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Books > Business & Money > Economics > Economic Conditions > B008EKOGKS
  1. The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire
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  2. The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire

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When the first fissures became visible to the naked eye in August 2007, suddenly the most powerful men in the world were three men who were never elected to public office. They were the leaders of the world’s three most important central banks: Ben Bernanke of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Mervyn King of the Bank of England, and Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank. Over the next five years, they and their fellow central bankers deployed trillions of dollars, pounds and euros to contain the waves of panic that threatened to bring down the global financial system, moving on a scale and with a speed that had no precedent.

Neil Irwin’s The Alchemists is a gripping account of the most intense exercise in economic crisis management we’ve ever seen, a poker game in which the stakes have run into the trillions of dollars. The book begins in, of all places, Stockholm, Sweden, in the seventeenth century, where central banking had its rocky birth, and then progresses through a brisk but dazzling tutorial on how the central banker came to exert such vast influence over our world, from its troubled beginnings to the Age of Greenspan, bringing the reader into the present with a marvelous handle on how these figures and institutions became what they are – the possessors of extraordinary power over our collective fate.  What they chose to do with those powers is the heart of the story Irwin tells.

Irwin covered the Fed and other central banks from the earliest days of the crisis for the Washington Post, enjoying privileged access to leading central bankers and people close to them. His account, based on reporting that took place in 27 cities in 11 countries, is the holistic, truly global story of the central bankers’ role in the world economy we have been missing.  It is a landmark reckoning with central bankers and their power, with the great financial crisis of our time, and with the history of the relationship between capitalism and the state. Definitive, revelatory, and riveting, The Alchemists shows us where money comes from—and where it may well be going.

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Neil Irwin
Kindle Edition
Kindle eBook
Penguin Books
Penguin Books
Penguin Books
Penguin Books
Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Very few people have even the remotest understanding of how the world's financial systems work, who pulls the strings, and why. This book provides the key facts and factors in a very readable manner. I thought I had a reasonable understanding before I read this book. How wrong I was! Hopefully this will become a standard text for all economic students, all politicians and all people interested in knowing how the world of finance works.
This is a brilliant book about central bankers and what they can and cannot accomplish. It also shows their human side and the mistakes they made. Irwin is probably too polite about the failures of King in the UK to recognize what was happening to the UK's economy and take steps to ease the suffering. Bernanke emerges, quite rightly, as one of the unsung heroes of the battles. The book clearly shows the problems the EU will face as it struggles to contain the flight of capital from countries like Greece who have no easy way to recover from their coverup of their faulty economic policies.
Amazon describes it as such: "Neil Irwin’s The Alchemists is a gripping account of the most intense exercise in economic crisis management we’ve ever seen, a poker game in which the stakes have run into the trillions of dollars."
And I'd say that's pretty accurate. It's a great read of how the crisis actually unfolded in the eyes of policymakers, how they viewed their responses, and, importantly for us now, how the environment changed afterwards. One of the greatest parts of the book, in my view, is during the legislative battle for Dodd-Frank, one of the more accurate depictions of how Congress actually works. I also learned a lot about how the EU works (and doesn't, and whether it will continue to). In addition, to my relief, Irwin doesn't leave out too many of the other players; he devotes, for example, an entire chapter to China.

Full review here: [...]
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