The Man Who Knew

Sebas­t­ian Mallaby
  • Review
By – March 22, 2017

In this mag­nif­i­cent biog­ra­phy, Sebas­t­ian Mal­la­by tells the quin­tes­sen­tial Amer­i­can sto­ry of a Jew­ish boy from the Wash­ing­ton Heights neigh­bor­hood of Man­hat­tan who lived in a one-bed­room apart­ment with his grand­par­ents and a dot­ing moth­er — and who even­tu­al­ly became an icon of Amer­i­can eco­nom­ic pow­er only to fade into dis­fa­vor in his lat­er years.

Mal­la­by has divid­ed his vol­ume, and thus Greenspan’s life, into three sec­tions. In the first book” he traces young Alan’s life from his school­days — when he shows a great tal­ent for num­bers and music — through his first career as a jazz musi­cian, and into the world of finance by way of New York and Colum­bia universities.

In books two and three, we fol­low Greenspan’s rise on his way to the very apex of finance: becom­ing Fed Chair­man. Along the way, we see him inter­act with pres­i­dents includ­ing Nixon, Ford, Rea­gan, and George H. W. Bush, as well as with oth­er world lead­ers, among them Queen Eliz­a­beth II, Mar­garet Thatch­er, and Hen­ry Kissinger.

Greenspan is cen­tral to many of the finan­cial and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ments of the last fifty years, and this book lays out his objec­tives and the man­ner in which he has nav­i­gat­ed through polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic storms. In con­trast to many oth­er biog­ra­phers, Mal­la­by goes beyond mere­ly describ­ing the facts as he sees them, and shares his own inter­pre­ta­tions of about Greenspan and his actions. In a con­clud­ing chap­ter, Mal­lary sums up Greenspan’s pub­lic career, point­ing out both his strengths — he knows how to cul­ti­vate the media” — and his weak­ness­es — he under­stood the frailty in finance but under­es­ti­mat­ed the cost of doing lit­tle about it.” 

While Alan Greenspan is known prin­ci­pal­ly for his pro­fes­sion­al and pub­lic activ­i­ties, his per­son­al life is not with­out inter­est. Mal­la­by shares obser­va­tions of Greenspan’s pri­vate life and some of the remark­able women who played a role in it.

The Man Who Knew con­tains many won­der­ful pho­tographs of Greenspan from boy­hood through his recep­tion of the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Hon­or. There is also an appen­dix with graphs that illus­trate the Greenspan years and com­pare them to those of his pre­de­ces­sors at the Fed, as well as detailed notes and an index.

Relat­ed Content:

Peter L. Roth­holz head­ed his own Man­hat­tan-based pub­lic rela­tions agency and taught at the Busi­ness and Lib­er­al Arts (BALA) pro­gram at Queens Col­lege. He lives in East Hamp­ton, NY and San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Jew­ish publications.

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