The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron - The Smartest Guys in the Room

ByBethany McLean

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
frances twiddy
If you really want to read a tale about the very worst of US corporate practices, The Smartest Guys in the Room is the book for you! authors McLean and Elkind spare no detail of dodgy finance, sleaze, greed and ineptitude as they bring us an accurate dissection of the rise and fall on Kenny-Boy Lay and his associates.

The authors, both writers for Forbes, are well-qualified to understand their subject and present it in good, journalistic prose form. The book makes a fine double-read with Eichenwald's "Conspiracy of Fools." While the latter is much more sympathetic to the Enron execs, both books point stongly to incompetence at the top as a main factor in the fall of Enron.

As others have noted, there is a real Greek Tragedy element to the tale; that "brought low by hubris" story that, with schadenfreude, most of us enjoy. However, this book is no morality play, it is a true story.

If one were to isolate a failing of the book, it is that it does NOT get preachy. We all could use a little sermon about Enron, and not just about Greed. We could use a sermon about the failure of ethics in modern American business as a whole, and especially in MBA programs.

What's more, maybe some speculation on the nature of modern US Corporations is called for. Mergers and Acquisitions, Hedge Funds, Buy-Backs, sell-offs, and clever paper shuffling seem to have replaced doing a good job of making and selling something people want. Perhaps that's the ultimate lesson of Enron. If so, the book's sole flaw is that this was not really brought out.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah carp
Hats off to the authors for this very authoritative book about Enron. How did a Fortune 500 company implode into bankruptcy. Simple, poor managers did not oversee their direct reports (Lay, Rice, Skilling, and Mark). The company CFO was virtually printing money by moving dogs to special accounting entities (SPEs) and paying his own company to later sell them back to Enron. The top managers did not consentrate on managing, but rather focused on deal making and doing mark to market accounting, which was very unpredictable. Profits were booked, but most were never realized. As time went on, these deals became very unprofitable with the result of the company having to rely on funny money provided by CFO Fastrow.

This is a great book for those who think Wall Street always values a company correctly. The company was perceived as innovative, but in reality the managers just hood winked the average investor in believing their stories. Investor beware. A very worthwhile read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
After 50 pages you will feel like you need to take a shower - such was the nature of the things you begin to learn went on.

After 100 pages you feel as though you absolutely know enough - you now "get" the Enron mess. And you certainly know more than anyone you will meet in life's normal situations.

But now you're hooked. The book becomes a page turner. What's gonna happen next? How much more convoluted can this company become? How much more denial can the execuatives live with? And how will it all come unglued?

All those questions and more are answered. Wonderfully written. Simplifies a complex mess down into elements we all can understand.

My take away? As a society we can never live by laws alone. Morality and fair play must be felt inside each of us for our society to thrive an survive. The Enron guys took the attitude that if a law was not broken in its most technical form, then nothing wrong was done. Silly. Incorrect. And thank fortune justice was served - though way too late.
The Room on Rue Amélie :: The 7 C's to Build a Winning Team in Business - and Life :: War Room Bible Study - Bible Study Book :: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith - Just Walk Across the Room :: Pocket Guide to the Operating Room (Pocket Guide to Operating Room)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Bethany McLean is the logical writer to pen a lengthy book detailing the tragedies of Enron, and how they impacted on the nation's economy, not to mention reeking tragedy in the lives of those who worked there in innocent circumstances. As someone born and raised in California I was naturally interested in the energy crisis perpetrated in the Golden State by Enron policies designed to achieve total control.
McLean was the writer whose Fortune article questioned the value of Enron during its artificially inflated boom period. This was happening at a time when mountains were being moved to maintain stock at a high level which was beyond bloating, but entered into the realm of the highest scale of fraud. When the California tragedy surfaced it was none other than former Halliburton CEO and current vice president, Dick Cheney, who exclaimed that the California energy crisis revealed the need of developing more independent energy sources, i.e. drilling in Alaska. McLean and fellow Fortune writer Peter Elkind demonstrate that the tragedy was internally induced, and not a product of external circumstances, as Cheney and other Bush administration figures asserted.
A massive effort such as that unleashed by the Fortune team was necessary to even scratch the surface in a string of machinations which are sought to be performed in the most complex way to create a huge smokescreen and avoid detection. From both an economic and sociological standpoint the mammoth undertaking of the authors proves that such efforts on the part of top management at companies like Enron will ultimately collapse like a house of cards.
As well as providing the essential factual details on how the Enron brigade unleashed their corrupt trickery, McLean and Elkind create visible portraits of the main characters involved in this history of swindles perpetrated on an unsuspecting American public. Ken Lay, referred to by George W. Bush as "Kenny boy", is revealed as a feel good CEO who purposely sees and hears no evil, while Skilling and Fastow are repesented as anything but, operating as consummate forces of power maniacal greed with total control the object that never departs from their corporate radar screens.
With this much information revealed abaout the Enron demolition crew as vigilant forces in such a sleazy and rapacious enterprise, the question arises as to how much Enron will figure in the presidential campaign. McLean and Elkind provide a wealth of material from which a constructive national debate could be launched. Let this effort begin!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I still wonder if the title is supposed to be a play on the homonym "Smartest guise in the room."

The authors step meticulously through the company's existence from the promising and fruitful beginnings of its energy operations to it's ultimate demise as America's largest bankruptcy with $10s of billions of debt.

The most enlightening aspects of the Enron saga are the personalities and personal journeys of each of the key players behind Enron's existence. I think it's fair to say, in general, that most successful people in business are either 1) Brilliant, 2)Incredibly charismatic, or 3)Fortunate benefactors of nepotism. The founder (Ken Lay) wasn't very business smart, but had a good idea and was amazingly charismatic and quickly roped in his crack team.

The reader very quickly sees what happens when incredibly intelligent people are put together towards a common goal in an atmosphere of amoral adherence to the "letter of the law". The operation was legitimately making money hand over fist the first year or so...but quickly after that, all "profits" were merely the magic of clever accounting.

This is a story of brilliance turned to hubris and invincibility but yet no accountability. I think the theme of the epilogue "Is anybody to blame?" sums up well the personalities of the key players involved. Everyone felt as though they had done nothing wrong. It's almost impossible to pinpoint when any laws had actually been broken...the regime was one continual exploitation of loopholes and gray areas.

The tale is truly terrifying in a very real sense. It's amazing to think that one of the worst businesses in American history was heralded as stable and as a "good buy" by many Wall Street analysts even up until the day before it imploded and ruined thousands of people's lives as well as the bottom line in some of the world's largest banks. It's amazing that brilliant accountants and relentlessly charismatic leaders can do more to bolster the stock of a company than actual legitimate earnings.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
ivan greenberg
If you haven't read it or seen the documentary, both are well worth your time. Systemic fraud -- accountants, lawyers, regulators, investment banks, etc: "complicity across the board", "all too easy", accounting gimics, Alan Greenspan connections to the company, con man extraordinaire dissection of Jeff Skilling, massive egos, greed, lack of ethics among execs, connections with Bush family and Gray Davis downfall, testimony before House and Senate -- all well laid out in this documentary few years before the financial crisis hit: "Enron gambled entire future on the idea that its stock price wouldn't fall." Same rationale repeated a few years later with real estate as substitute. Doesn't offer much confidence that same exact thing is happening again in some form, papering over the losses from the the credit crisis with something else...

Warning though: your blood will be boiling by the end of it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alan culpitt
I was looking for a book on Enron that would give me a bird's eye view of the whole Enron problem.I didnt want a detailed explanation of every problem that ocurred in Enron.I found it in this book. The authors did a magnificent job in explaining the problems and tribulatons at Enron.Their style is simple, clear and they use common terms that people like me could understand. The book goes deep into the offices,buildings and personalities of Enron. It is clear that people like Lay,Skilling,Fastow,Rice and others were in it for the money and the ride.These people are just garbage in every sense of the word.They thought they could play God and they got what they deserved.I recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand a little bit of corporate America and how personalities play a major role in business.I truly enjoyed this book.The authors did a fantastic job researching and looking for information in all the right places.Great work!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Even if you do not have exceptional math skills, this is a good read. The book goes through the various accounting manipulations that Enron created. However, the strong points of the book are how it follows the company's main players during its rise during the nineties, and its ultimate fall by 2001. Anyone who works in management, or close to it in the corporate environment will probably recognize some of these same accounting manipulations in there own company. The problem with Enron is that these manipulations became the most prominent source of revenue as the economy changed and bad deals caught up w/them. That anyone actually acts surprised by what Enron did is truly amazing when it was so blatantly out in the open. Enron's enablers, Arthur Anderson, Merill Lynch, the SEC, all assisted Enron w/ making its fall a lot more spectacular than it had to be if simple rules, laws, weren't arrogantly ignored. This book vividly displays these players and has you almost rooting for their fall at the end, if not for their conceit, than for the entertainment provided when an arrogant giant goes down.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
julie dennis
Enron is, of course, old news by now. The company went bankrupt in 2001, and its spectacular collapse was merely the first of a series of notorious corporate scandals. Most of the story Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind tell in their book has already appeared in newspaper and magazine accounts and in other, rush-to-publish books that hit the market during or shortly after the events described. However, these authors have assembled what may be the single most comprehensive, detailed account and written it like an anecdote-rich, lively business-based novel. We do wish they had included a timeline and a list of sources, since they have had the benefit of being able to draw on all of that other work, on indictments and on testimony before courts and Congress, but their account is engrossing and complete. If you read just one book on the Enron scandal, we believe this may be the book to read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I found this book gripping (although tedious at times) -- it focusses mostly on Enron's business practices through the early and late nineties culminating in its bankruptcy declaration. It tells the story as viewed from within Enron executives' lives/timelines and provides a high level overview of perhaps most of the significant events that occurred within the corporation. For most Americans, Enron burst into our consciousness post 9/11 -- in a wave of dot-com meltdowns and corporate scandals. Most of us probably still do not understand what energy trading is, and as time passes, will care even less that the principals will go unpunished, or that the enormous loss of shareholder equity and trust will merit nary a whisper of change in Republican controlled business-friendly environments. What a shame!

The book presents a good picture of the executives involved -- Ken Lay -- detached; Jeff Skilling -- missionary but blind to reality; Andy Fastow -- uber self-interested geek/criminal; among a whole cast of characters. Corporate boards would do well to study the personal dynamics and corruption exhibited within these pages to prevent repeats.

Structurally though, it was disappointing to me that the authors spend so many pages discussing the history, but not enough time on certain details or the epilogue. There are a lot of pages enumerating the various deals and shenanigans, but not much detail with respect to what actually they contained or did -- perhaps, as the authors say, the deals were so complicated that not many people understand them even now (including the authors?). It was also disappointing not to read any guidance or at least conventional wisdom in terms of what we need to do structurally to restore the system of balances and trust (i.e. what do we really need to change in the realationships between corporate boards and executives, auditors, analysts/investment banks, the SEC, the DOJ, investment rating agencies etc.). Perhaps we need to wait for a follow on.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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 play-by-play analysis of Enron's rise and subsequent fall to earth.
Many of the most interesting sequences involve quotes from former insiders and the chapter that discusses Wall Street's compliance and subsidy of Enron's misdeeds.
There was so much financial wrong-doing going on in the markets those days, that few people resisted the urge to see Enron for the fraud that it was. Investment bankers, auditors, the nation's best credit agencies and even the SEC were all privy to Enron's wild machinations and few of those involved ever called them on it.
The authors do a great job of developing the characters, mainly: Lay, Skilling, Mark, Fastow, Kopper, Pai and Baxter. They also do well describing the arrogance and hubris of the managers, traders and deal makers. These people thought they were smarter and craftier that everyone. In the end, it was their arrogance that cemented their destruction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kelli frostad
I thought this was a good read. Being in business it was interesting reading the book, and as it talked about strategy that the company was taking, I was thinking " Don't do it." There were a few people involved heavily in creating the scum bag mentaliity that the company eventually took on. The flow of the book is good, it does a good job of telling a good story about the major players and what they were up to. It is sad what happened to the employees of ENRON that had nothing to do with the criminal tactics. Not the best book I have ever read, but it was good and I enjoyed it. Good way to understand what happened at ENRON.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
andrea fraser
This book knocked my socks off. I agree with the other reviewers that this is an authoritative, comprehensive, and easy-to-follow behind-the scenes look at Enron's rise and fall.

However, the authors needlessly intersperse personal opinions and judgmental asides into their narrative in a way that is not only unnecessary, but distorting.

For example, in a chapter on Enron's involvement in California's 2000 energy crisis, the facts the authors present make it clear that primary blame for the debacle lied with the bureaucrats and politicians who created California's labyrinthine and easly-exploited electricity market. But, the authors waste no time in brandishing words like "hubris" and "unethical" to describe not the bureaucrats but Enron's traders. I realize that in a book about Enron, an analysis of California's power-sector bureacracy would be tangential at best--but so harshly condemning only Enron's California executives distorts the reality of the situation.

Overall, I heavily recommend this book. There are enough facts here to allow readers to form their own conclusions about Enron.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
shawna stuck
"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 the major players whose greed and egos led to their demise and Enron's collapse like a classic greek tragedy. McLean and Elkind were able to translate Faustow's complex special purpose entities into laymen's terms. The Enron story also shows the shocking lack of moral character of Arthur Anderson and the investment banks who enabled and profited by Enrons obscene techniques of literally making up its numbers and "earnings". This book was an eye-opener for me. I had never heard of "mark to marketing" accounting which allowed (and perhaps still allows) corporations to book "earnings" now on assumed future income, that it has not received and might never receive. It makes you completely mistrustful of corporate quarterly earnings reports, which Enron and others so easily manipulate. There should be a lot more criminal prosecutions, not just of the Enron people who profited by sham earnings statements, but also JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, and Citibank executives who enabled and profited by the Enron shenanigans. The wall street analysts who pumped up Enron stock with near complete ignorance of Enron's actual business should also be prosecuted for criminal impersonation-that is pretending to be "analysts". There was certainly enough unanswered questions in Enron's own public filings to raise 100 red flags--
There are a lot more reforms that should be made-particularly on the accounting end, to force corporate disclosure to somehow truly explain a company's actual cash, actual earnings and actual debt and obligations. I will never assume that a company's alleged "earnings" disclosure statements means the company actually has real cash from current revenue,and that its debt/obligation disclosure is remotely truthful.
Unfortunately, the Enron story is all to familiar- Appearances are more important than reality in the world of
corporate governance and finance-- After all, We have a President who brags about Values who should have been prosecuted for inside trading on His Harkness Energy stock sales years ago- and he gets a pass- I'm sure a lot of other big shots at the investment banks who helped Enron scam investors in Enron stock will also get pass
This book will and/or should get you mad--yet i'm not particulary sympathetic to Enron's former employees, many, if not most of whom, had to be aware that this company could not lose so much real money and spend so much real money if it was making real money in an honest way--- and its seems like guys like Pai and most of his associates will probably keep their ill gotten gains
There will be other Enrons as long as Wall Street trades on
"virtual" earnings and undistributed earnings-hopefully "mark
to marketing" accounting and its accounting brethren will be declared illegal, but that would probably be a naive hope
I would highly recommend this book, just to see how dumb and how amoral the smartest guys in the room were and often still are ---- (...) the question may be asked , how could such smart men (and women)be so stupid ......
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
best kamphol
If you have any interest in the sticky wicket of corporate ethics, you've gotta read this book. Bethany McLean, who wrote the original article that helped start the ball rolling on Enron's inevitable collapse, and co-author Peter Elkind have done a masterful job documenting the rise and fall of Enron, an energy company that was, more or less, a tissue of lies.

The amazing things that stick out in my mind are how easy it was for almost all the participants in the unquestionable fraud that was Enron to justify what they were doing, to themselves and many others, before and even after the collapse. And how worthless it all was--most of them weren't very happy, even when Enron was riding high. And, for a few extra million bucks, they've pretty much made a mess of their lives.

The authors seem incredulous that, after giving the copious documentation of poor management and outside fraud, that most of the former Enron executives consider themselves victims of everything except their own greed and incompetence.

Yet does it surprise anybody that a company who was run by a management team that considered the most relevant aspect of Enron's business to be that "it was a really cool company" was, in fact, a mess? That the "loose-tight" management practices and Enron and praised by consulting firm McKinsey consulting were, in fact, all loose? McKinsey, a consulting firm that prides itself on radical management thinking and outside-the-box creativity (Tom Peters, one of McKinsey's most famous former employees, has made a very good living advocating management practices, and certainly attitudes, not so different from what Enron put into practice) has since tried to distance itself from its close relationship with Enron, and the authors don't pursue that connection very doggedly. But I am prone to wonder if, in a way, McKinsey isn't just as complicit as Arthur Andersen was in contributing to the debacle that was Enron.

Although McKinsey didn't actively participate in the fraud, book-cooking, legal manipulations, and outrageous debt that eventually brought Enron down--at least, not directly--certainly the McKinsey attitude was exhibited all throughout Enron. Certainly, Jeff Skilling--as guilty as anyone in Ernon's downfall--would have been a proud McKinsey case study, before the fall. He managed Enron "loose-tight", he hired creative and talented people with no experience in the Energy industry, he "innovated" with all sorts of new non-managing management techniques. He was a McKinsey golden-boy.

Somewhere out there, I'm sure there were some Tom Peters' seminars extolling the virtues of Enron's modern management and "super cool" corporate culture. The fact that the company cooked the books while leaking money all over the place not withstanding.

But, Arthur Andersen is out of business and the company that probably contributed more to the mindset that eventually put Enron out of business is still doing pretty well. Too bad nobody at McKinsey or Arthur Andersen suggested Enron might benefit from, say, talented people with actual experience in the energy industry. Or real oversight. Or actual cashflow.

Another interesting point made by the authors is the complicity of the analysts, who, unlike Arthur Andersen or Citibank, had no real vested interest in covering up the fraud. Yet, they touted Enron, even while observant short-sellers decided Enron was fatally flawed beneath the surface, and ended up reaping a windfall on their shorted positions, with no more information than what was publically available.

If we take nothing else from the sad tale of Enron, I hope we at least take this: mark-to-market accounting, that allowed Enron to legally book future profits, sometimes profits that would accrue over 20(!) years, as profits for that quarter, is little better than SEC-sanctioned fraud. Thus, while making almost no real money, Enron booked huge deals where the real money was far off in the future, paid huge bonuses to the deal makers on projected (re: made up, often wildly optimistic) profits, and thus, on that score, legally defrauded the stockholders.

A great anecdote is the one where, while the stock price is plunging into the toilet and it's becoming clear Enron is going to have to be bought, or go belly-up, Ken Lay asked Jeff Skilling to help him choose from the fabric swatches he has for the new interior of their just purchased G5 corporate jet.

It's a good book and, if you're like me, you'll shake your head in wonder quite a lot. What the hell were they thinking?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nina niguidula
They're to be commended for being able to reduce accounting trickery so complex that I'm not entirely sure those involved knew what was going on, into terms that a layman can understand. I don't have a Harvard MBA, nor do I have any experience as a nacent energy trader, and while I think I understood what I was reading, I'd be hard-pressed to try to explain it. This is not the fault of either author, however. The book is highly readable and no one could have made complete and absolute sense of something designed to be so inscrutable.

I appreciate too their decision to look away from some the galling greed and hubris on the part of the Eneron corporate culture (though a bit sneaks in here and there--it's hard to tell this tale without mentioning it at least in passing) and toward the chicanery that was involved in creating "the world's greatest company." Even at the end, I've got a hard time deciding what was real and what was an illusion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
staci flinchbaugh
As a novice reader, I have not fully developed a litmus test for deeming a book as good, bad, or great. Nor do I feel I have the right to criticize any author, writing style or subject. So unless I feel I'm the expert on the matter, which will most undoubtedly be never, I'll simply feel my way through this with the hopes that it will help.

The Smartest Guys in the Room grabbed me from the beginning, but mildly lingered after the first few chapters. I suppose it was necessary to take the time to break out all of the components and players that made up the Enron house of cards. But I kept hoping to get to the juicy details of their demise and didn't get any sort of payoff until the end... some 300 pages later.

The book challenged me on several levels. I found it uncomfortably easy to relate to the executives and their unforgiving lust for money. It was fun to pretend that I was in their shoes and could reap the monetary rewards that they were able to "create." Even more captivating was the level of greed that they were able to obtain... I guess money will do that.

This book will force you to contemplate your personal limits as you imagine yourself as an executive at Enron. In hind-sight, it's easy to follow the slippery slope... but had I been there, living the extravagance, at what point would I have thrown the yellow flag? At times, I even felt bad for a few of those guys. For the most part, they actually believe that what they did was legit!

But by the end, I wanted them to get hammered for what they'd pulled. I feel like there are many layers to uncover in this scandal and I wanted the book to detail their lavish spending and continue through the legal battles. I want to watch their arrogance and greed get shoved down their own throats as the world receives its justice. That part, which is probably the most interesting to me, wasn't included.

Have fun,

David Tobias

Redondo Beach, CA
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Fantastic book. A look at Enron and its fall. Just amazing stuff that was going on that no one on the outside could figure out or were blind to. I remember when this was playing out in the news. I really didn't know the story and obviously lost track of it. This book really fills in the missing pieces. In the end, each one of the key players talked themselves into some sort of fantasy world where the basic rule was that if it wasn't illegal, then we could do it. It's also amazing that all of these different players came together under one roof to pull this kind of stuff off. At times it felt like I was in elementary school. The "teacher told me I could" do such and such was another repeating theme. Someone in charge told me it was okay for me to do this so that makes it okay. Great reasoning from Enron's leadership.

Very well researched and written. It definitely gets a little technical at times with all the financial talk.

Definitely worth a look.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kerri kennedy
A little dated now but the premises remain true to date. The same people are still among us. The book goes into detail where the documentary could not. But it is FAR from boring. The authors could be action novelists, or Tom Clancys. The excitement is there in every page. The type is a little small, but it is a GREAT read. I highly recommend this book if you like this kind of corporate intrigue. Buy it you will like it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and the Scandalous Fall of Enron

By Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

I arrived at The Smartest Guys in the Room oddly enough by reading the books mentioned in the Berkshire Hathaway letter to shareholders by Warren Buffett, which looks like this (so far):

Berkshire Hathaway's letter to shareholders by Warren Buffett
The Smartest Guys ---The Fountainhead----When Atlas Shrugged-----The Alchemist
In the Room
The Intelligent
When Genius--- Horatio Alger--- A History of Interest Rates 2000BC to the Present
Fails ----- Buffett:The Making of an American Capitalist---Against the Gods
In an Uncertain
Damn Right

For much more Buffett / Munger suggested reading check out my Blog [...]

It's very interesting to read about the personalities and drive that the dealmakers at Enron had while they were building the company. It's also a good reminder to keep a level head and a sharp sense of right and wrong while building either a company or an empire. I would bet that the Enron dealmakers did not go into business figuring they would cut every corner, lie, cheat and steal to make it to the top. Most likely their misdealings started small and escalated to the point where they could not be stopped because things were just too far out of control.

Charlie Munger says it's very important to read as much about business blunders as possible; this way you can hopefully learn from the mistakes others have made. Well I'll tell you there were a lot of mistakes at Enron so you have plenty to learn from this book.

If you like doing business deals you will appreciate this book and the, "do the deal at any cost attitude" portrayed again and again in it. Hopefully it will help you take a second look at those numbers and make sure your not doing the deal just for the sake of getting another one done.

Its also mind boggling to see just how far one of the largest companies in the world can push the envelope on all fronts, even with outside auditors, analysts and endless business partners. It's a great portrayal of business in the 90's while internet mania blinded so many and made even more feel invincible because of the rising market repeatedly bailing them out. Many of these feelings (and actions stemming from those feelings) were rampant in tech related companies during this time. Enron just took it to the next level.

The book really takes you back to almost a nostalgic time in American business when deals were being done and people were making fortunes while mistakes were covered up by a rising market. It also shows you just how far greed can take you once you let it get a grip on you.

By Kevin Kingston, author of: A 20,000% Gain in Real Estate

My Blog:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
cathy lubenski
This is one of those books that is hard to put down. The story is simply amazing and it is told with a lot of thorough research and insight. Even 12+ years after the Enron house of cards collapsed, this is a very good book, filled with lessons and gripping stories. Great education for anyone interested in how the Enron disaster happened, who was responsible and what drove those individuals to run such a large enterprise to the ground.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I chose the above title quote from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" to highlight my review. The authors provide a biography of many of the Enron players that lets us know what these guys were all about at their core. For example, Jeff Skilling spent almost all his after-school time working at a television station. Yet, he went to college without a dime because he blew all his pay in the stock market-buying stocks on margin. Never mind though because he got an impressive academic scholarship anyway because of his "brilliance." The authors provide other telling stories about the other major players. Ken Lay, the Baptist preacher's boy who preached exemplary corporate values, had an affair with his secretary, and later divorced his first wife to marry her. Yes, this is the same lady who went on television complaining about being broke while her family still owned millions of dollars in real estate. Lay's number two guy-not Skilling-who shacked up with a different Ken Lay secretary at Enron, costing himself annointment as Lay's successor. By the way, this guy now is a billionaire. Having that affair with Lay's secretary, later marrying her, was the smartest thing he ever did because he left Enron to found his own high-flying energy company. Rebecca Mark got a leg up from another Enron mentor by having a tempestous affair with him. The stories like this go on and on.
The authors provide far more detail about company history and the accounting conspiracies that brought it down. As a professional accountant, I am even more convinced now that Arthur Andersen deserved to fail for approving many of the tricks that Enron used to book fictitious profits. The authors point out that near the end, nearly 85% of Enron's total debt wasn't on their books, but "lay" in off balance sheet special purpose entities. The auditors couldn't understand the meaning of the standard sentence in an audit report that states that the financial statements "present fairly the financial condition and operations of Enron in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles." They over emphasized generally accepted accounting principles and ignored the term "present fairly." Good riddance to them.
The authors certainly are not admirers of Skilling, Fastow, or most of the other Enron players. For example they say of Skilling in their Epilogue, "He does not seem to have any remorse about his own actions, any sense that he hired the wrong people, got into the wrong businesses, or emphasized the wrong values. The fault, in his view, lies in a world that did not and will not appreciate the sheer newness of what Enron was trying to do." At the end, Jesse Jackson-yes that Jesse-held prayer meetings in the hall to comfort the afflicted who suddenly realized they needed forgiveness. Skilling didn't attend. I hope Jesse says a few prayers to protect Jeff while he's in prison. He'll need them, as well as a lifetime supply of "soap on a rope."
Certain Enron principals flew to their bankruptcy hearing in their mega-bucks Gulfstream 5 executive jet and stayed at the plush Four Seasons in Manhattan. As one of the offending executives said, "Maybe we should have flown on Southwest and stayed at the Ramada." In short, yes.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kathy donoghue
One does not need to understand much about the Enron debacle to enjoy such a rich, fact-filled and engrossing story as this. McLean and Elkind do a superb job of unraveling both the scheme and describing how it was accomplished. While much of the story centers on some difficult financial concepts, a patient reader will soon come to understand how the company had woven a complex web. That web was deliberately complex: the company attempted to cover its misdeeds through very creative interpretations of financial law. The writers present the material as it would have been presented to anyone on the outside looking in, and then they pick through the scheme and bring sense to what happened. Brilliant work of nonfiction!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sanguinaura bloodstone
Enron was the largest corporate bankruptcy to date. Just a year earlier it was a 70-billion dollar company and the most respected company in the energy field. By the end of 2001 Chuck Watson of Dynegy said he wouldn't take it if it were free. What happened? How could such a large and powerful conglomerate, in which analysts hyped right to the bitter end, fall so fast. Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind take the reader from the beginning of Enron's rise to the colossal fall.
From the beginning Enron was determined to rewrite the "rules" of how the business of energy was done around the world. Ken Lay, the founder of Enron, learned the natural gas business from his early days at Florida Gas and then Transco Energy. In the early 1980's gas prices were largely regulated by the federal government. This led to gas shortages when prices were too low and oversupply when the government hiked prices. Distributors would try to lock into long-term contracts called "take or pay" to protect themselves from future shortages. These contracts were bad from the pipeline owner's point of view because they had to pay the higher rates even if lower rates were available. Lay saw a way out of this dilemma, however. He set up a fledgling spot market for natural gas. The producers who let Transco out of these long-term contracts could sell directly to their customers, paying Transco to move the gas. Lay was a hero and it would propel him toward his vision of a deregulated gas world in which customers would always have the gas they need at the best price.
When Ken Lay created Enron he had a different view of energy than anyone else in the business. When energy was deregulated in the late 19080's prices plunged. Money wasn't being made in oil; it was being made in trading oil. This was Lay's grand vision. In the words of the authors:"Oil trading was about trading, not about oil." The senior executives didn't know much about trading but as long as it made money no one cared. Oil trading was a way of promising to deliver oil in the future while locking in the price today.
From its earliest days Enron struggled to survive. Lay had a vision of the future but he needed someone to show him the way. Enter Jeff Skilling. To Skilling natural gas wasn't about energy; it was about supply and demand. Whenever there was too much supply or too much demand there was money to be made. Instead of long-term contracts between suppliers and customers Skilling envisioned Enron acting as an energy bank. They would purchase gas from producers at one price and sell it to customers at a higher price. Enron would profit from the exchange and the customer would always be able to get gas. All Enron needed to do was to have matching customers for every contract to buy natural gas. He would revolutionize the oil industry. He never cared for the old oil executives; he wanted smart Harvard graduates under him. It didn't matter to Skilling if they never worked in the industry before; they would figure it out.
The problems with Enron can be traced back to these early days. The people involved had great ideas but were poor in their ability to manage and carry them out. Those that could were treated as second class citizens by Enron management. They rewarded the people with the best ideas. It didn't matter if their grandiose plans never made any money. It would become the culture at Enron-a corporation built on vision but near-sighted on detail.
The book is a long and difficult 414 pages. The deals and machinations of Enron's senior management are difficult and complex. The Smartest Guys in the Room is about these deals and not about the people. We know very little about how people truly felt about Enron through its rise and fall but we know a great deal about the gory details. For those with some accounting background it is a fascinating story. For the general reader it probably will be a bit bewildering
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dina basnaly
This book was downright scary! It blows the mind to think of the lengths people went to in the name of the almighty dollar. It also is amazing that no noe caught on for a decade or more as to what was really going on. Anyone notice the irony of the original name before Enron? Originally, they were going to call it Enteron, until someone figured out that was the Greek based medical term for the intestine. Probably would have been more appropriate...the intestines and this company are full of the same thing...

Well written and researched, the authors take the time to verbally paint a picture of each of the players in this seedy saga; many from childhood into the men and women they are today. They go to great lengths to explain each of the financial shell games that the big guns were playing, so even a layperson with no business savvy can pick up what was going on. I understood what was up and I do not have a business background--which makes it even more amazing that those firms doing business with Enron never caught on (so much for those Harvard MBAs.) While the subject intrigued me, I did not expect to find this as interesting as I did; the way it was written made it hard to put down.

It will make you think twice about the "visionary" and "innovative" companies touted by Wall Street.....and perhaps invest your money elsewhere.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rita ribeiro
This was the basis of the movie you may have seen on the store Video.
One of the best documentations of what happened at Enron, well laid out. Very interesting read. I have read several Enron books, the two I recommend are 24 Days and Smartest Guys In The Room.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is the best business book I have ever read. The authors go into detail about what Enron was, how they made money (and later hid the fact that they didn't), and how the managers stole for their own benefit. I watched the movie before reading the book and was worried I would be bored with the book. I wasn't. The book covers far more than the movie and in much greater detail. I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in business or law.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kimberly martin
This is a really good book. I wasn't sure how interested I would actually be in the topic for this long of a book, but I found the entire thing very compelling. The authors hit just the right amount of detail to allow one to understand what was going on without boring you with arcane accounting details. This combined with quotes from numerous former employees and the motivations as to why they were doing what they were doing result in a really good story.

Highly recommended reading. I loved it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
amy tate
An interesting story of how a corporate belief in hiring intelligent people, or at least people who boast they are intelligent, leads to hubris and eventual ruin.

When everything finally collapses, no one is responsible and no one did anything wrong. A telling tail of how smart people can convince themselves of things better than they can convince the world.

What might Enron have done differently? The authors feel that Enron's use of "mark to market" accounting (booking the entire profits long term deal up front, based on a model of the future; the company is then supposed to adjust their revenues as time passes and the model is tested) was largely responsible for losses that Enron then hid.

The length, at 400 pages, is imposing but goes by quickly. However, the authors took the unusual step of listing all the players with their role, which really helps with getting all the names straight.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jenny olson
What is amazing about the story is that the central "accounting scandal" was legal (and, amazingly, in its aftermath few laws have changed). Enron smartie pants just took the rules where they had never been before, at an unprecedented scale, aided by their Anderson accountants and some of biggest names in banking. It may be difficult to find them guilty of much other than single-minded greed.

And no, non-experts shouldn't expect to gain a hard and fast understanding of how Fastow and Skilling worked their deceptive balance sheet magic, but you'll learn enough.

I wish the authors had spent a little more time on the human consequences of Enron-created artificial energy crisis that damaged so many lives in California. Clearly much of that _was_ illegal, as the authors explain well.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
romuald bokej
I will say that it's hard to write something like this in today's era; after all, we all decided the truth about Ken Lay and company long long ago, and that makes it hard to read such a book with any kind of objectivity.

In spite of this, it's clear that McLean's journey--going way back to her Fortune magazine article questioning Enron's mysteriously inflated value to their eventual demise--shows that her initial suspicion was correct. The ugliness grows quickly too, as we see certain individuals comforting investors while at the same time selling off their own stocks--all on the same day, no less. The only thing the book lacked was perhaps a finish line; when we get to the end we hear accounts that this could easily happen again with other corporations, but we're not really shown what we can do as citizens. Maybe that's not the writer's job, but I feel a sense of disgust in the greed and dishonesty of corporate America and by the end of the book I don't know what to do with it.

The question then is evident: how can a culture prevent such selfish acts when a growing economy is everything and integrity is secondary at best?

Until we know that, the problem will only get worse.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
maurice fitzgerald
This book is by far one of the most interesting non-fiction books I have ever read. It certainly trumps all other business related books. It's not just the excellent writing of the authors, but the Enron saga itself that plays out like a movie.

The book starts out with a brief history on each of the major players of Enron: Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Cliff Baxter, Lou Pai, etc. Each has their own unique story: Jeff Skilling and his brilliant past at Harvard and McKinsey - Lou Pai and his fetish for exotic dancers. But a clear picture emerges how each of them was brilliant in their own way. They each could have done great things, but this motley crew put into motion one of the greatest scandals in American history.

The progression of the company did not always make for good reading. The explanation of Fastow's entities was complicated and mundane. On the other hand, reading about how these characters managed to pull off various stunts can be downright hilarious. For instance: Skilling's hype caused the stock to rise 15 points in one day, Fastow stole from millions from Enron while Skilling unknowingly thought he was doing a good job, Lou Pai inconspicuously cashed out (...) in stock at the peak of Enron, and somehow Ken Lay was completely oblivious to all the above! In the end, each of the executives was being duped or defrauded by one of the other players.

This is a great book that I highly recommend. As a business student, I find this to be a highly analytical, yet entertaining, story of the stock boom - and later bust - of the late 90s of which Enron was a major catalyst.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book helps the reader get from, "They're all a bunch of crooks" to understanding the crimes and criminals of Enron. Ken Lay comes across as a politician in capitalists clothing, blissfully (and perhaps purposefully) ignorant of the company underneath him. Jeff Skilling is the intense visionary, who quickly gets in over his head as a manager, and is willing to do anything to keep the ship afloat. Andy Fastow is the cleaner, the man they go to when they need their accounting fixed. If a name is in the news related to Enron, you can get clear unbiased reporting on who they are, and what they were accused of.

When written, the book served as an early explanation for what went wrong. Now it's background material for the white collar trial of the decade. Definitely worthy reading for anyone interested in Enron or white collar crime.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Terrifically detailed book about the collapse of Enron. Extremely detail oriented. Brings incredible clarity to a story so over-exposed that perhaps we are desensitized to the incredible breadth and depth of this event. One of the 10 largest companies in the world simply crumbled into liquidity. Add up the corruption at WorldCom, Tyco, Adelphia, and all the others... combined they don't come close to the level of hubris, corruption and sheer destruction of Enron. The scandal by which all other scandals will be measured. This book is a great account of every facet of Enron's collapse.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
vi nna
A clearly written chronology of players and practices at Enron and their accomplices of banks, rating analysts and in-house auditors from Arthur Anderson. A clear depiction of lack of expense controls and obsession to improve common stock share prices in a company rapidly spinning out of control. A great read for any aspiring business student, investor or corporate officer.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah clingan
This book scared the hell out of me. With the scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Adelphia, etc., one has to ask - "Where Else?"
While it focuses on the people and personalities directing Enron, the book very rightly points out that this Ponzi-Scheme of a company could never have existed if not for the complicity, corruption and willful ignorance of individuals and organizations who were supposed to act as checks and balances. Simply put, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling & Andrew Fastow were able to bully, buy or dupe the following:
1. The Enron Board, who questioned almost nothing.
2. Arthur Andersen, who was corrupted by large consulting fees, and the "glamor" that was Enron.
3. Wall Street Equity Analysts, who were long ago compromised.
4. Large commercial banks, who allowed themselves to be played like violins by Fastow.
5. The business press, who with rare exception, acted as cheerleaders for Enron.
6. Debt-Rating agencies such as Moody's and S&P for shallow due dilligence.
Make no mistake, this is a horror story. So much loss and pain due to extremely bright folks with no moral compass! Throughout the book, I found myself asking "can an organization this unethical, cutthroat and STUPID have really existed?" I didn't know if I should be outraged or horribly depressed (BOTH!). If I had a critisim of the book, it would be that it should have contained an appendix that illustrated the financial position (on-balance sheet & total) to help readers fully comprehend the magnitude of what went on.
I recommend this book to anyone who owns more than $10 in stock.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
katie rasmussen
My two cents-

This book is probably a heck of a lot more interesting if you are a regular reader of various business journals/papers. (I am not, honestly). Though the authors do their best to explain some pretty complicated financial misdealings and simplify them, and I did my best to learn, it was a lot of wrok. It will be more enjoyable, especially in the middle sections, that you have some education of the "normal" internal workings of Wall Street. To be honest, though I am not one to say this regularly, the movie of the same name is more "for the masses", and I mean that in a good way.

As alluded to above, the first few chapters about how the idea of Enron came about and the last hundred or so pages of the collapse is the best parts of the book. The middle drags.

The authors do try not to completely demonize the crooked characters, and try to approach this from a more unemotional standpoint. In this way, it's journalistic.

I am not entirely sure this was worth the time to wade through the 400 pages, even though this was one of the most important bankruptcies of the modern US banking era.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The book is organized in a chronological fashion. But at the same time, certain chapters were focused on key players in Enron:
- The story about Kenneth Lay.
- a story before enron became enron. Mostly, about acquisition.
- Story about Jeff Skilling and how he started off in McKinsey and how he entered Enron and eventually rose to be the top guy on the helm.
- It tells a story about Skilling's other lieutenants like Pai, Baxter, Rice, et.c
- It tells a story about how Fastow rose up the ranks (by the way, he was not originally one of the people in Skilling's inner circle).
- And much more...
Some interesting things you will learn in this book are:
- How Skilling was able to transform Enron's Busines Model from an "old Economy" Company into a "New Economy" Company similar to Tech-companies like eBay, Cisco, Microsoft, etc.
- Understand how Skilling's team transformed the way they handle their accounting. Concepts like Mark-to-Market accounting and Off-balance Sheets. (Something I never knew before I read the book).
- Learn about how they manage acquisitions and how they use acquisitions as a means for them to hide the true financial situation of the company.
- Learn about how Fastow has maneuvered himself in the inner circle of the Skilling Team and how he had made himself as the Czar of Finance and Accounting from the eyes of Investment and banking institutions like CitiGroup, Chase Manhattan, etc.
- Know about the working environment and culture in enron which Skilling has transformed into a "Make Creative Ideas... Nevermind the cost.." and a "Get the deals... we deal with delivering our commitments later." kind of culture.
- Learn about the personalities of the key players. What type of social life do they have from Bike Safaris in Mexico to exotic bars.
I find this book quite interesting (considering I have never ever had any interest in reading books cover-to-cover. Though most of the books I read are technical and IT-related, I find this book very good to read.
The book is well written and proof-read (no grammatical or spelling errors).
In terms of reading time and efforts to read this books (here I go again with my technical statistics)...
- I find it good to read on flights. It allows you to pause for sometime to actually let you reflect.
- Total Reading time for slow readers like me is around 15 hours. For a long-haul flight from Los Angeles to Manila, you'll probably finish the book by the time you arrive to your destination.
Summary, you will like this book.
Good Day!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
marwa hamed
I must congratulate the writers of this book. Very well researched, very well written and the book seems to tell the story in as plain of english as can be. It's a great management book (of what not to do of course) as much as a historical account of one of modern day's greatest financial mistakes. If you are a manager or supervisor, you must read this book and learn from these people's mistakes in building culture, managing people and being truthful. In summary, a very good read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
There's blame galore to go around for the spectacular downfall of Enron Corp in that sober year of 2001. Accountants, rating agencies, regulators, lawyers, consultants, bankers--and these are just the bad actors outside the corporation. Look inside, where Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind treat their readers to a thorough journalistic scouring, and the smell of the rot almost wafts off the pages.
The authors rightly spend the vast majority of the book examining the personalities and circumstances that allowed the company to become what it was at the end of its life. Mix a potion that's one part hardscrabble Harvard MBAs, one part energy deregulation, and one part hysterical bull market, and you've got a financial molotov cocktail. Sadly, as we all know now, it was largely the little guy who paid the price for all the hubris of the players in this story, a fact that tends to get lost in the authors' painstaking recreation of the most complicated shell game in history.
But the story of Enron's fallout could provide the material for a whole other book. In this one we get the tale of the players, people like Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Rebecca Mark and Andy Fastow, all filled with an equal mix of remarkable brilliance and fatal arrogance. All are indicted by these authors as rabid players in a game they made up themselves, deeming themselves beyond the petty world of rules and regulation. But coming in for equal excoriation is the system itself, the web of enablement and intimidation that allowed Andy Fastow to quietly hammer together the company's coffin in the form of a maze of phantom accounting entities designed to prop of the appearance of the corpse inside. The most unnerving theme the book treats indirectly is the effect of mass psychology--the way exceptional personalities distort and transform reality on a systemic scale. And it offers little in the way of how something like this could ever be prevented in the future.
One word of warning for people not acquainted with basic finance: this is a complicated story, about erstwhile geniuses in the arcane use of financial products and regulatory loopholes. Though it's enjoyable even if one can't follow every detour down each accounting scheme, some knowledge of Wall Street and its workings seems necessary to understand the implications of the book overall. Given the fact that most experts didn't understand what went on here, the authors do their best to keep things as simple as possible, often using helpful metaphors and simple summations after a few pages of analysis, but they have no choice but to assume a level of sophistication among their readers.
Which leads to one gripe. In "The Smartest Guys In the Room" not a single institution or individual player involved with Enron escapes the authors' finger-pointing notice, with but one exception. Where were the journalists in all this? Why did short-sellers have to be the ones to ask all the tough questions? Bethany Mclean should take understandable pride in being the first one to pry the door open on Enron's malfeasance, but she was just a little late. One would think that with the mass of financial journalists on CNBC, the Journal, the Times, etc., that just one would have bucked the collective cheering squad and dug deeper into what this supposedly invincible company was up to. But of course, this was the bull market. A time when everyone was exuberant when they should have been scared.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is an incredible book documenting what white collar crime can do to society. The executive members of Enron and Arthur Andersen and V Elkins should all be under the jail.

They knew what they were doing and rationalized their decisions based on greed and ego.

If they were so smart, why could they not do the right thing?

This book should be required reading for any business major and perhaps a college course.

Read it and weep. It is a sorry testimonial to all that can and often does go wrong with the world of business.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Smartest Guys in the Room is an intelligently written, comprehensive look at the rise and fall of Enron. Even if you've seen the outstanding documentary of the same title (made after the book came out), I highly recommend reading the book. While the documentary does include information not available when the book was published (such as the truly scary audio recordings of Enron traders blithely manipulating CA's deregulation loopholes by rerouting electrical power or asking power plants to "find a reason to go offline" during CA's rolling-blackout nightmare), the book contains much more detail, as well as players barely mentioned in the documentary.

One of those players is Rebecca Mark, the glam Enron uber-exec in charge of international projects and a short lived venture into water "trading," who was vociferously criticized by Jeff Skilling (big shaper of Enron strategy who became president and COO in 1997), later ousted, and one of the lucky who cashed in millions in stock before Enron's decline. (Ironically, despite some huge debacles, Mark's international projects were among the few assets of value left standing when the dust of Enron settled.) The book also includes much more detail on the shady financial maneuverings of Enron, which arguably were prompted by Skilling's constant promises to Wall Street of increased quarterly earnings (regardless of Enron's actual state of profitability), followed by quarter's-end panic and a just-make-it-happen attitude throughout the company. Profitability was happening, but mainly on paper. Understanding Andy Fastow's off-balance-sheet schemes to hide losses, including the many complex "special purpose entities," can by heady bedtime reading for those of us unschooled in high finance, but it's endlessly fascinating nonetheless.

Though the story of Enron's rise and decline (from a $70-billion company with a stock price of over $80/share to below $10/share and then junk status and bankrupt in a remarkably short time) is fascinating, equally interesting (and related) is Enron's company culture, so vividly illustrated by authors McLean and Elkind. Enron morphed from a straightforward (albeit unsexy) Texas natural-gas supplier into a flashy, MBA-laden, power-trading company with a nearly myopic deal-making culture. Building and maintaining assets was old school; so to it seems were details like carrying through on deals, customer service, anything with a functionary flavor. It was all about trading, starting new businesses, anything visionary (even as Skilling kept selling Enron to Wall Street as a logistics company). One guesses it would have been hell to be a cube worker at Enron, cleaning up the messes created by deal makers upstairs.

For those of us who still think 6 figures is a high salary, it's astonishing to learn about the huge base salaries, multimillion-dollar bonuses, and big severance packages (who knew getting fired or quitting could be so lucrative!). Then there's the hubris of the trading pit. The superior attitude of the traders, other "new" company divisions, and even Skilling himself toward other areas of the company. The complicity of the lawyers and Arthur Andersen's accountants, who were supposed to ensure the company played by the rules (but who enjoyed such high fees and such an incestuous relationship with Enron they sometimes barely tried).

Much of the financial outlay defies common sense, even to those without any business background. Huge bonuses paid to Enron employees immediately for deals signed, based on projected profits (hypothetical and often hugely exaggerated), regardless of whether such deals ever made a dime. The ability to immediately "bank" such profits (yes, all projected profits even on a 30-year project) at quarter's end through the murky glories of mark-to-market accounting. Or Lay and the Board of Directors granting approval to Fastow to set up the special purpose entities (wherein Enron losses were hidden while investment banks were paid high returns for their no-risk (and therefore illegal) participation), and yet never directly asking Fastow specifically how much he was profiting from the funds. Lay and the directors thought Fastow would earn a modest return on his own money invested (Enron also paid him a substantial fee to manage the funds). But within a few years, Fastow and his wife profited a whopping $60 million from the funds, even as he was CFO of Enron and negotiating deals WITH Enron on behalf of the funds. Amazing. (One would think Fastow had nervous knots in his stomach each work day wondering when this sticky subject would come up, but it appears he was confused to the end about any impropriety.)

Kudos to coauthor Bethany McLean, who as a Fortune writer (amid the peak of Wall Street/analyst/investment banking hoopla and adoration over Enron stock) was one of the first to call up Jeff Skilling and say, in effect, "the numbers don't make sense." I'm now onto reading "Power Failure" by Sherron Watkins (the Enron accountant who warned Lay that Enron could implode due to accounting improprieties) and I think TSGITR will provide great background info.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kim bowers
I have to give this five stars - a well researched and written story that reads like fiction but actually happened. I had seen the documentary first and picked up the book simply because I wanted to know more of the details. If you liked Barbarians' at the Gates then you will enjoy this dark and tragic story of financial ruin.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
terri kruse
This book was very well written. It follows a logical sequence of events that allows the reader to learn in depth what happened at Enron. A fair amount of research details the characters (Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling in particular, but other architects such as Richard Kinder) and how their social and professional lives intertwined back to the 1980's and earlier. Long before the headlines (that is the late 90's headlines raving, and the post bankruptcy rants) there were a number of events that lead to what would be one of the most notorious flame outs in corporate history.

I was impressed by the impartial narrative. The reader is not bombarded with a sense of the author's point of view, and there is no excessive use of colorful detail. Rather, the facts ar presented in a very readable manner, and the reader is allowed to make his own decision on the fall of Enron.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
linda keesing
Agree with previous reviews of this book and no doubt: must read before you do any more investments. Very well researched and exciting read. Describes things they don't teach you on MBA/CFA etc. Looking forward to a similar book on credit crunch!
Have to say though, I'm about half-way through the book (sorry if it changes) but what's a bit disturbing is that all written from "it was all so obvious why didn't everybody see this coming" retrospective perspective. Fair enough, the authors wrote the article "Is Enron overvalued" but did they predict bankruptcy? Did they know about all the accounting tricks before the post-bankruptcy analysis became available? I doubt it. We're all smarter after the fact!
Nevertheless, must read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you are intrigued about "what really happened at Enron" and "were they evil or just stupid", there is no better source than this. The authors not only manage to track the extensive history through the lives of various characters, they also manage to explain some difficult business concepts lucidly and to maintain a consistent voice of reason (rather than bias - which is as easy when you talk about scum like Farlow or Skilling as this!).

I would rate this book higher than "The den of thieves", "Liar's poker", or "Barbarians at the gates" - each of which is an all time classic in the genre.

It is through gems and authors like this that Fortune continues to be a great magazine. Hope they can do it more often that they already do.

I wish authors of a similar calibre and diligence can write a book on the Bush Administration and the single-handed destruction of human lives, safety of the planet, and international law. One can find many parallels with Enron about misplaced sense of power, self-worship, arrogance, and basic lack of morals - no wonder some of them were back-slapping buddies. Kenny Boy, indeed! Sadly, this bunch won't be sentenced and no cost can be recovered that people of this world already have paid, some with their lives.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
erik hermans
I was amazed at two things above all in this story: (1) How many of the supposed "experts" went along with Enron's "success" over the years. Accountants, lawyers, bankers, regulators,etc. and (2) The shocking compensation paid to the top people and some not so top people, particularly the bonuses. It was clear that the Enron Board didn't have a clue about some of the "clever" shenanigans and went along for the ride. I didn't have a lot of faith in the corporate governance system before and I have less now.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
joshua cohen
picked this book up after reading Buffet's recommendation in his annual letter. The book definitely makes the bile rise, but it does not delve sufficiently into social and business context of the 90s that allowed such excesses.
Good documentation and references to the failure of oversight bodies like SEC, accounting firms (Arthur Andersen audited Enron, PWC audited some subsidiaries). It was revealing to read the glorious predictions of analysts who fail to distinguish between aspirations and business reality. The Enron staffers reminded me of a story about a footballer intent on scoring a goal but is incapable of stopping him/herself from scoring into his/her own team's goal because the desire to score a goal was overarching and maniacal.
The last 150 pages of the book is sheer torture to read, page after page repetition of same problem, i.e.,'monetizing' future revenue and not recognizing losses in subsidiary, but then Repetition is the mother of learning, I suppose.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
matthew worley
This is a detailed, thoroughly researched history of the rise and fall of Enron highlighting the machinations and foibles of the full range of well known players with Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow playing the leading rules of oblivious fool, ruthless visionary and greedy fraud respectively [Lay and Skilling and many others are also greedy but Fastow set a special standard]. I found it very difficult to wade through all of the business details and I think that they at times blinded the reader from the basic story of greed and hype which allowed this fraudulent enterprise to stay aloft as long as it did. Further, at times the narrative repeated details mentioned previously and the book would have been well served with closer editing. If the lawyers prosecuting Ken Lay can't figure out a simpler theme then that presented here, my predicition is that he won't be convicted.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
arlene rabuse laverde
Riveting account of a subject that could be VERY dry and boring. The only question I have is about the tone and portrayal of the major characters including Jeff Skilling.

Was he REALLY that much of a hype meister when talking about Enron? It's easy to fall into the trap when reading a book like this that A led to B that led to C. It all just seems so neat and orderly after the fact.

I am looking forward to increasing my Enron scholarship by checking out other books on the subject. It is very fascinating to me that a set of such large organizations could talk themselves into behaving this way.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
liz tomkinson
This book does a terrific job describing how the people at the top of Enron took corporate malfeasance to a new level.

This book puts in plain language who the actors involved are, what happened, and how people let it happened. It is a must read for any Californian interested in knowing why brown-outs came to be, anyone interested in deregulating energy companies, former investors of Enron (myself included) who want to know how their money disappeared, and pretty much most other Americans too.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jane deaux
Incredible chain of events for the rise and fall of one of the greatest energy companies.

Although clearly there was criminal activity by a number of people, I believe it raises the larger question on "Why weren't Anderson Consulting Employees held criminally liable." Anderson was paid to protect the interests of investors by auditing financial risks and results, and completely overlooked the factors that were misrepresented or risky.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kevin carey infante
I purchased the book after seeing the documentary in an Ethics class taken during an MBA program at Oklahoma City University. I wanted a little more detail on how things got so blatently out of hand at Enron. I've also read the Conspiracy of Fools. I'm very intrigued by the human nature aspect of this story. We are not being realistic, if we don't think this very same situation could happen anywhere at anytime. More people didn't come forward because their personal livlihood was in jeopardy, even though they had concerns about the ethics of the operation. These were very smart people who let their arrogance get in the way. In the end, everyone was to blame, but no one was to blame. Based on what I understand of the personalities of the Enron Leaders - this was their destiny. It was bound to happen - it only took some time. The biggest question of all - who is next.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book will be especially valuable to those who have a keen interest in "the amazing rise and scandalous fall of Enron." I also commend to their attention Smith and Emshwiller's 24 Hours: How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America. The "smartest guys in the room" included Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Rebecca Mark, Andrew Fastow, Kenneth Rice, and Clifford Baxter. Whereas Smith and Emshwiller explored the same company as investigative reporters, McLean and Elkind seem (to me) to have approached their subject as corporate anthropologists. Both books reach many of the same conclusions as to what happened...and why.

Two significant differences are that Smith and Emshwiller limit their attention primarily to a period in 2001 extending from October 16th (when Enron announced huge losses caused by two partnerships) to December 3rd (when Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy); McLean and Elkind cover a two-year period of the company's "amazing rise and scandalous fall." Also, McLean and Elkind devote far more attention to each of the "smartest guys"; Smith and Emshwiller seem far less interested in them, except in terms of the impact of their mismanagement and corruption. Let's say there are two books about the collapse of the twin towers at the World Trade Center; one focuses on the human tragedies associated with it whereas a second book addresses design, construction, and structural issues. Obviously, both approaches are valid.

McLean and Elkind suggest that the eventual collapse of Enron was caused less by the greed of senior-level Enron executives than it was by their arrogance and incompetence. Their lack of basic business acumen is astonishing as is their defiance of regulatory agencies and contempt for customers. None of them seems to have had a moral "compass." They exemplified, indeed nourished a culture of brutal competition between and among their subordinates. Each used Enron as a personal ATM as well as a means by which to structure all manner of corporate partnerships and high risk/high yield investments without fear of any personal liability. If one prospered, so did they. If it failed, the loss was Enron's. On to another.

Primary blame for all this must be shared by Lay, Skilling, and Fastow. McLean and Elkind rigorously examine the inadequacies of each, suggesting that if only one of the three had not been involved, it is probable that Enron would not have had the problems it did. Attorneys, accountants, brokers (notably Merrill Lynch) and bankers (especially Citibank and JP Morgan Chase) apparently were aware of Enron's bending and then breaking of various laws but were earning so much in fees that they chose to remain at the Enron "trough" side-by-side with Lay, Skilling, Fastow, and other Enron executives.

Consider this brief excerpt from Chapter 10 (page 149):

Here's how another former employee explains the process: "Say you have a dog, but you need to create a duck on the financial statements. Fortunately there are specific accounting rules for what constitutes a duck: yellow feet, white covering, orange beak. So you take the dog and paint its feet yellow and its fur white and you paste an orange plastic beak on its nose, and then you say to your accountants, `This is a duck! Don't you agree that it's a duck?' And the accountants say, `Yes, according to the rules, this is a duck.' Everybody knows that it's a dog, not a duck, but that doesn't matter, because you've met the rules for calling it a duck."

There are so many other brief, equally revealing excerpts which I am tempted to include but won't. Earlier, I suggested that McLean and Elkind display in this volume many of the skills of a corporate anthropologist. I also commend them on their skills as storytellers. Of course, it helps to have many colorful characters and such an interesting narrative. Among business books, this is one of the rare "page turners." If Enron remains a classic example of organizational dysfunction, my guess is that this book will remain the definitive analysis of the causes and effects of that dysfunction.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
charlotta lahnalahti
Not a fan of the business book since I've found many of them so boring. I got this book based on the recommendation on BusinessWeek (I'm a fan of this magazine) and am not disappointed. It's well-written, easy to understand. The writer seems to have all the details nailed down and have a very entertain-able writing style. Almost like reading a very good novel except that this is true, which is very rare when it comes to business book. You will finish it in no time. Unputdownable.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Like many others, I have been fascinated by the whole Enron story, from what happened to who let it happen and why. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only Enron book I'll ever need. Every aspect of Enron, from its origins to its demise, is explained in great detail. I recommend watching the documentary based on the book as a supplement for this reading. The creative accounting used by the company to mask its debt was pretty complicated. And although I believe the authors did a pretty good job of breaking it down for the average person, I seem to remember (maybe incorrectly) the movie breaking it down even further. All in all, extremely fascinating stuff.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you want to completely understand what the Enron ollapse was all about, this is the book. Complicated business and accounting procedures explained in plain language anybody can understand. It is also an absorbing detective story that will keep you turning pages. Read this book, then watch the equally excellent movie.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Given that I was in business school during the Enron scandal, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what happened since every class seemed to discuss the issues. However, I didn't realize until I read this book how much of a role the Wall Street analysts and investment bankers played in contributing to the continued and unwarranted rise of the stock price. As I am now an analyst, this story terrifies me...but it also opens my eyes into how much of a responsibility we have to truly dig deep into companies and make sure we fully understand everything before getting involved. I think this is a "must read" for anyone, but particularly those of us in the business world.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Like many, I followed the Enron disaster as it unfolded with a certain curiosity usually reserved for matters closer to home. Somehow, the more I learned, the more intrigued I became at the sheer magnitude of the arrogance, incompetence and irresponsible management displayed by executives who were surely thought to be `the smartest guys in the room'. Fearing the media at large was skewing the coverage afforded to Enron on a whole, I looked forward to a book or report that would serve as a definitive look into the entire Enron affair with the type of thoughtful and provocative investigation that "The Smartest Guys In The Room" provides. Having been extremely disappointed with another recently read Enron expose, I could not recommend "The Smartest Guys In The Room" highly enough. Not only do McLean and Elkind do an excellent job in uncovering the facts, they do so in a crisply entertaining and enticing manner that kept me interested and consumed the entire way through. From the opening chapter, the authors flush out the characters, establish the timeline and ultimately piece together an incredibly insightful story of greed, ignorance and outright superciliousness, worthy of anyone's time and attention. "The Smartest Guys In The Room" is an incredible section of work that deserves to be recognized as the truly inspired endeavor that it is.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
laura gesme
I did enjoy reading this book on the Enron scandal. Of course the activity descibed is typical of that during the final phases of a bull market. I had many friends who got taken in an lost money on Enron. What these investors had in common was lack of knowledge on investing. To those of us who had the knowledge and experience the danger of investing in Enron was very clear.I too am an author and would recommend my book for those who want to learn how to invest properly. Just type in the title of my book to find it on the store. How to Make Money in the Stock Market-Buy 2,500 different stocks pay no commission.

Good luck
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
McLean and Elkind did a wonderful job in preparing this book. Using a chronological method, the reader is able to follow through the case from the beginning. The backgrounds of the situations, conditions and persons involved with the case are well explained. After reading this book I am now understand what is actualy the enron case all about, how did they do it and why it happened. This is really important to someone who has interest in the internal control - internal audit area.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
israa samhan
This book chronicles the adventure of Enron in a relatively compact 400 page package. Enron's lifeblood (executives, lenders, analysts, environment, etc.) are presented in a format that reads like a novel. It's easy to see how this book became a documentary film. I saw the film first and knew that the information, as impactive as it was, could only be deeper and better if read. The question of "How could this have gone on for so long?" was too compelling to let go.

Unfortunately, I wasn't prepared for the hard read. Specifically, the corporate financial jargon. I can barely do my own taxes and I'm trying to comprehend SPE's, derivatives, off-balance sheet accounting, and a load of other "techniques" and "vehicles" that are legitimately pivotal concepts that affect the enjoyment of this book's read. The authors did try to give definitions of many of the concepts, but not in a context or length that gave me a clear understanding of how grand the schemes were in building the rat's nest that was Enron's stucture. This would have lengthened the book quite a bit, but what's another 100 or so pages added to what was already a truly commendable effort the authors made at piecing this story together?

The book was written with a bias, too. I doubt anyone would smile on the devastation Enron left in it's wake, but that's to be left to the reader. Enron was a black place, but the authors didn't put any effort into painting a contrasting white scenario for contrast in a corporation's economic existence. Millions and millions of dollars were quoted here and there regarding investments, salaries, bonusses, equity, debt, etc., but how did all of this compare to other corporation's operations? You don't get that in this book. No historical comparisons worth mention. It's an Enron-bash session (how hard is that?), not a case study from which to compare, contrast, and learn. This left me a bit disappointed.

This book is a must read for those interested in finace, corporations, brazen personalities, and the cost of believing your own delusions for a bit too long.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lauren king
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 expose. Thre's enough detail to satisfy advanced business folks without losing the casual reader completely.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kira gold
This book goes through Enron's rise and fall while analyzing each main character. McLean and Elkind have researched well.

This is quite entertaining and a fun read. The only downside is the large number of characters, but the authors have provided a character description list in the beginning of the book. I frequently referred to the characters' descriptions.

Overall, a good book on Enron's choices over the years.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
vincent russell
If you never read a book again in your life - read this first. Couldn't put it down. Not particularly that interested in America but this is a story of our time, and anyone with an interest in business and markets, will be fascinated by this - particularly in the wake of the last 4 years of economic meltdown. Brilliantly written - and the facts are the facts. The sheer scale of Corporate excess, greed and downright artifice is staggering - and you will be saying "how could this have ever happened"? 5 stars all day long.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nancy doherty
This book takes a detailed look into Enron's failure. There is quite a bit of background and detail on various transactions that were not included in many of the Enron-related books. I'd also recommend the movie version of this book (although beware that there is some nudity; something I wasn't expecting in a "documentary" about Enron).

This book serves up a warning against greed and the ease with which some people step over the line. Just because it isn't per se illegal, does not mean it is morally acceptable.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
We hear politicans and amateur spinners throw out the word "Enron" as a smear against capitalists and Republicans in general. Anyone who uses that term in a derogatory political sense would be well served to read this book. Michael Kopper... and the very socially liberal Andy Fastow come across as the brains of this scam, while Ken "Kenny Boy" Lay comes across as a happy-go-lucky public face without a clue Very easy read for those with modicum of business/finance/accounting background and still a worthwhile and concise read for those who don't have such a background.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Much has already been written about the collapse of Enron, but I guess I never had an appreciation for the real lesson: the Enron story is actually about human frailty and the lack of Enron management self-discipline to be able to control their own weakenesses. This inability results in a corporate culture that breeds hubris, greed and tunnel vision.

I walked away feeling sorry for the pathetic protagonists in this saga. These smartest guys in the room were too stupid to realize what they really needed. Like a bizarre 'Wizard of Oz', Skilling needs humility, Lay needs a backbone, Fastow needs a hug, Mark needs a friend, Pai needs self esteem....and the list goes on.

I was suprised by the often poor writing. The co-authors are both senior writers for Fortune, and I expected a more coherent prose. What you often get makes you gasp in grammatical horror. It often feels like there are two voices narrating the story and the tone is inconsitent and sometimes condecending.

Bottom line: if you don't mind holding your nose to get through the ~400 pages, it's a worthwhile read for anyone that needs to be reminded of the incredibly shallow world we sometimes live in.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
christopher medjber
This book is about a reality so different from my own, I use it as escapism. Although the transactions described are Byzantine, the book nevertheless holds the reader's attention for over 400 pp. Events are presented roughly chronologically; the characters and information accrue like an approaching balloon note; some questions are answered only after the reader has had time to stew. Tension mounts as the house of cards gets impossibly higher!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This book grabs you from the get-go with the details of the Cliff Baxter suicide in the introduction. It is a heart pounding page turner from that point on. Sometimes the technical explanations of some very complex accounting machinations might have you reading and re-reading the same passages, and you might not completely understand some of the high level concepts, but stick with it. The authors did an amazing job of making the characters and culture at Enron come alive.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
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 in whom we trust (and pay hansomely) to guard against such crooks. If there was ever a book to convince investors to do their own homework and to think independently, this is it. A well written and an engaging read. Well worth the money.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
liz b
This book provides a detailed and insightful examination of what went wrong with Enron. Obviously, we did not learn from the excesses of that debacle, and are therefore doomed to repeat it in our present economic mess. We still do not seem to be learning much and we are doing even less. This attitude will result in the eventual collapse of our economic system and our poilitical system as well.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
sarah rabasco
I did not enjoy this book, because the auther started bashing Enron right from the beggining, so I did not get a real sense of a time line and when the wrong started outrsipping the good. If Enron was a failure from day one as indicated in the book, it would not have lasted this long. I understand that the creative and fradulant accounting .. but Enrfon had real assets that enabled it to have insights translated into trade, and enabled it to create a trading market.This was not emphasized in the time frame built by the auther. As a stand alone book, it is not enough.One would need to read more.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jade woods
I waited till book was out in kindle format. It was very up to date including the demise of Ken Lay and the sentencing of Skilling. I always smelled a rat when a leading business magazine had a picture of Skilling on the cover the week after his sudden resignation that asked if Enron could survive without him? The answer seems to be no... (Another question would be can there a conspiracy when the other conspirator dies?)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kate helm
The most amazing of the book is that it is all real and it happened so recent. The players in the book are still around and the main person, Andy Fastow, is still only in his thirties.

Salmon Rushdie once said that not even the best author can imagine what happens in real life. This book certainly proofs that.

The book also provides adequate technical, financial and accounting information as to what happened within Enron.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
patrick dominguez
Great book!!!
Luckily I did not miss the story as I always read articles by Beth Mclean in Fortune. When the book was published I could not wait to order it via the store...
Again, this book contributes invaluable things to learn, how we need ethics in business more than just follow the rules...
Imam Soeseno
Bogor, Indonesia
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
carrie smith
This is an important read for those who wish to understand how NOT to run a company that had more potential that any other Fortune 500 company in history. Lay and Skilling were a bunch of egoists and lousy managers who believed cronyism and nepotism were benefital to running a company. They failed and with them the dream of several thousand American's.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
This book makes a compelling case that the folks who ran Enron were greedy, arrogant, overbearing, obnoxious, and probably criminal. I don't doubt any of it. A point in their favor though, lost among all the negatives, is that they tried to make stuff happen. They took risks, made deals, put pedal to the metal in their overly ambitious attempts to gain market share and enter new areas. The errors that they made were on the side of action rather than the side of caution.

Contrast this behavior to a company like Exxon. Due to run ups in the world price of oil the company has generated lots of cash over the last couple of years. Enough cash to go on the prowl for lots of new deals. Build refineries, develop new fields, invest in the energy infrastructure, etc. In short they should be doing deals and making stuff happen. Instead what actually happens is paralysis by analysis. They just sit on a big pile of cash instead of putting it to work.

I'm not excusing Enron for their dubious accounting, lack of ethics, and shell game financial structures. I'd just like to seem some of their aggressive spirit imbued in the lethargic energy giants of today.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dario vargas
For anyone who is into the tales of accounting scandals, this is the book for you. It is very well written, and although you know the outcome, its still an exciting read. It goes into the morality and culture of the Enron firm, and it gives you a better understanding and connection with the players involved.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I thouroughly recommend this book. I have not read a book fully in about 10 years. Can never seem to finish them. This book I could not put down and finished in record time. A fantastic read and well structured.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
leigh anne
This is a reasonably entertaining account of the Enron saga, and possibly the most up-to-date one (bar anything that has happened during the trial). It provides plenty of information that is easy to follow, even being a dry topic for a reader with little knowledge of or exposure to the topic.

However, like in many so-colled investigative journalism articles, there are three key flaws:

1. The book heavily criticizes many business decisions, some of which can only be seen as poor after the facts. The kinda 20/20 expertise in hindsight that the authors push is only but unfair, especially when the authors themselves cannot claim to have been in management positions that required guts and business know-how.

2. The book displays a clear left-wing bias when it does not miss any opportunity to bring up issues such as regulation of markets is better than free markets, free markets hurt "little people" and favours "big business", the smart and the powerful are "bad" and the ordinary person is good, MBA are young and greedy but the workers are victims.

3. It tries to put the blame on Bush and Republicans for what Enron did on the basis that Enron contributed and lobbied the GOP. However, it does not point out that MOST American corporations (and people as well) make plenty of contributions to every political party, liberal, greeny or whatever. Nothing could be implied just by the fact that Enron supported the GOP.

All in all, the book looks like the typical drivel of a liberal writer trying to throw cheap potshots. This is like everything that Michael Moore wrote. There is every reason to believe that the film baed on this movie will possibly win an Oscar, simply because the Academy is infested with left-wingers.
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