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Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence Hardcover – September 4, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


…Comes at the perfect time…Mr. Silber offers fascinating subplots and revelations along the way--not to mention a portrait of a tough and colorful man--but his main storyline concerns two of the most dramatic policy changes in economic history, one international, the other domestic. Mr. Volcker played a key role in both. (John B. Taylor, The Wall Street Journal)

This detailed account of the economist Paul Volcker's public service in five administartions shows how he maintained his integrity. (New York Times (named an Editors Choice))

Mr Volcker barely made it through his eight years at the Fed. He nearly failed to be reappointed in 1983 and almost resigned in 1986, when defeated on a key vote. It was only in retrospect that his reputation grew; Mr Silber's well-written book should help cement it. (Economist)

William L. Silber has written a rich and detailed new biography of a man who has left as deep an imprint on the world economy as anyone of his generation. (Neil Irwin, Washington Post)

William Silber, a financial historian and professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has the challenge of fitting this lopsided story--his subject, who turned 85 last month, enjoyed his most fruitful years before age 60--into a coherent narrative. He succeeds admirably in Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence. Silber, who had Volcker's cooperation, emphasizes the former Fed chief's independence and willingness to take unpopular stances, a trait as laudable in public life as it is uncommon. (Roger Lowenstein, Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

What [Silber] does bring is a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of monetary policy and international finance, along with that rare ability among academics to explain it while weaving an interesting tale. (Washington Post)

Paul A. Volcker has finally been awarded a meticulous historical account of exactly how he reached his exalted position … this book is a treasure trove for policy wonks… (New York Times Book Review)

Paul Volcker was chairman of the Fed from 1979 to 1987. His foe was inflation--the opposite of the high unemployment fought by Ben Bernanke today. But the pressues on the two men from purists academics and interfering politicians are eerily similar. That makes this fine new biography especially timely. (Robin Harding, Financial Times)

I have just finished reading the book Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence by William L. Silber. It is an excellent book, well written, and a book that I could not put down. (John Mason, Seeking Alpha)

William Silber weaves a subtle link between the three crises that tested Paul Volcker: gold in 1971, inflation in 1979, and sub-prime mortgages in 2007. He tells the story of Volcker's success in a lively and authoritative style, but unless America heeds the lessons for fiscal responsibility that Silber draws from Volcker's record, the crisis that lies ahead could make those past upheavals seem tame by comparison. Every member of Congress and concerned citizen should read this book. (Nouriel Roubini, Chairman, Roubini Global Economics and author of Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance)

By observing the life of Paul Volcker, an extraordinary public servant, William Silber has created an absorbing story about how theories and personalities affect public policies and economic outcomes. This book presents a novel explanation for how Volcker defeated inflation, and at the same time, delivers an important message for the complex economic problems we face today. (Thomas Sargent, 2011 Nobel Laureate in Economics)

This book shows how much the character and purpose of a single man can play a fundamental role in economic history. The end of the gold-dollar standard in 1971 and the end of out-of-control inflation after 1979 are the dominant economic events of the last half century. But standard economic models do not tell us why these things happened. William Silber shows strikingly how much the leadership of Paul Volcker lay behind these events. (Robert J. Shiller, Yale University, author of Irrational Exuberance)

Paul Volcker's contributions to the health of our economy and society are truly legendary, so all of us can learn from this careful account of his thinking and his courageous actions. (George P. Shultz, former Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State)

Paul Volcker championed mystique as the essence of central banking--but always resting on the twin foundations of principle and analysis. Using previously unpublished papers and private conversations, William Silber delves behind the mystique to reveal the principles and analysis that guided this towering figure of international finance over the past 40 years. (Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England)

Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence gives an insightful account of the true depth and breadth of America's financial crisis and its heavy political pressures as the country faced potential economic collapse. Volcker is one of the wise men of this period. (Henry A. Kissinger)

What makes this book great and not just good is the confidence and authority with which Silber presents his case. Volcker has found his muse. The sheer courage it took Volcker to battle inflation gives today's central bankers something to live up to. (Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man)

This is a well-written and comprehensive book that reveals the many attributes of Paul Volcker. Silber shows that Volcker did not become an instant folk hero. Rather he fought valiantly and successfully to overcome opposition from powerful politicians and institutions while breaking the back of inflation. After reading this book people will understand how Volcker balanced public and private responsibilities while becoming an American financial icon. (Henry Kaufman)

Silber provides an overview of American economic history as well as insights into surviving financial crises and the complexities of economic decision making. Its in-depth treatment of its subject and the primary documents and notes it includes would be challenging to find by other means. Recommended (Library Journal)

From a fellow economist, an admiring biography of Paul A. Volcker…blessedly free of jargon. (Kirkus Reviews)

Historians will find rich material and insight in this telling book (Booklist)

William L. Silber's new biography is therefore to be welcomed, and Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence will likely be regarded as the authoritative treatment of its subject. (Boston Review)

About the Author

William L. Silber is one of America's most respected experts on finance and banking. He is currently Marcus Nadler Professor of Finance and Economics and Director of the Glucksman Institute for Research in Securities Markets at the Stern School of Business, NYU. His many books include When Washington Shut Down Wall Street: The Great Financial Crisis of 1914 and the Origins of America's Monetary Supremacy. He is co-author of the standard textbook Money, Banking and Financial Markets and, with Lawrence Ritter, of the classic Money.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608190706
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608190706
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #504,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

William L. Silber is the Marcus Nadler Professor of Finance and Economics and Director, Glucksman Institute for Research in Securities Markets, at the Stern School of Business, New York University. He has been a Senior Economist with the President's Council of Economic Advisors and has been a member of the Economic Advisory Panel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is also a member of the New York Mercantile Exchange where he has traded options and futures contracts. He has testified in Congress and has been an expert witness in a number of court cases. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University and is a graduate of Yeshiva College. His most recent book is a biography of former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, entitled VOLCKER: The Triumph of Persistence. He is the author of the critically acclaimed financial history, When Washington Shut Down Wall Street: The Great Financial Crisis of 1914 and the Origins of America's Monetary Supremacy. He is co-author of the standard textbook, Principles of Money, Banking and Financial Markets and, with Lawrence S. Ritter, of the classic Money.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Louis S. Barnes II on October 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My reaction to Silber's book is undoubtedly distorted by my own experience. I am aged 63 years, most of my working life in or near fixed-income markets, daily watching the Fed; one of its greatest admirers, and also an admirer of Mr. Volcker.
"Volcker" has some limited use to an amateur audience, but is too shallow even there, a kind of Classic Comics version of Fed history, or an as-told-by sports biography. Its adulation of Mr. Volcker is not so bad: Mr. Volcker is as unassuming and self-deprecating as any person who has lived an important public life. Still, Silber's only significant source work is Mr. Volcker himself.
We are living through a very difficult time, a predicament without precedent, and thus without empirical guideposts. There have been thousands of similar financial crises, but nothing of this scale, nor after a period of such extraordinary computer-assisted financial innovation. Central banks everywhere are struggling to invent apropriate policy while critics accuse them of everything from money-printing and say they should shut down altogether to accusation of inaction and insufficient imagination. This book fails to elucidate, especially for non-professional readers better served by "Lords of Finance" and "Secrets of the Temple."
Silber's book does have a few pages of useful anecdotes (Barbara's story, Reagan's diary), but repeated awful stretches. Mr. Volcker (as all central bankers) is annoyed by "speculators" who refuse to behave in ways comfortable for central bankers. Page 26 repeats "speculators" ten times in two paragraphs. The book is a useful financial history skim, but the same depth could be found in a Wiki entry.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Gresham on September 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The reader of this book learns a good deal about Paul Volcker's character and personal life, including, for example, the poignant sacrifices made by his wife so that he could remain in public life. And the reader does become privy to illuminating conversations between Mr. Volcker, U.S. presidents, and other leaders. Primarily, however, the book is an extremely readable and insightful history of monetary policy in the United States from the 1930s through the 1980s along with a brief discussion of the Volcker rule.
The history told in this book is clearly-- if not chillingly-- relevant to understanding the stresses and challenges of today's world financial system: Mr. Volcker had to choose how much to accommodate fiscal imbalances, if not irresponsibility; politicians seem to need a crisis to take remedial actions; Too-big-to-fail had its roots in the rescue of all creditors of Continental Illinois; and defaults of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina could have wiped out the capital of the largest U.S. banks.
In short, the book is well written, thoughtful, and relevant.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Keith McCullough on May 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Summary Thoughts

1. Published in 2012, this book provides fresh (and timely) historical context on the causal factors affecting the US Dollar
2. Monetary Policy Style: critical contrast between the McChesney/Volcker Feds and the Burns/Bernanke Feds #study
3. The book's mapping of the sequence of political decisions made prior to Gold's top in 1980 is well done (Chapter 11, New Territory)

Content Highlights

1. "Five American Presidents (3 Democrats, 2 Republicans), spanning nearly half a century, have called on Paul A Volcker to serve..." (pg 1)
2. "Do not suffer your good nature to say yes when you ought to say no" -George Washington quote hanging in his father's office (pg 15)
3. "I never got along with the coach" -Volcker on his basketball coach @Princeton (1945-1949) #athlete (pg 17)
4. "Morgenstern... left his mark by turning Paul into a professional skeptic" #German born economist, author of Theory of Games (pg 17)
5. "Martin thought economists' forecasts rivaled the accuracy of fortune tellers" #WilliamMcChesnyMartin, one of Volcker's heroes (pg 21)
6. "Kennedy Pledges He Will Maintain The Value of The Dollar" @NYTimes headline #1960, Gold was $35/oz - #perspective (pg 23)
7. "Gnomes are imaginary, but speculators are not." #1960s roots of our friend @DougKass macro machinations? (pg 27)
8. "All I can remember after that was a word flashing in my brain like a yellow caution sign" #Samuelson #Keynes policies (pg 31)
9. "Hayek's words forever linked inflation and deception deep inside my head. And that connection, which undermines trust in government" (pg 33)
10. "Charles de Gaulle pursued Gold the way Henry VIII did wives." #1965 context #zeigeist of the times very different than today (pg 42)
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sam Johnson on September 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well researched biography written by a nonacademic. It is particularly strong on the period of Volcker's tenure as a Federal Reserve Chairman when he stopped inflation cold. It might also be read as a history of the rise of monetarist policy with a heavy accent on Volcker. It's a blow by blow retelling of the various high low points of the Volcker years and his interaction with Carter and Reagan administrations as well as congress. There are plenty of anecdotes and on the whole Volcker's strong character comes across. The author makes no bones about being both a friend and an admirer so the book on the whole is very laudatory. Those wanting an unbiased account will have to look elsewhere not that the book suffers in any way because of this. I found the rest of the book, the parts covering the early years as well as the post fed years as being less interesting, although invaluable in understanding Volcker. There are even examples of Volcker's early schoolwork and report cards. One thing is certain is that all presidents have subsequently picked chairmen who were less likely to be independent thinkers, and less likely to cross the President, which is not too surprising after reading this book. The consequences of a less independent Fed has been the inevitable return of inflation such that it now has become an accepted Fed target and goal. We have come full circle to high stagnant unemployment with increasing inflation. What is the likelihood that a President will court political suicide by appointing a Fed Chairman who will bring monetary restraint regardless of short term economic consequences?
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