copy and I got a signed audible, which is something weird that I do. What I mean is, the authors I get them to sign my iPhone on the audible. So he signed a copy of my audible audiobook
for The Fifth Risk.

The Fifth Risk is a very interesting book at the time that I read it. You could clearly tell that Michael Lewis is worried about a new president taking over. A president who’s been very different from other presidents at an administration like none other. And it was unnerving reading it. Just learning how the Trump administration wasn’t like the prior administration that had a lot of people who are insiders because the Trump administration took what they said seriously. They are outsiders who are coming in to shake up the system that was very corrupt and is very inept and I kind of subscribe to some of those. Some of the views I’ve never thought about government as being the most efficient vehicle of delivering services but at the same time the United States government is a marvel.

I grew up in Bangladesh as a kid where the government wasn’t nearly as stable. And Bangladeshis would often marvel at the government of the United States that took care of people, that had good systems in place. And as much as coronavirus sucks and staying at home sucks, you know it’s the right thing to do right now and that’s the right thing for a government to do. Growing up in Bangladesh I actually experienced these things called “heart dolls”, which is where general strikes, nobody goes out of their house sometimes as long as seven days. So I was just talking to my mom about how this should seem really weird but it just harkens back to my youth when we weren’t able to get out of the house for long periods of time. That was government dysfunction though, whereas this one is much more planned. Although some would argue that this is also government dysfunction.

So at the time when I read the book, when I met Michael Lewis who’s an awesome guy, who’s a very animated person and at the time when I met him I was like “okay yeah he has his beliefs”.  I like listening to different viewpoints but since then I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve been thinking what he talked about, all these jobs that were cut but I wonder if somehow the administration, the current administration isn’t approving the point of many conservative, and many fiscal conservatives. That the government’s really bloated, it doesn’t really need all these departments – who needs to guard the nuclear arsenal after all right? I say that tongue in cheek, you should guard the nuclear arsenal and do some of these other things that the government does but he was pointing out that there are systemic things that the US government, that the federal government has been kind of holding together behind the scenes. It’s like an IT department at a company. You know nobody really gives the IT department credit when things were run smoothly but as soon as the network crashes and the Wi-Fi stops everybody starts blaming the IT department. It’s a shame because the IT department often works really hard to make sure everything runs smoothly and they’re not getting in your way. So in some ways the government possibly serves that function but it’s not very visible to all of us and so I wondered, I honestly wondered maybe a lot of these departments aren’t needed right? Almost all of my dealings with government entities have been frustrating.

So I read Michael Lewis’s book I was like, I can understand maybe he’s just a little too frustrated. But this coronavirus thing has me thinking holy, maybe he was right. Maybe like most of his other books there are some prophetic elements to this book as well that may be cutting government out like yeah it’s got inefficiencies but there are reasons why you need good governance or good governments as well. And this coronavirus epidemic where the government clearly did not take the early warning signs seriously could point to some validity in Michael Lewis’s arguments in his book The Fifth Risk.

I would highly recommend the book taking it with a grain of salt. It’s going to make your heart rate. It’s going to make you freak out and panic that we are all going to die, which will happen anyways. I will prefer no opinion one way or another. I’m telling you honestly when I read it I was a bit skeptical that it was a little too negative but given current events, given recent events seeing how flat-footed and how unprepared the US government seems to be. An entity that I personally have always regarded as being pretty capable of getting things right, that may be my personal bias also. There may be something more to Michael Lewis’s Fifth Risk and it may be a book that is worth reading now just to get a grasp of what’s going on. It’s not a terribly dense book but I think it’s a pretty relevant book right now. And let me know what you think, what your take is on it.

I hope that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Maybe we don’t need as much government but zero is probably not the right answer either. So I think everybody’s kind of coming to that including the Trump administration that’s taking some very commendable steps in preventing the virus, keeping the economy from collapsing. I mean this stuff truly is unprecedented so I don’t want to appear to like be bashing the administration. There are a lot of hardworking people in government and they are trying their best but The Fifth Risk is definitely an interesting book even for the preppers and others. There’s always the systemic risks that are at place. We like to think things are very stable, they’re not. And it’s a good idea to always keep that in the back of your head when you’re doing 10/30/100-year planning that you know things are going to change significantly. There are things that you haven’t thought about yet that are the fifth risk. I hope you enjoy the book, thanks for listening!