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Publisher's Summary

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

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  • 4.6 out of 5.0
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  • Overall

Past is prologue

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.

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

An excellent book, but with a missing chapter

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.

21 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 03-31-11

Thoroughly enjoyable!

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Excellent read

If you want to find out what really happened with Enron this gives you more detail than the movie could ever give you

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Excruciating detail

If you want every detail, this is a good listen, but hard to get through.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great Read (Listen)

This book is long...but worth it. The storytelling is excellent, and the amount of research and care that went into structuring it in a way to build chapter after chapter really pays off. I enjoyed this book immensely.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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repatative, boring and exhaustive

It was a long and ardeous path to finishing this book. Too many people to remember and too much information that might interest those obsessed with Enron, but alienates the casual reader (listener). I will give it four stars for the authors effort and the lessons I learned about mark to market accounting. It was still a valuable read, despite how dry it is. Buy it learn, not to be entertained.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent subject, excellent story

Would you consider the audio edition of The Smartest Guys in the Room to be better than the print version?

I think this was about the same as the print version. But that's a compliment—I always prefer print to audiobook. The narrator was stellar.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Jeff Skilling, of course—the villain you love to hate. His arrogance, his failure to recognize problems, and his head-in-the-sand approach to business troubles are amazing.

What about Dennis Boutsikaris’s performance did you like?

Loved it. I generally hate listening to narrators do "voices," which is why I never listen to novels in audio form, but this narrator had a real flair for imbuing dialogue with realistic intonation.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

All of them. I couldn't "put it down," metaphorically speaking.

Any additional comments?

Highly recommend for everyone and anyone. No business experience required, although the accounting tricks detailed make more sense if you have a background in accounting.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • clemens
  • Roskilde, CA, United States
  • 08-14-13

Excellent.

Would you consider the audio edition of The Smartest Guys in the Room to be better than the print version?

Haven't read the printed edition, but the narrator does a great job.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The characters and the way Enron was portrayed as the epitome of corporate America in the bull market.

What about Dennis Boutsikaris’s performance did you like?

Yes. Amazing.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

Enrons trading culture.

Any additional comments?

Must buy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Capri
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 05-13-13

A View from the Top

What did you love best about The Smartest Guys in the Room?

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.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful