O.K., so he's not a spellbinding speaker. Nevertheless, on June 1, Alan Greenspan drew 1,000-plus attentive publishing-industry folks to a presentation on his forthcoming book, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, which will be published Sept. 17 by Penguin Group (PSO). Greenspan was the keynote speaker at BookExpo America, the book-publishing industry's annual trade show, which this year is being held at New York's Jacob Javits Convention Center.
The setup for the event seemed to acknowledge the former Fed chairman's penchant for dryness. Sharing the stage with Greenspan was an interlocutor—his wife and NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell. The occasion was marked by regular spousal banter, and the duo teased the crowd with revelations from the book, which Greenspan insisted would have "lots of surprises." Some of the revelations:
• Reflecting on his frequent bouts of Congressional testimony, Greenspan admitted to intentional obfuscation. "It was important not to answer certain questions," he said, because the "markets are watching" and might misinterpret or overreact to a Fed chairman's comments.
• Greenspan foresees a Europe that will begin to move forward "in a way that it hasn't" under the leadership of newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain's Gordon Brown, and Germany's Angela Merkel. Greenspan said that he had gotten to know Sarkozy, who served as France's finance minister, quite well in 2004 and that the two had "bonded."
• The author discussed his impressions of the various U.S. Presidents under whom he served. Richard Nixon, he said, suffered from "a split personality" that Greenspan found unsettling. Gerald Ford was, he said, "a marvelous man" who didn't really have the drive to be President. Ronald Reagan, he said, was "not a dunce" as many have suggested, but that he simply "did not get into complexities." And Greenspan told of a meeting with Bill Clinton that he found "absolutely fascinating," as they discussed a wide range of policy matters.
• The key lesson of 9/11, said Greenspan, is that the U.S. economy is far more flexible and resilient that he'd ever imagined. Immediately after the terrorist attacks, he recalled, the economy plummeted, but it quickly stabilized.
• Under goading from Mitchell, Greenspan admitted to writing much of his book in longhand while sitting in the bathtub. "O.K., I'm another Archimedes," he said.
Part Memoir, Part Economic Analysis
The presentation was intended to pique booksellers' interest in Greenspan's volume, which is embargoed and won't be available until September.
Greenspan and Mitchell were introduced by Penguin Group President Susan Petersen Kennedy, who declared the former Fed chief to be "the man," adding that "people from 18 to 85 are waiting for him to deliver" his book. The Pearson unit reportedly paid Greenspan an advance of $8.5 million, the second-highest advance for a nonfiction book, just behind former President Bill Clinton's $10 million advance for his 2004 memoir. Penguin's fall catalog says the book is 640 pages long and describes it as a combination memoir and assessment of the global economy.
On June 1, Greenspan was intentionally mysterious about his book's final chapter, "The Delphic Future," which treats the future of the global economy. But he also indicated that the volume's pages contain lots of rethinking about past events. "Trying to go back and figure out why things happened gave me new understanding," he said.