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Like its subject, The Smartest Guys in the Room is ambitious, grand in scope, and ruthless in its dealings. Unlike Enron, the Texas-based energy giant that has come to represent the post-millennium collapse of 1990s go-go corporate culture, it's also ultimately successful. Penned by Fortune scribes Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, the 400-page-plus chronicle of the scandal digs deep inside the numbers while, wisely, maintaining focus on the "smart guys" deep-frying the books. The likes of paternal but disengaged CEO Ken Lay (dubbed "Kenny Boy" by George W. Bush, one of many prominent public figures with whom he rubbed shoulders), cutthroat man-behind-the-curtain Jeff Skilling, and ethically blind numbers whiz Andy Fastow vividly come to life as they make a mockery of conventional accounting practices and grow increasingly arrogant and bind to their collective hubris. They're not a likable lot, and the writers find it difficult to suppress their astonishment and revulsion with the crew who rapidly went from golden boys and girls of the financial world to pariahs when the bill finally came due. The authors' unrepressed sarcasms are more than often unnecessarily given the scope of the outrage. Enron's leading lights were or a time celebrated for their ability to concoct nearly unfathomable business schemes to hide mounting shortfalls and keeping track on their machinations can be a chore, but, by sticking hard to the story behind the fall, McLean and Elkind have reported and written the definitive account of the Enron debacle. --Steven Stolder
Fortune reporter McLean's article in early 2001 questioning Enron's high valuation was cited by many as an early harbinger of the company's downfall, but she refrains from tooting her own horn, admitting that the article "barely scratched the surface" of what was wrong at America's seventh-largest corporation. The story of its plunge into bankruptcy (co-written with magazine colleague Elkind) barely touches upon the personal flamboyances highlighted in earlier Enron books, focusing instead on the shady finances and the corporate culture that made them possible. Former CEO Jeff Skilling gets much of the blame for hiring people who constantly played by their own rules, creating a "deeply dysfunctional workplace" where "financial deception became almost inevitable," but specific accountability for the underhanded transactions is passed on to others, primarily chief financial officer Andrew Fastow, whose financial conflicts of interest are recounted in exacting detail. (Skilling seems to have cooperated extensively with the authors, though clearly not to universal advantage.) A companywide sense of entitlement, particularly at the top executive levels, comes under close scrutiny, although the extravagant habits of those like Ken Lay, while blatant, are presented without fanfare. The real detail is saved for transactions like the deals that led to the California energy crisis and a 1986 scandal, mirroring the problems faced a decade later, that left the company "less than worthless" until a last-minute rescue. The book's sober financial analysis supplements that of Mimi Swartz's Power Failure, while offering additional perspectives that flesh out the details of the Enron story.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
My blood ran cold reading of how long the officers of this firm managed to pull the wool over the investment community's eyes, aided and abetted by the deleriction of duty of those... Read morePublished on July 9 2004 by Dave Pratt
Monday morning quarterbacks. I would have been far more impressed if the writers had actually done due diligence as the caompany was engaging in such flagrant abuses, and blown the... Read morePublished on May 23 2004
I've read most of the major Enron books that have been published and, in my opinion, this one is best in terms of delivering clear information about what happened to cause Enron's... Read morePublished on May 2 2004 by brazos49
Whether you're an experienced corporate player, a business school whiz, or just interested in what preceded Enron's 2001 fall, this is the book to read if you only read one Enron... Read morePublished on April 21 2004 by David J. Firth
"The Smartest Guys in the Room" is very well written, with great biographical backgrounds and telling anecdotes that will give you everything you should know and then some about... Read morePublished on April 9 2004 by Patrick Crowe
There's blame galore to go around for the spectacular downfall of Enron Corp in that sober year of 2001. Read morePublished on March 26 2004 by John Van Wagner
I've read everything I can find on Enron and this is by far the best. It covers all the nefarious dealings (to the extent possible for such complicated concoctions), and goes into... Read morePublished on March 24 2004
Although much of what is disclosed here could have been gleaned from the WSJ and other financial publications during Enron's downfall, this is very well-organized and insightful... Read morePublished on March 5 2004 by doug1022