Limitless: The Federal Reserve Takes on a New Age of Crisis (Hardcover)
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AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • This fascinating deep dive into one of the most powerful and least understood American institutions—the Federal Reserve—is “a riveting narrative...[and] an invaluable guide to the monetary policy debates of the last few years" (Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance).
“The best book on the Fed in our time and a model of financial writing.” –Kirkus
The marble halls of the Federal Reserve have always held secrets; for decades the Fed did the utmost to preserve its room to maneuver, operating behind the scenes as much as possible. Yet over the past two decades, this elite world of bankers and economists speaking a language that only monetary experts could understand has been forced to change its ways. Amid rising inequality, weakening global economic prospects, and a pandemic, the central bank has entered into a new era of transparency and activism that has changed its role in modern society in subtle but remarkable ways.
Limitless tells the inside story of this deeply impactful transformation, and what it means for ordinary Americans. Focusing on characters such as the Fed chairman Jerome Powell; the Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles; Vice Chair Lael Brainard; the Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari; and the long-ago Fed Chair Marriner S. Eccles—and driven by the rising tension between Main Street and Wall Street—this is a page-turning account of the modern Fed’s inner workings during a crucial inflection point in history.
About the Author
JEANNA SMIALEK has been the Federal Reserve reporter at The New York Times since April 2019. She has covered economic policy since 2013, including growth data, the Treasury Department, and the European Central Bank. She has written for Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek, is a regular contributor for MarketPlace radio, Wharton Business Daily, and occasionally contributes to CNN, BBC Radio, C-SPAN, and CBSN. A Pittsburgh native, Smialek splits her time between Washington, D.C., and New York City.
"In the thick of the inflation battle, it is tempting to emphasise the Fed’s missteps. Limitless is a useful corrective. [Smialek] provides a bracing account of just how badly things could have turned out when covid shutdowns led millions to lose their jobs overnight—and pushed the financial system to the brink of collapse....An intellectual shift had persuaded officials that they could let the labour market run hotter than once believed without triggering an inflationary spiral....Smialek paints nicely textured portraits of the main participants in these debates."
“In Limitless, Jeanna Smialek has crafted a riveting narrative of some of the most astounding few years in the history of the Federal Reserve, a period like no other, during which the economy went from boom to bust and back again, in which the Federal Reserve found itself swinging from one goal to another—first employment, then preventing a collapse of the financial system, and finally to curbing inflation—all the while being battered by criticisms from all sides. As well as being a fascinating read, the book is an invaluable guide to the monetary policy debates of the last few years.”
—Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance
"In this engaging and highly-readable-book, Jeanna Smialek provides penetrating insights on a matter that affects us all: the Federal Reserve’s evolution in the face of a fluid global economy, fragile finance, and a changing America. Through the eyes of Marriner Eccles, a giant in Fed history, Smialek reminds us that central banking rests on a delicate mix of historical foundation and continuous experimentation. This book is about much more than the Fed’s tricky trade-offs between Main Street and Wall Street, accountability and independence. It is a must-read book for all those wishing to understand how an often-mysterious institution has ended up having such a disproportionate impact on so many economic, financial, political and social matters.
—Mohamed A. El-Erian, President of Queens’ College, Cambridge University and best-selling author of The Only Game in Town
“Jeanna Smialek’s book is an exciting read for anyone who wants to learn more about how the Fed kept the financial system from seizing up during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The book highlights the enormous power of the Fed to promote the flow of credit in troubled times—but is also a warning about the risks of this power in an era when political leaders are increasingly tempted to apply pressure to central banks’ policy choices.”
—Karen Dynan, professor at Harvard University and former Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the U.S. Department of the Treasury
“Limitless provides an indispensable, insightful, and compulsively readable guide to the Federal Reserve and its dramatic transformation in recent years. Smialek draws on the skills she has honed as one of the most observant daily watchers of the Fed, to tell a riveting story that illuminates the large forces shaping the biggest issues of work and inflation, in part by telling the stories of the women and men who kept pushing the limits of what economic policy could accomplish. I learned a lot from this book, and you will, too.”
—Jason Furman, professor at Harvard University and former deputy director of the U.S. National Economic Council
"A wide-ranging study of the Federal Reserve and its almost unrestricted power over the U.S. economy...Smialek’s detailed, cogent account...illustrates how the bankers and economists who run the Fed are quick to abandon ideology and theory for practical solutions to the problems they face...Accessible prose...The best book on the Fed in our time and a model of financial writing."
—Kirkus, starred review
"Smialek dramatically describes the pandemic’s financial chaos...and provides lucid sketches of Fed history, analyses of financial markets, and explorations of the impact of Fed policy on everything from wealth inequality to climate change. The result is a timely and insightful primer on one of America’s most powerful and least understood institutions."