Bob Woodward called his biography of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan Maestro for two reasons. First, Greenspan is a musician. He started out as a Julliard-trained jazz sax man. "He wasn't a good improviser," Woodward reports. And while the other guys got stoned all night, Greenspan "read economics and business books and eventually became the band's bookkeeper." He also cultivated powerful pals, like Ayn Rand, whose coterie dubbed the dour young man "The Undertaker."
More profoundly, Greenspan is a maestro, a conductor, exquisitely attuned to every instrument in the political and economic orchestra. He rules by consensus, but with a firm hand and notoriously inscrutable words. Marvelously, Woodward relates that Greenspan had to propose twice to his wife, the violinist-turned-TV news star Andrea Mitchell, before she understood: "His verbal obscurity and caution were so ingrained that Mitchell didn't even know that he had asked her to marry him." Woodward gives us the inside story of what Greenspan really thinks and how he outmaneuvered the most ruthless politicians on earth in some of the hairiest times imaginable, from the 1987 stock market crash to the 1994-95 Mexican crisis to the stomach-churning turn of the century. It turns out that for all his awesome knowledge of monetary minutiae, the Fed chief literally relies on "a pain in the pit of my stomach" to make decisions. "At times, he found his body sensed danger before his head," writes Woodward. The Fed chief also adapts Einstein's technique to economics, hunting for discrepancies as keys to deeper theories. Einstein made breakthroughs out of bent light; Greenspan deduced productivity gains that government statisticians had overlooked for years. (The gains appeared when Greenspan made the statisticians calculate productivity by business sector, the way it's done in the real world.)
Woodward's prose is cool and rational, not exuberant. But if you're into economics and politics, you'll find a rich gossip trove here. Who knew Reagan had a draft of a presidential order to shut down Wall Street trading at hand in 1987? Scary! Reading Maestro is better than sitting with Greenspan in his famous tub as he charts your future--it's like being right there inside his head. --Tim Appelo
From Library Journal
Either Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan has had an amazingly long run of remarkably good luck, or he knows what he's doing and really is what most observers believe him to be, the maestro of the rock-solid prospering American economy. Washington Post reporter Woodward of Watergate fame attempts to write an incisive biography, and yet Greenspan remains an elusive and enigmatic figure. Early in his adulthood he was a devotee of Ayn Rand and once briefly attended Juilliard; he is famed for his elliptical language, and if he gets too explicit, the market strengthens or weakens depending on the direction of his words. Descriptions of such behavior are presented by the author, but, unfortunately for listening excitement, Greenspan is neither flamboyant nor given to spectacular intrigue. Much of the book, of course, deals with meetings of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee which makes headlines whenever it raises or lowers an interest rate. The chairman is evidently very good at prodding, cajoling, and just plain reasoning with the Board of Governors until most of them see things his way. James Naughton has a grave, matter-of-fact approach, and it is always nice to hear the recognizable voice of Woodward himself as he closes the presentation. Recommended for collections dealing with modern politics and financial institutions. Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME
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Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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