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Sex, drugs and and...central banking?

ben bernanke afp.jpg
A rockstar in some circles.

I'm currently reading two biographies which, at first glance, couldn't be more different. Yet there are striking similarities in both tales - the main players working round the clock under tremendous stress, tension and uncertainty, hoping to achieve goals which would stand the test of time. Lots of different personalities involved, many of whom are celebrities so the anecdotes are often interesting and offer fascinating insights into what went on behind the scenes.

The first book is by former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, called "The Courage to Act'' which is a memoir of the 2007-2008 US sub-prime crisis that threatened to plunge the US into a second Great Depression and destabilise the global financial system. It's a story of a Jewish boy whose parents escaped the Holocaust to flee to America, and who grew up to be the most powerful central banker in the world. In a nutshell, the title refers to the Fed with him at the helm having the guts to pull out all stops to save the US economy and possibly the rest of the world's economies when it expanded its balance sheet to more than US$3 trillion. Simple money printing it may have been, but it needed a steady hand at the top to instil confidence; most important of all, it worked. 

The second is "Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles 1974-2001'' by Don Felder, who played lead guitar for the Eagles rock band and who wrote the immortal "Hotel California''. A story of a boy growing up in poverty in Gainesville, Florida who grew up to become a multi-millionaire rock star, with all the trappings - plenty of drugs, women and money. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s like me and are familiar with names like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, Poco and Linda Ronstadt, this book is essential reading. 

Bernanke's book I have to say, is intellectually interesting but is ultimately for me a heavy (possibly even boring) read. Yes you glean some insight into the workings of the Fed and Bernanke's relationships with other key players like Alan Greenspan, President Bush, Lawrence Summers, Tim Geithner and Hank Paulson, and yes these would be interesting to those of us who can still recall the mayhem caused by the bankruptices of Lehman and Bear Sterns, but like Greenspan's book a few years ago, it's all eventually forgettable. Many people might even say the crisis really hasn't ended, while some might question why Bernanke chose not to offer himself for reappointment after only 8 years when Fed personnel are allowed 14.

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Maybe it's me and my love of music but Felder's book is so much more absorbing. A huge slice of luck enabled him to join the band - he was playing guitar for Graham Nash at the time and struggling to support a young wife - and he ended up writing one of the world's best-known rock anthems in one of the world's biggest music acts. There's plenty here about the relationships between band leaders Glenn Frey and Don Henley and how they took no prisoners when it came to creative output, sacking members who disagreed with them. The carnage that Joe Walsh would wreak in hotel rooms (trying to outdo Led Zeppelin), the connection the band had with Ronald Reagan (his daughter dated guitarist Bernie Leadon), Woodstock, the friendships with other famous musicians - all this makes for a wonderful read. Bernanke may have wielded tremendous power but I know which life I would have rather led.