Alan Greenspan, the revered former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has leapfrogged Pope John Paul II into the league table of literary advances, netting an estimated upfront payment of about $8.5m (£5m) for his memoirs.
Penguin beat off bids from HarperCollins and Random House to win rights to Mr Greenspan's as-yet-unwritten opus. The deal concludes the publishing world's hottest bidding war since Bill Clinton penned My Life after leaving office.
Penguin is owned by Pearson, the UK media conglomerate which also owns the Financial Times. It will release the book next year and will be able to recoup some of its investment from selling overseas rights to other publishers.
Mr Greenspan retired in January after 18 years in charge of US interest rate policy, achieving a legendary status that, Penguin believes, will ensure strong demand for the book.
Ann Godoff, the president of Penguin, said: "It is a singular honour for Penguin to publish Alan Greenspan, who has spent his extraordinary career reckoning with how the world really works. His book will be about what we can know, what we can't know and what we should do about it."
There are plenty of sceptics who worry that Mr Greenspan's book might prove as difficult to penetrate as his famously gnomic speeches on economic issues. Excerpts from the outline submitted to publishers have left industry observers confused on whether or not he is proposing to dish any dirt on the four presidents under whom he has served. "I do not intend to dwell on personality aberrations, except as they affect policy decision-making - which, of course, always involves personalities," his outline says.
An advance in the rumoured range of $8m-$9m propels Mr Greenspan ahead of the Pope John Paul II and Hillary Clinton to number two in the league table of advances for a work of non-fiction. Mr Greenspan's outline was hawked around publishers by Bob Barnett, the Washington lawyer and literary agent who won Bill Clinton a record $12m for his life story. It promises a discussion of the growth of China, a policy prescription for avoiding an energy crisis, and a prediction that a centrist presidential candidate will emerge to challenge the two major parties.Reuse content