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Owen Ullmann’s intimate portrait of the heart and mind of Janet Yellen is the riveting story of one of the most remarkable government careers in recent times. The ultimate glass-ceiling buster, Yellen is the first person to hold all three of America’s top economic policy positions. Currently Treasury Secretary (the first woman to hold the job), she has also been chair of the Federal Reserve and of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
Yellen’s sheer brilliance was certainly foundational, as has been her meticulous preparation for every job she has held in academia and government. What stands out, though, are the human qualities she has maintained in a Washington policy world where fierce intellectual combat casts others as either friend or enemy, never more so than in our current age of polarization. While her accomplishments are historic, humility and compassion are her trademarks, qualities instilled by her parents: a family doctor father who labored in working class Brooklyn, treating people whether they had the ability to pay or not, and a mother who preached the ethic of public service, perseverance and nothing less than perfection in every task.
As Ullmann vividly shows, empathy economics, the north star of Yellen’s work as researcher, analyst, and policymaker stems from her early family life. Yellen has pushed back against the cold, abstract quality of a male-dominated economics profession that all too often promotes policies that benefit the already well-to-do. She has strived to remake her profession as a tool for shaping compassionate programs that help people find remedies for financial plights that stem from a lack of economic opportunity because of poverty, unemployment or job discrimination.