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Publisher's Summary

"Whatever it takes." That was Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's vow as the worst financial panic in more than 50 years gripped the world and he struggled to avoid the once unthinkable: a repeat of the Great Depression.
Brilliant but temperamentally cautious, Bernanke researched and wrote about the causes of the Depression during his career as an academic. Then, when thrust into a role as one of the most important people in the world, he was compelled to boldness by circumstances he never anticipated.
The president of the United States can respond instantly to a missile attack with America's military might, but he cannot respond to a financial crisis with real money unless Congress acts. The Fed chairman can. Bernanke did. Under his leadership the Fed spearheaded the biggest government intervention in more than half a century and effectively became the fourth branch of government, with no direct accountability to the nation's voters.
Believing that the economic catastrophe of the 1930s was largely the fault of a sluggish and wrongheaded Federal Reserve, Bernanke was determined not to repeat that epic mistake. In this penetrating look inside the most powerful economic institution in the world, David Wessel illuminates its opaque and undemocratic inner workings, while revealing how the Bernanke Fed led the desperate effort to prevent the world's financial engine from grinding to a halt.
©2009 David Wessel (P)2009 Random House
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Critic Reviews

"David Wessel brings his deep knowledge of the Federal Reserve and U.S. politics and economics to a topic that will be studied by historians for decades to come....No one can understand what happened and what did not happen without reading this book." (Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and author of Globalization and its Discontents)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Daniel on 10-17-09

A must-read for Fed watchers

It is a well-researched book giving the Fed's side of the story of how the present financial crisis developed and was managed. A must-read for those interested in politics and policy of money, inflation, financial markets and financial stability, to be read together with Charles Morris' 'The two trillion dollar meltdown' (which gives a market side of the things). Taking of the Fed perspective to describe the crisis is in itself unique and certainly worth a praise - it rightly focuses on the central bank as a the main nerve in crisis management, while demystifying its workings and providing a lot of colorful inside detail. Yet a few criticisms can be made. First, the book tries to be three things at once: a primer on the Fed's history and functions, a journalistic recounting of how the Fed behaved in the crisis since August 2007 and a biographical background to a few key players - Ben Bernanke and his closest lieutenants. The way those three streams are mixed sometimes seems a bit too arbitrary - I imagine heavily indexing the print copy of the book to be able to fully recover the three intertwined stories. Also: having an European background I noticed the author is rather loose on covering the interaction between the European Central Bank and the Fed in the crisis - which should in fact be a fourth major story line. Clearly, the author simply avoided a topic on which he felt less strong to write but the effect is of major underestimation of the co-operation effort that the present financial crisis enforced between central bankers and governments across the globe.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Wayne on 09-15-09

Stops boldly at the surface

This book is rich in the history of events and background characters. Glad I read it but was left feeling that there should have been more depth and analysis into the meaning of it all and the implications for our economy. Certainly mentioned possible conflict in interests for some of the players but didn't deal with the implications of those conflicts. Didn't do much to explore the legitimacy of Shiela Bair's desire to preserve the integrity of the FDIC and seemed to give a heroic quality to the "whatever it takes" approach to rewriting the rule book on the fly. So what if the next Fed chairman is less agile or innovative? What about a government of laws?

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7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Rohan on 11-29-15

great read that throws another light on the gfc

Really interesting inside story about the response from the fed, and a look at the way regulation failed to keep up and greed played its part in creating the mess, thank goodness ben b was a student of the 1929 depression i reckon

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