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Everything you ever wanted to know about Alan Greenspan
Two new books fill in the Fed chief blanks
(CNN) -- You'd think that Alan Greenspan has a publicist. Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the chairman of the Federal Reserve is the subject of two hardcovers on bookshelves.
Greenspan, 74, doesn't have a publicist. He has something better -- a prosperous economy. Since he stepped into his role at the Fed 13 years ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen over 8,000 points while interest rates have dropped to comfortable levels.
His name likely is familiar to many Americans, and what other former chairmen of the Fed can claim that? Greenspan has been a mainstay through nearly four presidential administrations, his name a constant while chief executives have come and gone.
And, according to Justin Martin, who wrote one of the new Greenspan books, "Greenspan: The Man Behind the Money" (Perseus), he also has a curious audience.
"The fact that the Fed is a secretive organization that restricts access to him, for the most part, and the fact that he gives only a small number of strictly off-the-record interviews, has made the public immensely hungry for information about him," says Martin. "In our Oprah/Jerry Springer confessional society, a person who doesn't let it all hang out is an anomaly."
Bob Woodward, the assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, wrote Martin's bookshelf competition, "Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom" (Simon & Schuster).
Two books, one guy
Both books, along with sharing the same subject, have a few other things in common: They're nearly the same length, with Martin's clocking in at 233 pages, and Woodward's finishing just pages behind at 229, counting the epilogue. The books share the same dimensions -- just over nine inches by six inches. Both have alternate profile shots of the owl-eyed Greenspan on the cover.
Martin and Woodward also admit they received inside information on Greenspan from unidentified sources at the Fed. And neither writer will confirm nor deny whether they tapped Greenspan himself for information.
But before conspiracy theories start to develop, the volumes take very different approaches to the same subject, Woodward and Martin point out.
Woodward's work focuses on Greenspan's 13 years as Fed chairman, a behind-the-scenes look at policy-debating and decision-making inside the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's most powerful monetary policy-making group. It's an approach he has taken in past volumes, notably "The Brethren" (Simon & Schuster) an intimate look at the United States Supreme Court.
"It's a story of how he does his job," says Woodward.
Martin's book is a biography, tracing Greenspan's path from his upbringing in New York, his dalliances with jazz and Ayn Rand's philosophies, to his current place as The Man With the Economic Plan.
'An immense dance'
Woodward, 57, is no stranger to Washington personalities. He first turned heads by teaming up with fellow Post journalist Carl Bernstein to lead reporting on the Watergate crisis, which led to 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. By 1976, Woodward was being played by Robert Redford in the Oscar-winning movie "All the President's Men," based on Woodward and Bernstein's book.
Woodward has gone on to author or co-author eight nonfiction bestsellers, but he has often shied away from the spotlight. "Maestro" allows him to focus it on Greenspan and his unprecedented reign at the Fed.
Among the moments Woodward covers:
"There's an immense dance that goes on that is not seen or known or reported on" at the Fed, says Woodward.
When asked in a recent interview what Greenspan's greatest moment at the Fed has been, Woodward points to the "soft landing." The chairman, staving off the early '90s recession, slowly hiked rates to stem inflation and set up a record-setting run of prosperity.
"That's as high a drama as I've seen in a government institution," says Woodward.
Higher than Nixon resigning?
It's a different sort of drama, Woodward says. If you were to ask a group of 100 people if they were better off now than when Greenspan first took his position with the Fed, "everyone would raise their hand."
"If you were to ask the same group of people 25 years ago, after Nixon resigned, 'Are you better off?' ... most people would raise their hand because it established the rule of law," says Woodward. "But I wonder. You can't quite draw a line from (Nixon resigning) to the well-being of everyone. In the case of Greenspan, in terms of people's economic well being, it's a pretty straight line."
'A very unusual life
Martin's Greenspan biography marks the 36-year-old's first venture into book publishing. Several other journalists attempted to write a biography on Greenspan, says Martin, who's written for Fortune and Worth magazines, but gave up when they didn't receive insider access.
Did he interview Greenspan for the book? The closest he comes to admitting it is this: "Greenspan and the Fed were very helpful in making sure I got my facts straight," he says.
Martin will admit that he spoke with several people close to Greenspan throughout his life.
"He has lived a very unusual life," says Martin, speaking in a recent telephone interview from his home in New York. "People who aren't in the know might think he's born to be an economist, that he was studying economics at the age of 5. But he's taken a lot of interesting eddies a long the way."
The image of Greenspan as a party-hopper is a stark contrast to Greenspan's pinstriped persona as a briefcase-toting numbers guy whose most controversial utterance was the infamous phrase, "irrational exuberance."
The Greenspan era
Like Woodward, Martin focuses on Greenspan's business. He believes his greatest success as Fed chief was staving off the so-called "Asian contagion" in 1998, when Asian stock-market slides threatened the booming new economy on U.S. shores.
"That was probably his finest hour," says Martin.
Today, Woodward and Martin both agree that Greenspan has created a position so powerful that the pending presidential election outcome between Al Gore and George W. Bush holds no major ramifications for his career or his goal to keep the nation's economy churning along.
"When all is said and done, Greenspan is one of the people in Washington biting his fingernails the least right now," says Martin. "He can work with either of those guys."
"In a sense," says Woodward, "whoever becomes the next president, that person becomes president in a Greenspan era."
With praise like that, who needs a publicist?
For Greenspan, it's hint-dropping season
Federal Reserve System
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