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.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Amazon Customer on 16-06-2017
Engrossing history of the man and the fed
As well as giving an insight into Alan Greenspan himself, I found the book an informative history of finance and the Fed through the 20th and into the 21st century. Well researched and balanced perspective on Greenspans decisions,
errors and triumphs identifying the easy condemnation coming from hindsight against contemporaneous understanding of events as they unfolded.
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By Paul de Jong on 05-03-2017
what about CFMA?
23 hours and the entire CFMA conspiracy is conspicuously missing. Alan Greenspan was not an innocent bystander. There should have been an entire chapter devoted to it, but then you would need to revise your conclusion to be much harsher on the Alan Greenspan legacy. Cities go bankrupt while rich bankers get bailed out with no strings attached. The bankers even got to keep their loot. Did Alan Greenspan make you pull the CFMA chapter? I can't imagine that is an oversight on your part.
You also fail to talk about the consequences when they are negative. You praise his successes continuously. You briefly give it lip service at the very end, but all the while extreem poverty and grandioos income disparity became the norm and bailing out Wall Street and punishing main street is the new normal.
You continuously praise the Fed for focusing on inflation, glossing over the consequences of that. At one point you even call out real net income increases as a negative.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
By Philo on 15-01-2017
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.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Shorty on 27-01-2017
Well read, but content is dull
Well read, but content is dull. It's full of names of infamous people but unless you get chills from reading about meetings between Nixon and Greenspan you may, like me, get bored. I think I was hoping to get something with more of an insight into the thought process and rationale behind decisions and causes of problems that he has faced as an economic guru.
For me The End of Alchemy by ex Bank of England chairman Mervin King is better in every way.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful