In 2006, Ben S. Bernanke was appointed chair of the Federal Reserve, capping a meteoric trajectory from a rural South Carolina childhood to professorships at Stanford and Princeton, to public service in Washington's halls of power. There would be no time to celebrate, however - the burst of the housing bubble in 2007 set off a domino effect that would bring the global financial system to the brink of meltdown. In The Courage to Act, Bernanke pulls back the curtain on his efforts to prevent a mass economic failure, working with two US presidents and using every Fed capability, no matter how arcane, to keep the US economy afloat. His experiences during the initial crisis and the Great Recession that followed give listeners an unequaled perspective on the American economy since 2006, and his narrative will reveal for the first time how the creativity and decisiveness of a few key leaders prevented an economic collapse of unimaginable scale.
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I have no way of comparing. This question needs to be dispensed with as I do not believe the overwhelming majority of audiobook partakers make it a habit to also read the print version of each audiobook. It makes no sense to me that they would do both.
To me, the narrator seemed like the nearly ideal person to give voice to this entire book, with his uniformly even, dispassionate tone, considering what most people might regard as very dry material. I will even admit to nodding off a time or two. But I saw no way the narrator could have jazzed up his delivery of what mostly sounded like right out of a textbook, at least until near the end.
No, I don't feel an extreme reaction is possible. Not that the financial crisis itself was not an extreme thing, impacting gazillions of citizens in a horrible way. But in this book, we are in an academic world, a world of graphs and rules, of historical precedents and, it seemed, every type of consideration other than the real-world, intimate effects felt by the victims. This would be my main criticism of the work.
Not that the harm to the victims was skipped or its importance denied. It was all there, but it was given as numbers on charts. There was not a single personal story given of a victim's life being ruined by the irresponsible acts of others.
Another factor that was not elucidated in my opinion had to do with the criminality of the perpetrators of the crisis. Totally lacking was any blaming or emphasis on the right/wrong aspect. All the factors that actually coalesced to cause the collapse were listed as in a textbook, but in a setting of a financial environment, not human nor even very much political. The political aspect was lightly touched upon.
Even the situatiion with the robo-signers, which at the time quite shocked and alarmed me, was flatly explained in terms of numbers of documents, etc., and the amount of fines eventually paid. No outrage was evident on the part of the author.
The author did mention his "disappointment" over how it seemed the politicians were so willing and even eager to harm the economy without really even knowing what the end result would be, but I would have described the whole political situation in different, specific terms. This crisis was nothing if not death by a thousand cuts for millions of citizens.
All told, however, it appears the intent of this work was to be just a sort of day-by-day diary of one man's trek through the deep weeds of a near-death experience of the world's foremost economy, with all that emanates therefrom. I would have thought that experience would have been a lot more of an emotional one for the man sitting in at the top of the heap, taking the destruction all in.<b
Get this book if you are a person with education on finance. Its main interest would have to be to this group. There is precious little of an up-close-and-personal aspect included, although being the subject was the ruination of so many lives, I would have thought more should have been said about that. This book was written from the viewpoint of a master mechanic analyzing a terrible train wreck - all the big and little material things which played into the wreck, while almost meticulously barely mentioning the hundreds of people who were killed.
Will probably be used as a textbook.
I've long liked Ben Bernanke's calm, to-the-point writing and speaking style. Only rarely does he use openly entertaining and florid prose, as in, "I felt like I was juggling hand grenades." He masterfully explains government, politics and events. He phrases stories with a diplomat's velvet glove: as the political theater is recounted, and the menagerie of odd grandstanding personalities marches through, his understated (yet crystal clear) accounts tell volumes about Washington people and dynamics. It is all the more hilarious for his never-flagging coolness and calm. His opinions and frustrations are sheathed and understated, but apparent. At both political extremes, Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders come in for some critiquing. This trait of coolness makes a fine and very educational (again, not romping) account of the events, hedged enough to support and not steamroll the thinking of an intelligent reader. These traits served him (and us) well in the eye of the storm. And I accept his position favoring preserving the Fed's independence, completely. I could not imagine the circus of Congress trying to micromanage things in the heat of a financial collapse.
All that said, the critiques that the Fed, in the run-up to 2008, both under Greenspan and Bernanke, did too little too late to rein in the excesses of the time, still stands, in my mind. The memoirs of Paulson, Geithner, and Bernanke have not allayed these. I have a better appreciation after hearing this, of the facile quality of critiquing by hindsight, talk being cheap, and the limits of the view from the cockpit (so to speak) of an organization like this. Yet, out here on Main Street, one couldn't miss signs everywhere an economy lifting off into bubble-cuckoo-land in the 2000s. In the air (and on every block, through various trinkets of the times, and in every barbecue conversation) was that "We're all gonna be rich!" lunacy of 1999 and 1929. Yes, it's hard (and devilishly complex) to take away the punchbowl when the party is just getting going -- which points to the sort of calls we desperately need from these folks.
Clearly written account of how the Fed works, how it tried to meet the demands of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2009, and the special role it plays in government as an entity independent from direct political control. Bernanke's thoughtful and understated approach to banking and financial policy shows throughout the book, making this a very instructive and worthwhile read. If you listen carefully, you will learn much about the tools the Fed uses to manage the money supply and interest rates and the critical role the Fed plays in providing financial liquidity to the banking system when panics or major banking "runs" occur. He describes in detail the major role that financial "panic" played in seizing up the financial system once the financial players had belatedly recognized how shaky and bogus had been their reliance on subprime mortgage securities.
Bernanke had been in his academic life a close student of previous financial panics and crises, and had studied the approaches and mistakes made by central banks in dealing with those cases. That experience proved very valuable when he confronted the greatest US financial crisis since the Depression not long after he became Chairman of the Fed.
The only shortcoming I found in the book was a lack of detailed discussion as to how the banking regulators had missed the abuses and very dangerous speculation that was growing up in the subprime mortgage market. He cites the disjointed system of financial regulation as a reason why the Fed and other regulators seemed to lack a full picture of what was going on. That is of course not a basis for an "in the trenches" lessons-learned analysis of the build-up to the subprime crisis, and I would have welcomed a deeper dive into that aspect of the crisis.
Reading, the arts and physical activity clarify, explain, illustrate, and interpret life’s goods and bads.
The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath, by Ben S. Bernanke is a history of the causes of the 2007 through 2014 spiraling economic recession suffered by the United States and other advanced economies. The tale is a chronological record of just about all the significant events (as affecting our nation or its institutions) and for each such event includes an explanation of their causes, the then contemporary negotiations undertaken in the Fed, the Executive Office, Congress and with private enterprise responding to that monetary upheaval, and the outcome of those efforts for the overall recession and its lingering path. (Nothing herein is presuming we are over the recession.) This is not only a very good study, this is an enthralling story, very educational and (for a rather dry subject) very well read.
The book is a story told by Chairman Bernanke, who is self-congratulating and is self-admiring. No problem, it does not get in the way of the history and book’s enjoyment. In any case it tells of a fortuitous happenstance that Chairman Bernanke, who took his position as Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, just as the recession set in. He was well studied for the great recessionary tumult because as he explains he was a student of the causes and responses to the Great Depression of the 1930s. As he opens his History, Chairman Bernanke says himself:
“When the economic well-being of their nation demanded a strong and creative response, my colleagues at the Federal Reserve, policymakers and staff alike, mustered the moral courage to do what was necessary, often in the face of bitter criticism and condemnation. I am grateful to all of them.”
One might think the title is too self-aggrandizing, particularly as I have mentioned Chairman Bernanke was self-congratulatory. That is not the case, although I do think he (deservedly) praises himself much; as one can read from his opening quote, the courage he was speaking of was that of his fellow Fed Board and Open Market Committee members. The fact is given the nation’s fiscal failures and lukewarm responses to the crises by the Congress (also explained in the book) and if not for the Fed, its members, and their economic intelligence in managing the monetary policy of the nation, the fiscal managers alone would have failed. The fiscal managers because of political infighting and countervailing economic perspectives may not have responded so efficiently – in that they may not have thought out the antidotes to a recession to the extent Chairman Bernanke and the other Fed and Treasury Department members had - and we may have suffered more of a downturn. The right women and men, in the right place at the right time taking the correct actions. At least that is the import of the novel.
Bernanke, of course, was not only a teacher or professor of economics at Stanford and then Princeton but also the President’s Chairman of the White House’s Counsel of Economic Advisers, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Directors, and then finally, Chairman of the Federal Bank. A charmed life for a monetarist. The book is a perfect teaching curriculum for the subject.
The book tells us of the first inklings of economics stress developing in the mortgage backed securities markets in the French Banking system, and then the Bear Stearns dilemma comes into focus, the impending issues with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Lehman catastrophe, AIG and the bailouts of the GM and more. We are told not only that these intuitions had issues, but rather their histories, their importance to the system, what was the genesis of the economic failures, what was done to attempt to correct the corporate failings and protect our society and its ultimate results. The book then goes on to tell the tale of the politics of the era. No holds barred; the idiom so apt for wrestling but so metaphoric for the Great Recession.
The book is so good I have a new goal in life. I would like to teach this book as a study of that Great Recession in a college atmosphere. Needless to say it is a highly recommended reading for any student of politics, the economy or the Fed. Oh yes, and one could not have read it better than was done by Grover Gardner. As I said a dry subject made enthralling.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
I enjoyed getting the inside view point and information about the recent financial crisis. Bernanke describes the struggle of policy makers at the Federal Reserve and Department of Treasury. Bernanke shows what it was like to develop a plan while the data is uncertain and the political environment is treacherous.
Bernanke tells of his early life growing up in a small town in South Carolina, and his academic studies of the Great Depression. Bernanke went on to be a Professor of Economics at Princeton University before he was chairman of the Federal Reserve. The author lays out the problem and how it came about; discussing the pros and cons of various solutions, then tells us how it was resolved. Bernanke made an important point that I have also heard from professional organization, businesses, and unions and so, it is that, many of the American workers are not trained/educated in the skills and professions we need today. We also have a shortage of teachers trained to teach in the needed skills. The author states this weakens the middle class and keeps more people in poverty; our economy works best at full employment.
It is frightening to realize how close we came to matching or exceeding the Great Depression again. The author also gives his perspectives about our economic future. Last year I read “Stress Test” by Timothy F. Geithner and “Too Big to Fail” by Andrew R. Sorkin; between the two books I think I have a better understanding of the “Great Recession” we are slowly making our way out of. The book is fairly long at about 23 hours. Grover Gardner did a good job narrating the book.
I am no expert so spell it out.
I like to know different points of views of the problems. This book clearly lays out Bernanke's position and thinking during the crisis. I have a bit of a hard time accepting his premise that he thought through this the way he delivers in the book. I have been involved in many crisis management situations, usually our stories of why we did what we did, are just that "stories" too many factors to consider in a logical way. Still the logic after the fact was interesting.
As much as I enjoyed this volume the written word is always better.
Any book written by John Kenneth Galbraith. Galbraith is also a master of economics.
Grover is one of the best narrators and I have learned to expect an excellent performance from him.
Nice idea. I didn't finish graduate school in one sitting either.
Outstanding book for the insight on the 2008 economic collapse and the characters involved.
This book convinced me that we were very lucky to have a fact-driven and collaborative leader at the Federal Reserve. If only Congress would be as effective...
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