The definitive volume on Enron's amazing rise and scandalous fall, from an award-winning team of Fortune investigative reporters.
©2003 Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind (P)2010 Penguin Audio
The events in this book happened over a decade ago, which would seem to put them firmly in ancient times, but the human failures that caused the problems at Enron, and the regulatory indifference that allowed those problems to turn into a catastrophe, are more than relevant today. McLean does a fantastic job of explaining the nuanced accounting tricks that suborned Enron while keeping the focus on the flawed characters who used them. The best reason to get this book, though, is to hear perhaps the most perfect marriage of reader to text that exists at Audible. Boutsikaris' sly mix of snideness and posed incredulity completely captures the essential nature of this book. Amazing work.
While the Enron story was passing from business legend to business nightmare at 1400 Smith Street in Houston, I worked in an office at 1200 Smith. I always wondered what had actually happened. Now I know. McLean does a wonderful job setting out the history. She also does an exemplary job explaining Enron's rise and its culture. This is more than worth the price of the book. Even better, Boutsikaris' narration is possibly the best of any Audible I've listened to in quite a while -- possibly ever.
Here's my gripe: McLean starts by giving a reasonable, thoughtful, and completely convincing account of the factors that gradually pushed Enron onto a slippery slope. Her description of the pressures and temptations in the Houston energy community in the 1980's and most of the 1990's certainly hit the nail on the head from my perspective. But the narrative from 1998 onwards is tightly focused on upper Enron management, and it takes on an increasingly simplistic, moralizing tone as the story nears its end. In a strange way, McLean falls into the same trap as Ken Lay, progressively disengaging her analytical objectivity for the sake of telling a good story and, yes, making the extra buck.
In the end, the author gives up. There's no analytical conclusion -- no real take-home lesson. McLean even expressly disavows any conclusion about where and when Enron top management crossed the line from aggressive business to fraud. She often repeats a mantra about the evils of following the letter of the law while ignoring its purpose. Here, it's obvious she has never actually had the responsibility of running or growing a business. One has to do both, and Enron plainly refused to do either; but that isn't the right question. The real issue is why it didn't.
McLean makes much of Enron's corporate culture, and perhaps that's the core issue. Here, Bethany McLean has a great deal of experience and comparative knowledge. But there's no end chapter dealing with the take-home lessons. Lord knows, after dealing with facts so well, she must have some serious insights on the subject. Business people, regulators, and investors need to know -- perhaps more now than in 2002. To return to the personal, I'm currently general counsel of a Houston company; and I desperately want to make sure this doesn't happen to us.
So, this is a book I have to recommend. It is excellent. It will give me a lot to think about. I just wish that this one last chapter had been written.
This is book is very well written and more importantly, it is very well narrated (I’d put they enjoyment of Denis Boutsikaris’ voice right up there with the likes of Malcolm Gladwell’s).
The author’s research on this subject and second-to-none and her analysis unfold systematically, introducing the characters, one by one, and tying together fascinating stories along the way. Like any great book, I had a difficult time ‘turning it off’. I highly recommend it.
Very little opinion, just the facts. Very long book
Jeff Skilling, a crook for the ages and un-repentant untill the end.
Nothing, the story was about ENRON, not the writer
I thoroughly enjoyed, "The Smartest Guys in the Room". The book was detailed and meticulously narrated. For those who want more than a Wikipedia-like primer on Enron, this is the book you've waited for.
This is a book you need to listen to in parts. There's no way you could listen (retain and understand) all the shenanigans the senior executives engaged in at Enron. I found myself listening and rewinding chapters, so that no detail escaped. Whether I listened once, twice or three times, I was completely hooked.
A great read! If you're looking for a read detailing the experiences of the traders or mid-level management - you won't find it here. I would have also liked a detailing of the incredible and indulgent overspending by Enron executives - you do get an idea of the excess.It's so amazing what can happen when a few turn the other way or actively collaborate to obfuscate the truth in an effort to achieve wealth. It's even more interesting to read this knowing what was coming down the financial pike some 6 to 7 years later. Enron is an eerie reminder of what greed unchecked can sew.
There were times listening to this book, I would literally be screaming at the radio, "How much is enough? How much is enough you greedy [insert expletive here]" It is well written and methodical detailing the rise and fall of one of the most infamous corporations in American history
What I found most facinating about this book was the cult of personality present at Enron during it's hay day. It's a cast of characters that are highly unlikable and, at the same time, intruging. From Andy Fastow's fixation on Star Wars, Jeff Skillings strange management philosophies, Lou Pai's love for the Houston-area strip clubs; the author does a fantastic job trying to get into the minds and motivations of the people responsible for one of the biggest criminal enterprises in history.
Where the author often lost me was when he was trying to detail the finer points of how exactly Enron managed to cover it's financial tracks. To be fair, it's so amazingly complicated that even the author admits that he's not even sure exactly how some of this economic voodoo was pulled off. Still the explainations just become a jumble of acronyms and numbers that are very hard to actually follow.
Even so, remarkable book. It's a large time commitment, but it's worth every minute.
Say something about yourself!
This is a great story of a great swindle. Investors should understand this kind of work before they jump on the new hot company stock.
Report Inappropriate Content