The First Biography of the Economic Miracle Worker

Article excerpt

Thank goodness for lively journalists. When they write books, they can make what could be a dull, difficult story fascinating and fun to read.

That's the case with this first full biography of Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and, as author Justin Martin puts it, "a bona fide celebrity." (Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, has just released his own Greenspan biography, "Maestro," that concentrates more on political infighting involving the Fed and its chairman.)

Judging by his testimony before Congress, Mr. Greenspan could be seen as a nerd economist: an expert in his profession, but too technical and abstruse for the average person.

But Martin, a former staff writer at Fortune magazine, has interviewed hundreds of people who played a role in Greenspan's life to reveal an intriguing man.

For example, his early love of music led him to study at New York's famous Julliard School of Music. He left before graduation to play the clarinet and tenor saxophone in Henry Jerome's swing band for $64 a week as it toured the United States in 1944.

It turns out that the nation's leading central banker and arguably the most powerful economic official on the globe is something of a "man about town." His current wife, NBC newswoman Andrea Mitchell, his ex-wife, and other female friends say he's a great conversationalist.

The book also tells of his 16 years in the inner circle of Ayn Rand. She led a philosophical group called Objectivists and wrote "The Fountainhead" (1943) and "Atlas Shrugged" (1957), novels that celebrate rugged individualism and capitalism.

Martin has no ideological axe to grind. He gives readers a painless education on how Washington makes economic policy, a brief history of the Fed, and a clear explanation of how the Fed conducts monetary policy. Moreover, the reader learns a good deal about economic history of the past few decades.

Greenspan was there, becoming a more important participant with time. …