Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence

William L. Silber. Bloomsbury Press, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-60819-070-6
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This admiring biography leaves no doubt about Silber’s view that the world owes Paul Volcker a great debt. As Federal Reserve Board chairman from 1979 to 1987, “Volcker did nothing less than restore the reputation of an American financial system on the verge of collapse.” Silber (When Washington Shut Down Wall Street), a professor of finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business, spent hundreds of hours interviewing his subject and ably charts Volcker’s career, from his early years as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank and the Treasury Department in the 1950s and 1960s to becoming undersecretary of the Treasury under Nixon. In the early 1970s, Volcker oversaw the precarious shift from a dollar backed by the gold standard to a currency by fiat, which ushered in the era of floating currency exchange rates and launched the modern financial era. Though Silber lucidly explains this process, a prior understanding of economics would aid a casual reader. While it’s difficult to enliven some of this material, Silber gamely tries, and sometimes resorts to clunky sports analogies. It’s a measure of Volcker’s lasting influence that current financial reforms include a restriction on banks’ ability to engage in speculative trading, known as the Volcker Rule, a fitting third act for a lifelong government servant who “laid the foundation for restoring fiscal integrity in America.” Agent: Eric Lupfer, WME. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2012
Release date: 09/04/2012
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