By Bob Woodward
Simon & Schuster, 2000
It's time for a biography. This column hasn't reviewed one before. And what better place to start than with a household name--a world-renowned figure, someone who steered the economy over the terms of four presidents? That, of course, would be the 13th chairman of the Federal Reserve System, none other than Alan Greenspan.
For those in financial services in the late 1980s or before, Greenspan is indeed a household name. For 19 years, this man's moniker appeared in the media on an almost daily basis. Any issue touching on the domestic or international economy, and Greenspan was the go-to guy; the man with the salvos; the enigmatic, nearly all-knowing sage who, in 1999, was dubbed by Time magazine as part of the triumvirate who "saved the world."
He was the nation's chief economist who caused senators to fawn, the oracle whose cryptic and arcane oratory bowled over Republicans and Democrats alike.
Bob Woodward's book, Maestro, is in general about how the Fed operates and quite specifically how the Greenspan Fed operated over its first 13 years, from mid-1987 until 2000. What makes the book fascinating is that it ends in 2000 but Greenspan retains his position as Fed chairman for another six years. Thus, we readers can evaluate him on the same basis that Woodward does, but also go well beyond Woodward's analysis to the end of Greenspan's tenure in 2006 and then advance the analysis another six years to 2012.
Structurally, the book is divided into 15 numbered but unnamed chapters. From prologue to epilogue, it totals 229 pages and includes a five-page glossary of terms and 19 pages of chapter notes. There are no pictures.
The book is easy to follow because it's a completely sequential rendering that begins in August 1987, when Greenspan becomes Fed chairman, and it ends in the final days of the Clinton administration. In between is a walk down memory lane for many, a reliving of the past in sufficient detail to easily and immediately recall the names and events.
Maestro begins with the stock market crash of October 1987 and concludes with the stock market crash of early 2000, when the Nasdaq drops 6o percent in a matter of months.
In between are two relatively mild recessions, lots of inflation fighting, many deliberating Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings and some biographical sketches of Greenspan from childhood and adolescence to positions as head of the Council of Economic Advisers...