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The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron Paperback – 28 Sep 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Paperback, 28 Sep 2004
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio; Reprint edition (28 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591840538
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591840534
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 2.7 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,157,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


...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) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Bethany Mclean is a senior writer for Fortune. She is also the author of the award-winning A PIECE OF THE ACTION (1995). It was her investigation into Enron that first began the scandal. Peter Elkind is an investigative report for Fortune. He is the author of THE DEATH SHIFT (1989). --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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