Felix Salmon: Review of William L. Silber's "Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence"

Roundup: Books

Felix Salmon is the finance blogger for Reuters.

The global financial crisis destroyed reputations as effectively as it destroyed wealth. Alan Greenspan, Robert E. Rubin, Sanford I. Weill, Richard S. Fuld Jr., James E. Cayne — the list of the humbled is almost endless, while the number of heroes is minuscule. One man, however, bucked the trend and almost alone emerged from the crisis even more revered and admired than he had been already. And now, with the arrival of “Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence,” Paul A. Volcker has finally been awarded a meticulous historical account of exactly how he reached his exalted position.

William L. Silber, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, is more technocrat than traditional biographer, and his detailed book — he calls it a “biography of Volcker’s professional life” — concentrates almost exclusively on Volcker’s years in public service. There’s almost nothing here about Volcker’s private life: his marriages, for instance, and the births of his two children warrant scarcely a mention. Even the eight years he spent as a high-­powered investment banker for Wolfensohn & Company, first as chairman and then as chairman and chief executive, are dispatched in just a couple of paragraphs. If you’re looking for a portrait of Volcker the man, this is not the book for you: you’ll be much better off with Joseph B. Treaster’s breezy and easily digestible 2004 biography, “Paul Volcker: The Making of a Financial Legend.”...

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