‘The Alchemists’ Table of Contents and Chapter Summaries

March 30, 2013 1 Comment by Neil

Wondering what you’ll get if you order Neil Irwin’s new book about central banking and the global crisis, The Alchemists? Here’s the table of contents, along with  a brief description of what each chapter is about. Pre-order now to get your book on its release date, Thursday April 4.


Introduction: Opening the Spigot

On August 9, 2007, the megacrisis begins. Here’s what Jean-Claude Trichet, Ben Bernanke, and Mervyn King did that day.

Part I:
Rise of the Alchemists, 1656–2006 

Chapter 1: Johan Palmstruch and the Birth of Central Banking

The curious story of the world’s first central banker, the man who introduced paper money to Europe. It does not end well for him.


Chapter 2: Lombard Street, Rule Britannia, and Bagehot’s Dictum

How the Bank of England was a crucial part of Britain’s 19th century global dominance.


Chapter 3: The First Name Club

In the United States, battles over whether to have a central bank were as old as the republic. Here’s how the Federal Reserve System finally came to be.


Chapter 4: Madness, Nightmare, Desperation, Chaos: When Central Banking Goes Wrong, in Two Acts

From the early 1920s Weimar hyperinflation to the devastation of the Great Depression, no period shows the stakes for getting central banking right than the interwar period.


Chapter 5: The Anguish of Arthur Burns

The inflation of the 1970s taught some crucial lessons about the importance of credibility for a central bank—and of avoiding becoming enmeshed in politics. 


Chapter 6: Spinning the Roulette Wheel in Maastricht

The nations of Western Europe make a fateful decision to unite under a single currency, and a single central bank.


Chapter 7: Masaru Hayami, Tomato Ketchup, and the Agony of ZIRP

Japan falls into a trap of recession and deflation, and American academics like Ben Bernanke think they have the solution.


Chapter 8: The Jackson Hole Consensus and the Great Moderation

The central bankers seem to have achieved a great triumph, having mastered the forces that have haunted economies for centuries. But what risks lurk beneath the seeming prosperity?


Part II:
Panic, 2007–2008


Chapter 9: The Committee of Three

As the crisis begins, we meet the three men who would guide the leading Western central banks through it: Ben Bernanke, Jean-Claude Trichet, and Mervyn King.


Chapter 10: Over by Christmas

What had first seemed a troubling but containable panic begins to spiral out of control.


Chapter 11: A Wall of Money

After Lehman Brothers fails, the global central bankers come together, deploying trillions of dollars, euros, and pounds to contain the spiraling panic. Ben Bernanke becomes lender of last resort to the world.


Part III:
Aftermath, 2009–2010


Chapter 12: The Battle for the Fed

The Fed’s interventionism during the crisis attracts the ire of an angry public—and of lawmakers in Congress, who want to strip the Fed of its powers and independence. How the Fed fought back.


Chapter 13: The New Greek Odyssey

Markets start to turn on Greece and then other nations on the periphery of Europe. Trichet and the ECB cross a Rubicon to try to keep the Eurozone together. Read an excerpt of this chapter here.


Chapter 14: The King’s Speech

Mervyn King gets entangled in British politics as he pushes its government to embrace austerity.


Chapter 15: The Perilous Maiden Voyage of the QE2

How Bernanke engineered a $600 billion program of unconventional easing—and dealt with the surprising blowback.


Part IV:
The Second Wave, 2011–2012


Chapter 16: The Chopper, the Troika, and the Deauville Debacle

Europe’s crisis returns with a walk on the beach in Deauville, as Ireland and Portugal fall under the grip of the troika and austerity starts to bite.


Chapter 17: The President of Europe

As Europe’s crisis reaches a crescendo, Trichet and the troika exert remarkable power over the decisions of the continent’s democracies—but nothing seems enough to combat a market that has lost faith in European unity.


Chapter 18: Escape Velocity

Bernanke and King find their economies caught in the undertow of Europe’s troubles—and few good options to offset it, turning instead to more of the same in monetary half-measures.


Chapter 19: Super Mario World

Mario Draghi takes over the presidency of the ECB and finds success in reining in Europe’s panic that Trichet had not.


Chapter 20: Governor Zhou’s Chinese Medicine

How the People’s Bank of China and its leader, Zhou Xiaochuan, have tried to create a modern financial system in a country finding its way on the world stage


Afterword: Back to Jackson
Draghi pledges to do “whatever it takes,” Bernanke launches QE-Infinity, and King argues that what the British economy needs is time to heal, as our story ends.


Also included: 16 pages of photographs and a timeline of central banking from 1656 to 2012.

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