Top positive review
Another depressing insight into the Trump administration
8 February 2019
This book is really good at giving us an insight into how the US government actually works. Michael Lewis interviewed many talented and dedicated people who worked in various departments and came up with a little mantra: for these people, what matters is the mission, not the money. All the work his interviewees did was valuable, but if one department stands out it’s probably the weather folks at NOAA. For decades they’ve been providing increasingly accurate forecasts and sharing their data without charge. It goes without saying that this information is enormously valuable to a wide range of people: farmers, fisherfolk, pilots, insurers etc etc.
Lewis describes how regime changes normally happen. The day after a new president is elected, teams of people chosen to lead the departments go in and receive extended briefings, which are very necessary, because the work is complex and often unexpected. The Department of Commerce, for example, deals with commerce very little. Its task is more about collecting data. Needless to say, many departments waited, and waited... and waited. When an appointee finally did show up, it was often (usually), someone spectacularly unsuited for the job, uninterested in the job, desperate to make heavy cuts, keen to fire anyone who had the gall to be interested in climate change (for example) and without a backup team. In short, an utter shambles. What this did to morale and the ability to attract talented young people to this area can be guessed at.
Lewis is very good as far as he goes. The book ends rather abruptly, with no summing up or reflection on his findings. It would have been good to get information on other departments as well, though that may have made the book much longer and would possibly have been more of the same.