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

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Enron's Rise & Fall as Told via Whiplash

    So I started into Bethany McLean & Peter Elkind's narration of Enron's rise & fall with high expectations. My expectations were very high having seen the movie version of the same book admittedly several times and knowing that the book is often times better then the movie. Additionally being a subscriber to Fortune magazine I've been privy to both writers work and have been impressed with their style & substance.

    The Smartest Guys in the Room, The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron does do what a lot of books that are then made into movies which is to fill in gaps and put more meat on the bones of the story. The depth of character building that the authors put into the book is very well done, enhancing and providing greater insight into each of the key players (and a few contributing characters) then what is more broadly known.

    Further, McLean & Elkind's ability to simplify abstract and highly technical terminologies from the off-partnership entities to the accounting rigueur that Enron utilized allows even a non-MBAer to understand what occurred.

    The part that undoes most of this great work is the flow of the story-telling itself. With each successive deep-dive into a character the authors start at the earliest possible point in that persons career & then makes their way forward to the eventual demise of Enron and that persons role in it. The issue is that if you take that across the multitude of characters that they bring forward you get a sense that you're on a bungee chord dropping until you get to current events only to be pulled back upwards (or back in time) to restart with another character.

    It isn't until close to the end when, thankfully, all the character have been developed that the reader can then continue with a sequential story-line.

    Also, while the story itself is told from a fairly objective point-of-view you get the sense the authors, particularly McLean, are gunning for Jeff Skilling given his treatment of her as described in one part of the book. From a historical perspective one looks at Skilling and can say, he was judged by a jury of his peers and found guilty but when you contrast his actions with the actions of senior executives at the financial institutions during the recent financial crisis you have to ask, did he really do anything different?

    The financial institutions were reliant on ratings to ensure they had access to liquidity, just like Enron. They needed that liquidity to fund not only their day-to-day operations but any particular growth initiatives, just like Enron. Additionally, all counterparties were aware that this was how they operated because they were on the other end of the deals/transactions that were being made.just like Enron. And then, when that perception is altered, right or wrong, then it's like a deck of cards falling down as the shorts come out of the woodwork..just as Alan Schwartz, Dick Fuld, John Mack got it, Jeff Skilling proclaimed. Now, did the financial institutions use off-balance sheet transactions to move debt to look like earnings? No. But they did use a tool that was highly risky and created increased level of leverages in CDOs. Different tool, same result.

    I haven't gotten to Crash of the Titans (Merrill Lynch), The Last of the Imperious Rich (Lehman Brothers), but it will be interesting to see what light the senior executives in the financial industry are cast..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004

    Ethics was a Dirty Word at Enron

    A compelling look at Enron's demise--the top executives are repugnant, amoral and astoundingly arrogant. The web of byzantine accounting practices at Enron should make all shareholders take a closer look at dya-to-day corporate activities. A well-written, well-researched, and informative read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2004

    A must read for anyone involved in the business world.

    This book is thoughtfully written and certainly entertaining, even if at times repetitive. It is a thorough investigation into one of the most dramatic corporate scandals of our time. You don't have to know anything about Enron to enjoy the read. Most importantly, it gives the individual investor, corporate employee or corporate 'advisor' some insight on corporate ethics gone wrong. Egos took over here. As the saying goes 'If its too good to be true it probably is.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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