Summer Reading: Justin Fox
TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Kai Ryssdal: Love it or hate it the Federal Reserve has an amazing amount of power. We all know it has a huge hand in where interest rates go. It’s been especially active in the economy the past couple of years. But how it does what it does? That, most people are less clear on.
Thankfully, our commentator Justin Fox has a suggestion as we continue our summer book series.
Justin Fox: As a senior in college, I wasn’t all that interested in economics. But I did think I wanted to become a journalist, so when I heard that Bill Greider was coming to campus to teach a class called “Writing About the Economy,” I signed up. Greider was the national editor of Rolling Stone, and already something of a legend among journalists. A class with him might be fun, I thought.
It was fun, in a weird sort of way. Greider was nearing the end of an all-consuming, five-year book project. So we talked about his struggles. We read books that he’d used in his research. We went over his draft chapters.
The book came out not long after I graduated in 1987. It was called “Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country.” I was young and poor, so I waited for the paperback. Then I was daunted by the length — almost 800 pages. It wasn’t until 1995 that I finished it. On my honeymoon.
But what a book it was, and still is. It’s a model of what contemporary history should be, told with great narrative verve and a strong point of view, but also fair and comprehensive. Even now, it remains by far the best popular explanation of how the Federal Reserve evolved and what it does. It’s neither conspiracy tract nor Fed apologia, just a clear-eyed, skeptical look at a hugely important institution.
It’s exactly the kind of book, in fact, that ought to inform the current debate over the Fed and its powers. I asked Greider the other day if he had any plans to update it. “Too old,” he said. “Maybe you should.” Uh-uh.
Kai Ryssdal: Justin Fox is the editorial director of the Harvard Business Review.
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