PRINCES OF YEN: Central Bankers and the Transformation of the Economy, by Richard A. Werner. London: M.E. Sharpe, 2003, 362 pp., $27.95, (paper).

Richard A. Werner has written a rare book. "The Princes of the Yen" is a scholarly, thoroughly researched treatise on economics that reads like a detective novel. The 248 pages of text are such a fast read that one might think the book a work of fiction if it weren't for the logic of Werner's arguments -- as well as the 48 pages of footnotes, 19 pages of bibliography and 30-page technical appendix that provide the evidence to support those arguments.

The book is about the autocrats who run the Bank of Japan, how they operate and what they have been trying to achieve. In the process, many puzzles about Japan's economy are solved. These "princes" are neither elected by Japanese citizens nor held accountable to their elected officials. Presiding princes choose their successors who, in turn, seem to be accountable only to their benefactors.

Werner, a German economist who has studied and worked in Tokyo, names them, reveals their suspiciously close relations with the United States, describes the tool they use to control Japan's economy, and tells how they have used that tool to grow the economy when they sought growth and to cripple the economy when that served their own aims.