Stranger and more ter­ri­fy­ing than fic­tion

Har­riet Alexan­der en­joys this ex­posé of Trump’s move into the White House, by the au­thor of ‘The Big Short’

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - BOOKS -


224pp, Allen Lane, £20, ebook £9.99

t’s what you fail to imag­ine,” writes Michael Lewis,

“which kills you.”

And, my word, does Lewis ham­mer home his point. His new book, The Fifth Risk, is enough to give any­one night­mares. We knew that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could be scary. But few knew just how fright­ened we re­ally should be.

Lewis, whose pre­vi­ous books The Big Short and Money­ball were both turned into Os­carnom­i­nated films, tells the story of the Trump team’s tran­si­tion to power with cin­e­matic bril­liance. The char­ac­ters are riv­et­ing, and the drama in­tense. It’s a story so jaw-drop­ping that at times it’s hard to be­lieve it was not in­vented for film. What he un­cov­ered was as­ton­ish­ing. “I was shocked by the rich­ness of the ma­te­rial,” he has said. “Buried in the mid­dle of this is a civics les­son, for my­self as much as any­one else.”

He opens with the story of Chris Christie, then the gover­nor of New Jer­sey, at­tempt­ing to put to­gether a tran­si­tion team, in case the im­pos­si­ble hap­pened and Don­ald Trump won the elec­tion. On the first page he tells how Christie rang the then-cam­paign man­ager, Corey Le­wandowski, to ask why Trump hadn’t sent any­one who ac­tu­ally knew about gov­ern­ing to re­ceive the brief­ings of­fered by the out­go­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “We don’t have any­one,” Le­wandowski replied.

Many of the most bit­ing anec­dotes ap­pear to have come straight from Christie him­self – who found him­self be­ing dumped by Trump af­ter the elec­tion. When Trump found out that Christie, as re­quired by fed­eral law, had be­gun pre­par­ing a tran­si­tion team, he was balled out by the flam­boy­ant New Yorker, who re­port­edly yelled: “You’re steal­ing my f------ money. What the f--- is this?”

Trump re­port­edly later dis­missed Christie’s ef­forts by say­ing: “You and I are so smart we can leave the vic­tory party two hours early and do the tran­si­tion our­selves!”

In news that sur­prised no one, af­ter his shock vic­tory

Trump im­me­di­ately broke from decades of pro­to­col and al­lowed the pres­i­dent of Egypt to be put through on the phone to Trump Tower – the first world leader to speak to the pres­i­dent-in­wait­ing. “Trump was like: ‘I love the Ban­gles! You know that song, Walk Like an Egyp­tian?’ re­called one of the ad­vis­ers on the scene.”

The tale that un­folds of Trump’s tran­si­tion would be com­i­cal, if it wasn’t so cat­a­strophic. The book’s ti­tle comes from a re­mark made by the chief risk of­fi­cer at the de­part­ment of en­ergy

– a £22bil­lion-a-year, 110,000 em­ployee agency, in charge of, among other things, keep­ing Amer­ica’s nu­clear ma­te­rial safe. He is asked by Lewis what the big­gest five risks fac­ing the US are, and he gives a fright­en­ing an­swer. “The risk we should most fear is not the risk we can eas­ily imag­ine. It’s the risk that we don’t.”

Of­fi­cials from the de­part­ment of en­ergy and other govern­ment bod­ies told Lewis as­ton­ish­ing

A long-haul truck driver was sent to take over the de­part­ment of agri­cul­ture

sto­ries of how un­pre­pared the Trump team was to take over; how care­fully pre­pared binders of han­dover notes were flicked over in a few min­utes, how the main

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