Greenspan's Well-Timed Tome

The recent roiling of the financial markets should only serve to ignite sales of the former Fed chief's memoir, The Age of Turbulence

The ill winds blowing out of Wall Street could have one well-known beneficiary: Alan Greenspan. The credit crunch of the last few weeks has put the former Fed chairman back in the news. Some pundits have suggested that Greenspan would have responded more energetically than Ben Bernanke has, while others have charged that Greenspan bears much of the blame for the market troubles because of the cheap-money policies implemented during his tenure. Just in time to take advantage of this buzz comes Greenspan's book, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, which hits the stores on Sept. 17.

Greenspan's publisher, Penguin Group (USA), is preparing a windstorm of its own to promote the memoir, for which it reportedly paid an advance of $8.5 million. The book is embargoed until its publication date—meaning that few in the press or elsewhere are privy to its contents—helping to build its mystique. The Pearson (PSO) unit is initially printing 1 million copies, making possible the giant stacks of books that will greet book buyers as they enter superstores. There will be multiple television appearances by the sage: Greenspan is expected to appear on CBS's (CBS) 60 Minutes on Sept. 16 and on NBC's Today on Sept. 17. And, of course, there will be lots of national print advertising.

Pulling Out the Publicity Stops

Retailers are already salivating. "It's a very important book for us, probably my biggest book of the season," says Barnes & Noble's (BKS) head business book buyer, David Hathaway. Greenspan will be speaking at Barnes & Noble's Union Square store in New York on the publication date and will sign books at the Wall Street branch of Borders Books & Music (BGP) on the following day. That same evening, he's speaking at New York's 92nd Street Y. And on Sept. 19, at an event co-sponsored by Washington, D.C., bookstore Politics & Prose and a venture capitalist organization, the Mid-Atlantic Venture Assn., he'll appear before a gathering at George Washington University's 1,400-seat Lisner Auditorium.

"We expect very good sales, even though Greenspan, who served under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, was never a lightning rod like some other political figures," reflects Barbara Meade, an owner of Politics & Prose.

Even if Greenspan hasn't been the object of partisan squabbling, his past actions have come under criticism recently. Some say the era of easy money for which investors are now paying began with the ex-Chairman's choice to cut the federal funds rate three times in 1998, in response to the near-implosion of hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. Between 2001 and 2003, he cut interest rates 13 times, to a multidecade low, swelling the real estate bubble, critics say. On top of that, in 2004 Greenspan spoke in favor of subprime adjustable-rate mortgages that let people with limited credit buy real estate for very little down. In time, Wall Street bundled such mortgages together and sold them as high-yielding bonds—and in time those mortgage securities tanked.

Controversy Can't Hurt Book Sales

Still, publicity in this industry is good even if it's bad. The books business feeds even on compromised authors, from ex-CIA director George Tenet to memoirist James Frey. Notes B&N's Hathaway: "The whole situation right now is going to fuel the sales. Greenspan's much in the media, with controversy ranging from his past statements about the housing market to his being blamed for the situation."

Will businesspeople buy the book? Greenspan's publisher is making a concerted effort to de-wonkify the former Fed chief, trying to have him seem more human than the bespectacled master of obfuscation whose congressional testimony often left listeners scratching their heads. For example, at BookExpo America, the book-industry trade fair held in June, Greenspan was interviewed by his wife, NBC News (GE) correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who teased the ex-Chairman about his driving and revealed that he wrote much of his book in the bathtub.

The warm-and-fuzzy approach could turn off some time-pressed business readers who are interested only in Greenspan the sage, not the spouse. But Todd Sattersten, vice-president of business-book retailer 800-CEO-READ, believes executives will buy the book. "I can't see how this book won't do well." He explains: "Penguin is saying that there will be a lot on what the world will be like 20 years from now. Especially if Greenspan delivers in that section, every CEO on the planet will want to read it."