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Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom (Greenspan, Alan) Paperback – November 6, 2001

3.3 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Greenspan, Alan
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone ed edition (November 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743205626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743205627
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,538 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
After reading a review of two new books about Alan Greenspan, I was eager to learn more about this enigmatic man. The question: which book? The long and short of it is that I bought both, and here's why I enjoyed Justin Martin's Greenspan far more than Bob Woodward's new book that is receiving a fair amount of fanfare. Martin's book gives us a vivid picture of Greenspan's early years and the winding path he took to becoming the most powerful economic force on Earth. At each turn, you realize that Greenspan's decisions, while primarily personally motivated, ultimately led Greenspan to a position, which has great influence over our lives today. What would the "new economy" look like if Greenspan had stuck it out as a professional Saxophonist? To me, it is far more interesting to learn about what made the man than to follow a detailed narrative on the Fed (Woodward's book) most of which is recent history and well documented. When Martin explains Greenspan's policy, its implementation and its ultimate influence on the world's economy, we feel we know the man behind it all. If you're really interested in Greenspan (like I am) it wouldn't be a mistake to buy both books, but, by all means, be sure to read Martin's first.
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Format: Hardcover
I found the book Maestro an easy read, but in the end I came away with the impression Woodward's attempts to liven up the often dry matter of macroeconomics as off the mark. To me it reflected another mixed attempt at livening up the dismal science, and the major source of its weakness. For instance, there were severeal references to instances where Greenspan would be concerned that if a certain policy action did not happen, the whole system would "crack" or fall apart. While the 1987 crash and events surrounding the LTCM failure in 1998 were in that category, attempts to sensationalize many other policy dilemmas in this manner between 1987 and 2000 implies either Woodward's lack of a grasp on how complicated economic policy is on an ongoing basis, or is just an attempt to stir the reader's attention.
The other major flaw in the book is the author's numerous attempts to portray Greenspan as some kind of statistical and probability driven humanoid. The (sad?) truth is that every well-trained economist thinks in the mathematical and probabilistic way described, and the good policy economist is one who can temper it with judgment, based on the unseen. Greenspan's genius to me is not his logical style of thinking, but rather his ability to temper it with a good dose of common sense and judgment. And his other genius us clearly his political savvy. Woodward does not emphasize enough the relative importance of these two attributes. The author instead seems enthralled by Greenspan's logical thought process, which to any economist or scientist is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for sound analysis.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought it was never going to happen after reading a series of books about Alan Greenspan and The Federal Reserve. Prior books seemed to have had as their goal convincing any reader that a PHD in Pure Math was required to understand The Federal Reserve. Those who felt readers needed to have the English Language explained to them authored a book I recently reviewed. Just as I believe there are literally millions of Americans who have learned more about The Electoral College in the last 10 days than they did during how ever many years of school they attended, anyone who reads this book will find that The Federal Reserve while far from a simple agency performing simple tasks, it is understandable to anyone who has an interest in learning.
Mr. Bob Woodward has assembled a highly readable book, together with a brief index of terms, which makes this work invaluable. This would be so at any point in our History. But as we now have more Families and individuals whose finances are directly related to the financial markets, the book is important for everyone to read.
During the campaigns the voters are warned/scared into thinking of the evil that will befall them if a given Candidate becomes President, and appoints Supreme Court Justices. The congress that will assemble in January is so balanced, especially the Senate, that no matter who eventually wins, what was an election and now is a disgrace, is not going to get any judges confirmed that are at either end of Constitutional Interpretation.
But what of The Chairman Of The Federal Reserve? Mr. Greenspan is currently in the midst of a remarkable 4th term as Chairman, and many would argue a Chairman whose performance has been unprecedented. At 74 years of age how much longer will he want this position?
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Format: Hardcover
The conduct of monetary policy in the US is important to the US and the rest of the world. Alan Greenspan is an interesting figure of historical significance. This book sheds little light on either subject.
The book is hampered by its episodic nature, and, apparently, limited range of sources. Woodward tries to sustain a narrative based largely on the twin themes of Greenspan's ability as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to manipulate the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) which sets an important benchmark interest rate, and whether that instrument, the federal funds rate, is moved up or down.
The first theme is of questionable interest: the institutional structure of the Fed gives the chairman enormous power. It is not at all clear than another chairman, with a different substantive agenda and a different personality, could have just as effectively dominated the institution. Despite Woodward's efforts, it is not at all clear that Greenspan is a "maestro" - on the contrary, he comes across as a mildly unpleasant character who treats his colleagues shabbily.
As for the second theme, well, it doesn't exactly make for a page turner.
These flaws alone would not earn the book such a low rating. The real problems are sloppy writing and factual inaccuracy. To give one example: Woodward tells us that Greenspan was born in 1926. After graduating from high school, he attended Julliard School of Music for two years and then dropped out to join a touring big band. He then quit the band, went back to school, and graduated from NYU with a degree in economics in 1948 . Woodward writes that Greenspan received a masters degree in economics from NYU in 1950 and then entered the Columbia Phd program but quit before completing his dissertation.
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