Week ending October 11, 2013
Axilrod, Stephen H. The Federal Reserve: What Everyone Needs To Know. Oxford Univ. 2013. 192p. illus. index. ISBN 9780199934485. $74; ISBN 9780199934478. pap. $16.95. BUS
Axilrod (Federal Reserve staffer, 1952–86) takes on the task of explaining the system’s intricacies. After an introduction covering central banking basics, he uses a question-and answer format to describe the organization, powers, objectives, and methods of the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed). In the chapter covering instruments of monetary policy, he looks at how Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decisions adapt to market uncertainties, how open market operations avoid creating inflation, and whether monetary policy influences spending. Where there are gray areas, Axilrod offers his interpretations. His explanations often run several pages and, while not overly technical, do require readers to have some financial background. The problem comes in fulfilling the book’s conflicting goals of clarifying the Fed for a broad public audience while still being of interest to professionals. The level of detail here is more than general readers will want to wade through and too little for seasoned Fed watchers.
Verdict The book’s likely audience is among students of finance and economics. Readers wishing the ultimate insider’s take on the Federal Reserve’s reaction to the 2007 financial crisis would find Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke’s 2013 The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis a lucid and accessible account. [On October 9, Janet Yellen was nominated by President Obama to be the Fed’s new chief; if confirmed, she would be the first woman in the bank’s 100-year-history to hold that position.—Ed.]—Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA
Barnes, Julian. Levels of Life. Knopf. 2013. 144p. ISBN 9780385350778. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350785. LIT
British novelist, essayist, and Man Booker Prize–winning author Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) stitches together three very different essays into a meditation on love, death, grief, and survival. The first piece is a collage about ballooning and photography and establishes the metaphorical motifs that will frame the work as a whole. Indeed, ballooning aptly describes this book’s arrangement: Barnes opens with an objective, bird’s-eye account of three famous aeronauts and then begins his descent, first toward the ground and then, finally, into his interior thoughts. By the end, his narrative closes completely the psychic distance between the reader and himself. Barnes’s wife, Pat Kavanagh, to whom he had been married for 30 years, died suddenly of cancer in 2008. He describes his grief as aimless, disorienting, and unending—as if being carried by the wind, in a balloon. Truly dedicated “To Pat,” these essays recall Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which is also about the bereavement for a spouse. Yet Barnes offers a work that is more universal, illustrating how desire expands and elevates the human condition and yet, paradoxically and necessarily, also promises suffering.
Verdict This book will resonate most with those who have suffered the death of a loved one, but readers who have deeply loved—and therefore deeply grieved—will also understand and appreciate it.—Meagan Lacy, Indiana Univ.–Purdue Univ. Indianapolis Libs.
The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground. Library of America. Oct. 2013. 484p. ed. by Glenn O’Brien. illus. index. ISBN 9781598532562. $27.95. LIT
In his percussive introduction, editor O’Brien (“The Style Guy” column, GQ) writes “cool…can be sold but not bought.” This collection proves his point. Apparently, O’Brien has been persuaded that hipsters have sold out, and the current crop lack the same substance and stature of past generations. Collected within are excerpts of fiction, criticism, theory, biography, poetry, and performance mostly from mid-20th-century writers, artists, and musicians. Illuminated by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, readers bounce with Miles Davis and Mezz Mezzrow over to Henry Miller and Frank O’Hara, linger with Lenny Bruce and Diane DiPrima by way of artist Andy Warhol and Gerard Malanga, then over to Lester Bangs and Richard Hell, before heading for the door with Cookie Mueller and George Carlin, with plenty of lesser-known artists along the way. It’s truly a wealth of fascinating, diverting reads, but O’Brien’s selections do inadvertently raise the question: Where do we find the hip writers who aren’t overwhelmingly white, male, and American? Volume 2?
Verdict O’Brien offers an entertaining and enlightening anthology, whose shortcomings may be excused owing to the nebulousness and irony of its guiding conceit: hip. Recommended to cultural historians with literary tastes and especially to fans of the early jazz, Beat generation, hippie, and punk eras. Also for wannabe hipsters and those looking to brush up on their artistic roots.—Chris Wieman, Univ. of the Sciences Libs., Philadelphia