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The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron [Paperback]

Peter Elkind , Bethany McLean
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Sep 2004

What went wrong with American business at the end of the 20th century?

Until the spring of 2001, Enron epitomized the triumph of the New Economy. Feared by rivals, worshipped by investors, Enron seemingly could do no wrong. Its profits rose every year; its stock price surged ever upward; its leaders were hailed as visionaries.

Then a young Fortune writer, Bethany McLean, wrote an article posing a simple question - how, exactly, does Enron make its money?

Within a year Enron was facing humiliation and bankruptcy, the largest in US history, which caused Americans to lose faith in a system that rewarded top insiders with millions of dollars, while small investors lost everything. It was revealed that Enron was a company whose business was an illusion, an illusion that Wall Street was willing to accept even though they knew what the real truth was. This book - fully updated for the paperback - tells the extraordinary story of Enron's fall.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (30 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141011459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141011455
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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...the most comprehensive picture yet of how the company went off the rails. The sheer accumulation of detail makes it possible for the first time to understand how Enron got away with its blend of hubris and incompetence for so long. . . This is more than a business story. It is also about what can happen to any institution when weak and complacent leadership allows itself to be swept along by strong vested interests and the mood of the times. (Richartd Lambert, ex editor of Financial Times and member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee)

About the Author

Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind are Fortune senior writers. McLean's March 2001 article in Fortune, "Is Enron Overpriced?," was the first in a national publication to openly question the company's dealings. Elkind, an award-winning investigative reporter, has written for The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post.

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First Sentence
It is no accident that Ken Lay's career in the energy business began-and, most likely, ended-in the city of Houston, Texas. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
By Dr. V. Stewart VINE VOICE
When I took delivery of this book I'd already read - and given good reviews to - two other books on Enron. So why a third? To semi-quote Josh Lyman, 'That's not being a fan, that's having a fetish.' So I settled to read this one out of a sense of 'you bought it, you read it.' And, whaddaya know, I couldn't put the darned thing down. Being two books ahead of the curve, I knew the story, knew the players - and yet this account had me glued. Why? well, as they say if you watch the video by the same name (also highly recommended) it's essentially a human tragedy, and the authors here manage to handle a huge cast of tragic characters (that's not meant to invite pity, folks) with extraordinary skill. The inevitable teach-ins about how the various scams were run are managed effortlessly. The style is immaculate. There's a sense of fairness running through it, which makes their moral outrage - when delivered - all the more compelling. The US of A had, for the past couple of generations, produced historians who write like angels; this two stand firmly in that tradition.
So, for once, believe the blurb on the jacket; if you have only one book to read, not just about Enron but about the hubris of the past decade, make it this one.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barbarians in the Accounting Department 3 Mar 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great book about a truly remarkable part of our economic history. I have a minor physical complaint I might as well get off my chest: In their desire to make sure readers get bang for buck (fear not: you do), the publishers have elected to set this book in miniscule type, meaning firstly that you may need reading glasses if not before then after reading it, and secondly that while this looks like a 400 page book, if it were ordinarily typeset it would have the heft of an MM Kaye novel.

On the other hand, if over-length in a business book is the sort of thing that dissuades you, don't let it: this is one of the most riveting books on the history of finance you'll read, and it gets more and more addictive the further you go on.

As a number of reviewers have noted, it is simply staggering that Enron can have ever got where it got to at all, let alone stayed there for the best part of a decade, with all the ostenisble checks and balances that sophisticated capital markets provide. Staggering. In checks and balances I don't mean regulators, who will always be the last ones to find out where market-based moral turpitude is concerned, but investors, stock analysts, brokers, lenders, rating agencies and fund managers: people who don't just earn huge remuneration, but stake their reputations on being sceptical in the face of unconvincing bluster.

But as McLean and Elkind make clear in chapter after chapter, barely disguised and unconvinving bluster was, in large part, all Enron was. For all the "black box" accounting, it is simply inconceivable that Enron's true internal wiring could be kept anything like properly secret, since far too many people had to know about it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of corporate hubris on a grand scale 22 Aug 2005
By A Customer
Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind are two financial journalists, who have decided to tell the lengthy and convoluted story of the fallen energy company Enron. The company was begun as a natural gas trading concern in 1985 - within 15 years it was America's seventh biggest company. The authors have used meticulous research, married with smart prose to illustrate a compelling story of human greed. The story is refracted through the individual experiences of a handful of executives; the patrician CEO Kenneth Lay, arrogant ideas man Jeff Skilling, and the corrupt and contemptible CFO Andrew Fastow. This is a brisk, and intelligent book, which is easy to read and explains complex ideas with clarity. It is the best written on the subject, and may be the best factual book on business of the last 20 years.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a fantastic book! 5 Feb 2004
This book was recommended to me by a colleague. In brief summary, this book is very good indeed. Chapter by chapter the authors introduce the people responsible for Enron's incredible rise and sadly its ultimate demise. If you want to know how Enron was created and why it ultimately failed this is the book for you. It is easy to criticise Enron with the use of hindsight having seen the news reports over the last two years or so. What scared me is that a large number of people knew (inside and outside Enron) that the house of cards would collapse at some point, but they were making so much money out of Enron that they dared not destroy a lucrative source of income. The smartest guys left the room before the bubble burst. This book leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of telling the Enron story. A must have for anyone serious about learning how not to run a company!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jaw-dropping 10 July 2006
Not having read any other books about Enron, I came to this one not knowing what it was they were supposed to have done and ignorant of how it had all worked out. The book was published in 2003, so it doesn't cover the recent death of Enron founder Kenneth Lay, or the court verdict on former COO Jeff Skilling (guilty of 19 out of 28 charges). But it does do a fantastic job of explaining how a bunch of arrogant MBAs made a global phenomenon out of a company that didn't earn much cash and wasn't very good at providing the service its customers paid for. The title is bitterly ironic: Enron prided itself on its cleverness, but if stupidity has something to do with consciously walking towards self-destruction when you should absolutely know better, then the architects of Enron were phenomenally stupid.

I came to this book knowing little about corporate finance, and the authors are expert at doling out just enough information so that you can follow the insanely complicated financial transactions that made Enron appear to be far more substantial an entity than it really was. The characters are a fascinating rogues' gallery of people I wouldn't trust to sell fried dough out of a handcart on Boston Common: Skilling, arrogant, aggressive and downright unpleasant; Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow, blithely skimming off millions from the deals he oversaw that enabled Enron to borrow money from itself and chalk it up as earnings; Kenneth Lay, endlessly complacent and blissfully untroubled by the fact that his company was built on illusions practically from the start. My favourite moment of high comedy is when, just as the company is beginning to crumble, Lay gives a speech to Enron employees, reassuring them that they'll ride out the current crisis.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic page-turner, bit long but covers some of the most...
This is a fantastic page-turner of a book. Fairly long at about 420 pages (with ridiculously miniscule writing, it would be about 1000 pages otherwise! Read more
Published 2 months ago by S119234
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all in finance
Insightful and thought provoking. Some lessons for us all.
Published 2 months ago by Dave W
5.0 out of 5 stars This would be great fiction if it weren't true
This is a hugely readable and compelling account of when sense is thrown out of the window and ego takes over. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jules
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just about business
What is great about this book is that, aside from naturally explaining the scandal, the authors focus on the personalities involved as they try to uncover why (more so than how)... Read more
Published 5 months ago by J. Symon
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
This is an utterly engrossing read, depicting corporate fraud on an epic scale - I would recommend this to anyone.
Published 6 months ago by Matt
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
Really fascinating and detailed account of what went on, which tells the technical story but doesn't miss the human impact. Read more
Published 6 months ago by David Alexander
5.0 out of 5 stars great read, couldnt put down
this book gives such a great insight into the enron scandal and it goes into so much detail, I didn't really know too much about enron itself or business but I was definitely well... Read more
Published 7 months ago by georgiepb
1.0 out of 5 stars discussing !!!!!!
I would suggest not to buy from this seller again. Late delivery, the latest I ever had. and I had to clean it up before I touched it. Read more
Published 8 months ago by iproute
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly good read
You do not need to have any previous knowledge of the enron scanal or of economics or business to understand and enjoy this book.
Published 8 months ago by mary peel
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
For any one who wants to sort the myths from facts surrounding the Enron scandal. Well written and in a language all will understand. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mr Gurry
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