Breathing fresh air (or at least air that is not imminently dangerous), eating safe food, avoiding a nuclear melt down, ensuring that future generations will have wilderness to enjoy; these and many other facets of life in the USA have been protected by departments of government. While it may be fashionable to oppose bureaucracy, I don’t think any of us would get very far without air to breath or food to eat. In the past these departments were staffed by scientists, economists, and people who knew a bit about the work they were doing for the American people. Times have changed. Lewis explains what is happening in some of these departments essential to the running of our country. In the Department of Energy, tasked with such mundane issues as risk assessment for nuclear reactors, we lost essential personnel. In the Department of Agriculture staff that could tell one end of a steer from another were replaced by such great hires as a cabana operator unversed in anything agricultural.— Deon Stonehouse
New York Times Bestseller
What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?
"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.
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.
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.
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.
About the Author
Michael Lewis is the best-selling author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blind Side, The Big Short, The Undoing Project, and The Fifth Risk. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife and three children.
[A] page turner.… [Lewis'] most ambitious and important book.
— New York Times Book Review
Fascinating—and at times harrowing…. Lewis tells an important and timely story, one that all of us who pay for, care about, and want government to work should hear.
A hymn to the 'deep state,' which is revealed as nothing more than people who know what they're talking about.
— Cory Doctorow - Boing Boing
[A] spellbinding, alarming analysis of the most serious threats to Americans’ safety happening now from inside the U.S. government.
Displaying his usual meticulous research and fluid prose, [Lewis] makes the federal bureaucracy come alive by focusing on a few individuals within each agency with fascinating—and sometimes heartwarming—backstories.…[A] well-written primer on how the government serves citizens in underappreciated ways.
— Kirkus (starred review)
Illuminating.… It's relevance to readers won't end with the Trump era.
— Publishers Weekly