Through random happenstance, two of the books that I had requested became available at the library: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis and Almost Anything by Anne Lamott. I had not planned to read them together, but it turned out to be a fortuitous pairing – bookends of emotion if you can pardon the pun.

The Fifth Risk is in large measure about the terrifying lack of competence or even interest among the current administration’s appointees running major departments of the government. Those chosen to lead entities such as the Department of Commerce, NOAA, the USDA, or the DOE do have relevant credentials to oversee their areas and, in several cases, have outside business interests that stand to gain from the agencies appointees were overseeing. Worse yet, the new leaders seem to be uninterested in learning more as they did not participate in transition meetings, threw away briefing books or failed to meet with any of the senior staff to understand the inner workings of the billion-dollar agencies that now reported to them. The impact on nuclear weapon security, food safety, or scientific advancement is yet unknown but frightening.

Then, just as I was thoroughly depressed from reading Lewis’ interviews, I turned to Lamott’s Almost Anything: Notes on Hope. Her book captures the paradox of the current reality: I am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen” she begins. Lamott’s little book is a series of essays about some of the challenges in our daily lives, but also the promise they hold: “But all truth is really a paradox, and this turns out to be a reason for hope. If you arrive at a place in life that is miserable, it will change, and something else about it will also be true.”

 Being unaware of a condition does not make it any less real. Remaining unaware of the political shifts doesn’t lessen them, nor does turning a blind eye to hope make it any less available to us. Part of our issues today stem from paying attention to only one side of the paradox instead of embracing its duality. I’d highly recommend both of these books – together – as a window into the complexity of the times in which we live.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, 2018
Almost Anything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott, 2018

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