The definitive biography of the most important economic statesman of our time.
Sebastian Mallaby's magisterial biography of Alan Greenspan, the product of over five years of research based on untrammeled access to his subject and his closest professional and personal intimates, brings into vivid focus the mysterious point where the government and the economy meet. To understand Greenspan's story is to see the economic and political landscape of the last 30 years - and the presidency, from Reagan to George W. Bush - in a whole new light. As the most influential economic statesman of his age, Greenspan spent a lifetime grappling with a momentous shift: the transformation of finance from the fixed and regulated system of the post-war era to the free-for-all of the past quarter century. The story of Greenspan is also the story of the making of modern finance, for good and for ill.
Greenspan's life is a quintessential American success story: raised by a single mother in the Jewish émigré community of Washington Heights, he was a math prodigy who found a niche as a stats-crunching consultant. A master at explaining the economic weather to captains of industry, he translated that skill into advising Richard Nixon in his 1968 campaign. This led to a perch on the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and then to a dazzling array of business and government roles, from which the path to the Fed was relatively clear. A fire-breathing libertarian and disciple of Ayn Rand in his youth who once called the Fed's creation a historic mistake, Mallaby shows how Greenspan reinvented himself as a pragmatist once in power. In his analysis, and in his core mission of keeping inflation in check, he was a maestro indeed, and hailed as such. At his retirement in 2006, he was lauded as the age's necessary man, the veritable God in the machine, the global economy's avatar. His memoirs sold for record sums to publishers around the world.
But then came 2008. Mallaby's story lands with both feet on the great crash which did so much to damage Alan Greenspan's reputation. Mallaby argues that the conventional wisdom is off base: Greenspan wasn't a naïve ideologue who believed greater regulation was unnecessary. He had pressed for greater regulation of some key areas of finance over the years, and had gotten nowhere. To argue that he didn't know the risks in irrational markets is to miss the point. He knew more than almost anyone; the question is why he didn't act, and whether anyone else could or would have. A close reading of Greenspan's life provides fascinating answers to these questions, answers whose lessons we would do well to heed. Because perhaps Mallaby's greatest lesson is that economic statesmanship, like political statesmanship, is the art of the possible. The Man Who Knew is a searching reckoning with what exactly comprised the art, and the possible, in the career of Alan Greenspan.
©2016 Sebastian Mallaby (P)2016 Penguin Audio
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"Enlightening on many levels"
This is a masterful work that weaves seamlessly between (1) US large-scale money and financial history from about 1970 to 2010, (2) the persons, institutions, policies and politics involved, and the successes and failures of those elements at each turn of events, and (3) one brilliant, powerful but quite imperfect man's journey across this landscape. Meanwhile, with great discipline, this author consistently found that sweet spot between clear explanation and well-paced listenable story on one hand, and complexity on the other (in a way any reasonably bright reader can grasp). Even the quirky personal details are in service to this overall work of enlightenment, as I found my mind could pause just enough across personal details, to re-engage as the economic-financial story moved forward, such that I could reflect and form opinions of my own in real time. I had seen bits and pieces of this whole story before, but it was a great service to pull it all together with such deftness. I am now better equipped to evaluate events past and present that affect my financial life. No definitive, simplistic, single verdict can be rendered of Greenspan's career, I believe, but I feel some expertise now on every phase of it. Credit goes to both the author and to Alan Greenspan for the courage all around to allow a process to occur which as freely praised as criticized Mr. Greenspan. This sort of bold factual storytelling (and respect for the reader's search for the reader's own conclusions) helps refresh my respect for the political system in which it occurred.
"A balanced book about Greenspan"
This is a ver well researched book that tells the story of a giant who helped to shape the world finance in the past a few decades. It is not a book commissioned to glorify Greenspan.
The timing of this book is good 10 years after he left the office - a tumultuous period which was deeply influenced by Greenspan's policy. I learned a lot through this book about the behind scene of Washington politics and how Fed handles economic crisis.
"Very interesting and educative."
The book informs you about a brilliant man, and educates you about monetary policy, the challenges associated with bringing about change, and the pragmatism that real people often resort to in the real world.
If you're already read AG's memoir, this is still worth reading. His life story is told in a completely different manner, and the story goes much wider than biography - this is a monetary history of the last half-century.
Narrator does slight impressions of the key people involved - Greenspan, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Kissinger, and others. If you had a magic dial to move from narrator to the actual person, it's set perfectly around 25%.
Great book but this make an awful film.
30 hours but it's not dense or difficult. Financial wonkery is easy to understand (provided you're familiar with the importance of monetary policy) and the author moves seamlessly from finance and negotiating tactics to love affairs.
"The real Alan"
Having lived thru this era, I could never understand how he went from hero to bum so fast. The real story that he was neither. It was the public that raised him up and brought him down -- all with 20:20 hindsight.
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