What I’m Reading: The Alchemists

Tackles a seemingly boring topic well.

Based on its positive reviews, I went for this book about how central bankers–in particular, Ben Bernanke of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Mervyn King of the Bank of England, and Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank–responded to the financial crisis and its aftermath. The strength of the book, as with any, is its storytelling. 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.

I’d recommend this read for anyone who has ever delved into a conversation about the crisis, the Fed, financial regulation, or the EU. I got through it fairly easily with my economics background but I think one only needs a general understanding of what’s happening–and what the players want–to really enjoy this book.


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