Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind

Title: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
Authors: Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Portfolio Trade
Publish Date: 2004
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Meticulously researched and character driven, Smartest Guys in the Room takes the reader deep into Enron's past—and behind the closed doors of private meetings. Drawing on a wide range of unique sources, the book follows Enron's rise from obscurity to the top of the business world to its disastrous demise. It reveals as never before major characters such as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow, as well as lesser known players like Cliff Baxter and Rebecca Mark. Smartest Guys in the Room is a story of greed, arrogance, and deceit—a microcosm of all that is wrong with American business today. Above all, it's a fascinating human drama that will prove to be the authoritative account of the Enron scandal."

My Two Cents:

"The Smartest Guys in the Room" is the story of Enron, which was a dynamo company in the late 80s and early 90s known for blowing expectations out of the water at every turn. Alas, what seems too good to be true often is as was the case with Enron. Enron is now known as a cautionary tale for many businesses. This book almost feels Shakespeare-like with a huge cast of characters that would be at home in any soap opera.

I was pretty young when the Enron ordeal actually happened so I didn't really understand the implications at the time. I went for my Master's in business and time after time, Enron seemed to come up as a case study of exactly what not to do. I was drawn to this book by getting a full picture of how shady business and finance practices were able to infect a company that once had so much promise. What I had kind of lost by only being old enough to sort of remember the scandal is that at one time, Enron was a top, well-respected business. The hindsight always does seem to overshadow that but appreciating just how far Enron fell makes the story all that much more stunning.

This book came out relatively soon after the scandal and before all of the punishments had been handed out. Drawing on extensive interviews and reporting that was done both before, during, and after the scandal, this book gives a rich picture of exactly what went wrong and how everything fell apart. The writing is very thorough but still entertaining. The author does a great job of bringing everything to light.



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