Review: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

9780241373545.jpgIn The Fifth Risk Michael Lewis scrutinises the “wilful ignorance” of the Trump administration.

This is a bite-sized, searing indictment of Trump’s government. It’s shocking — absolutely terrifying — just how little interest Trump’s appointees to head government agencies had in learning the intricacies of their departments, and how they function day-to-day. And more importantly, their value and significance to ordinary citizens. The Energy Department, Agriculture Department and the Commerce Department aren’t sexy sectors of government; but they do important — vital — work.

I’ve little interest in US Federal Government bureaucracy, but by focusing on individuals working inside these departments — touching on their backstories and their desire to serve their country in whatever capacity they’re able — Lewis humanises his reportage. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the subtler, less publicised, ramifications of a Trump government.

ISBN: 9780241373545
Format: Hardback (240mm x 162mm x 24mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 1-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

ToKillThePres.pngIn To Kill the President, a White House legal aide uncovers a plot to murder the recently-elected US President who, though never named, seems uncannily similar to the current man in office. But should Maggie Costello intervene? Many would argue the world would be better off without the volatile demagogue as Commander in Chief.

Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland once again takes up the Sam Bourne mantle in this gripping and chillingly realistic political thriller. Early on, its main antagonists feel like vicious caricatures of their real-life equivalents — uber-misogynistic, dangerously cunning, their viewpoints abhorrent — but it only takes a quick glance at the news headlines to realise Bourne has merely ratcheted up the personalities and cruelties of those presently in office. The scenario he has conjured seems implausible, sure. But impossible? Frighteningly not.

To Kill the President opens with the President — who remains unnamed throughout the novel — perilously close to launching a nuclear attack against North Korea, violently escalating what was merely a war of words. He’s halted at the last moment, through quick thinking and more than a hint of luck, but it becomes clear to certain high-level White House personnel: this President has the potential to destroy not just the United States, but the entire world. Something has to be done. And extreme circumstances call for extreme action. But when Maggie learns of their intentions, she struggles with the moral dilemma: surely allowing the assassination to occur would represent an undermining of democracy, never mind the fact it might push the USA into civil war. But is the alternative amenable? What constitutes the true patriotic act? What makes most sense for the country? Which choice would she be able to live with?

The thriller charts the planning of the assassination all the way through to its aftermath; readers won’t be surprised to learn things don’t quite go as planned. Amidst that, Bourne unravels the complexity of Maggie’s personal life, as well as an ill-fated decision she made during the previous presidency and election (which, it’s fair to say, altered the course of history); plus there’s the small matter of surviving various attempts on her life when the conspirators learn of her investigation. Bourne’s prose sings, and fully-fleshed characters and a compelling moral-dilemma make the pages almost turn themselves. Literate, top-notch action laced with geopolitical commentary: To Kill the President is superbly entertaining.

ISBN: 9780007413720
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 26mm)
Pages: 416
Imprint: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 4-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Shattered – Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes

9780553447088Why did Hillary Clinton — arguably one of the most capable presidential candidates in history — not take the White House in 2016? Were the lessons of her failed Democratic nomination for the 2008 presidency disregarded? Was her campaign derailed by Russian meddling? Did she underestimate Bernie Sanders’s attempted political revolution? The screw-it populism of Donald Trump? Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes enthralling autopsy of Clinton’s campaign, Shattered, suggests these reasons, and more — uh, remember that whole email debacle? —  combined in a perfect  storm to deny the former First Lady and Secretary of State.

Shattered is a superbly comprehensible and truly page-turning examination of Clinton’s campaign. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that her campaign wasn’t adequate, no where near up to the task of securing her place in the White House. Parnes and Allen spend a lot of time on the campaign’s inability to articulate Hillary’s message: Why was she running? What did she stand for? While Sanders and Donald Trump dished out soundbites, resonant and memorable to the ears of voters, Clinton struggled for traction. Which made the bullishness of her campaign staff even more perplexing, particularly when you consider their obsession with analytics over polling, the models of which were erroneous. Clinton’s campaign was cancerous, corrupted within, which only exacerbated the influence of the exterior hammer-blows that included her email scandal, coincidentally flagged again by the director of the FBI mere days before the election, and many more.

With only a baseline understanding of US politics, Shattered provided precisely the kind of campaign analysis I was after. Both insightful and captivating, and as these books go, fairly balanced in its presentation of all candidates. Great reading for the armchair politico.

ISBN: 9780553447088
ISBN-10: 0553447084
Format: Hardback (234mm x 157mm x 41mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Crown Publishing Group, Division of Random House Inc
Publisher: Random House USA Inc
Publish Date: 6-Apr-2017
Country of Publication: United States