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The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (April 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204624
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204623
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 3.7 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

The New York Times:
"[Mr. Irwin] has provided an accessible, engrossing account of the tribulations that Mr. Bernanke, with Mervyn A. King of the Bank of England and Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank, endured in pulling the world financial system back from collapse... Mr. Irwin seems to have talked with everyone, read the right scholarly papers and interviewed important dissenters in the Fed, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bundesbank... He has a nice touch for translating central banking’s mysteries, opaque and forbidding, into understandable English. He is astute in describing the internal and external politics of institutions traditionally expected to remain above politics of the usual sort."

Adam S. Posen, Foreign Affairs, President of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee from 2009 to 2012:
"An excellent account...scrupulously reported and full of clear explanations of events and economic concepts....an incredibly valuable book for all economically concerned non-economists. As someone who knows well the three central bankers that the book features...I can attest that the narrative has more than just a ring of truth. It gets the individuals, the circumstances surrounding their decisions, and their motivations right and also presents them fairly. Irwin’s volume will have lasting value for a wide range of audiences, including students and elected officials, but it will make its greatest contribution as a corrective to the many unfounded or simply crazy ideas about monetary policymakers’ intentions and impact."

The Wall Street Journal:
"A detailed and fast-moving account of these perilous years. This is the crisis as told through emails, phone calls, meetings and one very fateful walk along the beach in Deauville, France."

Kirkus Reviews:
"The most complete and authoritative account to date of the response of the central bankers to the global financial crisis."

About the Author

Neil Irwin is a Washington Post columnist and economics editor of the Post’s Wonkblog web site. From 2007 to 2012, he led coverage of the global financial crisis, recession, and aftermath as the Post’s beat reporter covering the Federal Reserve and other central banks. He has an MBA from Columbia University, where he was a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism. Irwin appears regularly on television analyzing economic topics, including on MSNBC, CNBC, and the PBS Newshour. He lives in Washington.

More About the Author

Neil Irwin is a senior economic correspondent at The New York Times, where he writes for The Upshot, a site with analytical coverage of politics, economics, and policy. He was formerly a Washington Post columnist and economics editor of Wonkblog, The Post's site for policy news and analysis.

He is the author of "The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire," a book about the efforts of the world's central banks to combat the financial crisis and its aftermath, to be published in spring 2013 by the Penguin Press. Irwin the Post's beat reporter covering economics and the Federal Reserve for The Post from 2007 to 2012, where he led coverage of the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis, recession and government response.

Irwin often appears on television analyzing economic topics, including on the PBS Newshour, MSNBC, and CNBC.

He has been a reporter at the Post since 2000, and also covered topics including the Washington regional economy, economic development and Internet companies. He was a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia University, from which he has an MBA. Irwin's undergraduate studies were at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Customer Reviews

Written very freshly, easy to read.
Shyam J. Kirpalani
Irwin gives us a play-by-play of the financial crisis from a new angle.
Nick
History will repeat and hands will scratch heads and ask WHY.
michaelb

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Z on April 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Neil Irwin's "The Alchemists" is the most authoritative account of the role of the Federal Reserve and other major central banks in grappling with the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 and the economic tumult that persists today.

I've read a number of books that have looked at the role of the Fed in responding to the downturn. But I haven't seen any that is so up to date and sweeping -- covering not just the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke but also central banks in Europe and Asia.

I think fans and skeptics alike will appreciate the book. And I think it's important reading even for the casual reader who cares about the economy.

If you're a supporter of the Fed's actions, the book offers a lot of insider material on how Bernanke and other central bankers stretched boundaries and took unprecedented actions to save the global economy.

I think critics will gain insights into the secretive nature of central banking, the political pressures facing the Fed and the tough questions about democratic governance raised by having so much power in the hands of unelected policymakers.

And while I love economics, even the casual reader will gain a superior understanding of one of the most important stories of our age. Understanding the role of central bankers just seems critical to understanding the global economy today.

Fortunately, this book isn't simply a discussion of economics. It's a really great narrative, full of intriguing personalities and scenes offering a window into corners of government I've never seen before. "The Alchemists" leaves you engrossed, entertained -- and a lot smarter.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Nick on April 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
For those unfamiliar with monetary policy, the Fed, and central banking generally, this is a must-read.

The historical section is fascinating; it includes an examination of how monetary policy influenced the Great Depression and indirectly led to the rise of Nazism.

Irwin gives us a play-by-play of the financial crisis from a new angle. He also frequently uses wit in a world that often seems humorless from an outsider's perspective.

I thought it would take me weeks to finish, but it was a surprisingly quick read - finished it on a plane ride and one afternoon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very few people have even the remotest understanding of how the world's financial systems work, who pulls the strings, and why. This book provides the key facts and factors in a very readable manner. I thought I had a reasonable understanding before I read this book. How wrong I was! Hopefully this will become a standard text for all economic students, all politicians and all people interested in knowing how the world of finance works.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ADan on May 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book was a major addition to the writing on the recent economic crisis. There has been so much written about the six weeks in the autumn of 2008 on the American banking meltdown, but no one before has tied to reactions of the regulators of other nations. Irwin is an excellent writer, and the insights on what was going on in England's Federal Reserve equivalent was of particularly interest as that was less familiar tome then the interworking of the ECB.. The worldview also makes Bernanke look better and better.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bradley A. Wasserman on August 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Alchemist is an important book that is very worthwhile to anyone who wants to learn more about the Federal Reserve, central banks and how the financial crisis has been handled, from the inside.

As I follow financial matters on a daily basis, I was amazed by how much I learned by reading this book. It appears to be thoroughly reported and researched. Irwin's work reflects how perspective and information can sometimes only be done through a book, not by reading day-day reporting.

Irwin provides insight to the challenges that the world's financial bankers faced, how they dealt with them and interacted with each other, as well as members of their own government. I found the chapters on China and the US legislative process after 2008 to be particulary worthwhile.

While not an easy or fast read, I don't think it is not intended to be. Overall, I highly recommend this book if you are interested in this topic.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Martin Lobel on May 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant book about central bankers and what they can and cannot accomplish. It also shows their human side and the mistakes they made. Irwin is probably too polite about the failures of King in the UK to recognize what was happening to the UK's economy and take steps to ease the suffering. Bernanke emerges, quite rightly, as one of the unsung heroes of the battles. The book clearly shows the problems the EU will face as it struggles to contain the flight of capital from countries like Greece who have no easy way to recover from their coverup of their faulty economic policies.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By William Silber on May 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Neil Irwin offers great perspective on how three key central bankers -- Ben Bernanke of the US Federal Reserve, Mervin King of the Bank of England, and John Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank -- confronted the world financial crisis that began on August 9, 2007. He paints an engaging historical portrait of crises faced by earlier central bankers, from the Overend Gurney run in the UK in 1866 to the nightmarish failures of the Great Depression, to describe mistakes of the past that guided the three alchemists of his title. Irwin frames the story with a novelist's eye for detail and a scholar's penchant for accuracy.
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