A comprehensive and essentially critical audit of Paul Volcker's stewardship at the Federal Reserve, which also takes issue with the system's largely unrestricted ability to make economic policy. Readers who lack the time or inclination to plow through 800+ pages of populist prose probably will prefer the briefer, more evenhanded insights provided by William R. Neikirk's Volcker (p. 1050) and Donald F. Kettl's Leadership at the Fed (1986). Greider (who achieved a measure of notoriety for a two-part Atlantic Monthly article, ""The Education of David Stockman,"" while an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post) offers a wealth of background on the history and workings of America's central bank, plus a detailed log of Volcker's eight-year tenure as chairman of the Board of Governors. His main agenda, though, is challenging the FRB's immunity to political and other pressures. In recounting the institution's 1913 creation, for example, he asserts its independent status ""effectively defined the limits of American democracy."" By taming inflation, he subsequently concludes, the Volcker Fed gained de facto control of the US Government ""with influence. . .superior to that of Congress and of the President. . ."" The FRB's hegemony, Greider charges, is cause for concern. In particular, he points to the high social cost of braking the wage/price spiral--and the central bank's choice of winners as well as losers. Suppliers of financial services fared far too well under Volcker's aegis for Greider's taste, while farmers and industrial workers, among other injured parties, were forced to take the hindmost. He proposes a number of remedies, including consistently easier money and greater tolerance for inflation on the part of officialdom. Greider argues for an FRB that's less austerely autonomous and more humanely accommodating in forceful, informed fashion. His text may not win him converts, but it seems sure to command respect, even among those of opposing views.