Sunday, January 06, 2008

Age of Turbulence

Just finished reading Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan. What a great book.

At 500 pages it is quite a tome and I approached it initially with some trepidation. After all, global finance and interest rates, while intriguing, can be highly esoteric subjects. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a book that is not only insightful and informed, but also a joy to read. Greenspan has a writing style that puts you at ease and invites you into his world with a welcoming smile and a latte on the side.

That is not to say the book is frivolous in any way. Quite the contrary. Here is a man who was born in 1926 and has spent most of his life involved in global finance and economics. His insights are profound and powerful, his opinions are informed and based on a lot of experience. And yet he comes across as intellectually humble.

The first half of the book is a traditional professional autobiography that traces Greenspan's career. But given the nature of that career, it also ends up being a fast paced history of the US economy over much of the twentieth century. So you learn about how the economy went from the period of depression to its current state of vitality. Along the way, you re-live important events like the market crash of 1987 and the recent spectacle of the dotcom boom. With, of course, Greenspan's point of view on these.

The second half of the book is essentially a series of essays on topics that are at the top of the global economic agenda. Greenspan covers all major economies: China, India, Asian "Tigers", South America, Europe and dwells on what makes them tick - or not. He also tackles subjects like education, global warming, immigration, keeping up with the joneses (yes, really - it is an important ingredient of what keeps the economy going), and the politics of oil. In each area, he has a point of view, but more importantly he has a mental framework that takes you into his thought process. You might not come away convinced of his views every time, but you cannot help being impressed by the clarity of his arguments and thought process.

All in all, a delectable read for those interested in the forces that shape global economy and how they are likely to unfold over the coming decades.

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