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

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  5,025 ratings  ·  231 reviews
There were dozens of books about Watergate, but only All the President's Men gave readers the full story, with all the drama and nuance and exclusive reporting. And thirty years later, if you're going to read only one book on Watergate, that's still the one. Today, Enron is the biggest business story of our time, and Fortune senior writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind a...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published September 28th 2004 by Portfolio Trade (first published 2003)
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Another excellent work that provides insight into how financial incentive regimes (Regulations, Markets, Competitor Behavior)influence the actions of micro-players (CEO's, divisional managers, etc) in the business world.

Enron's collapse is a case study of what can go wrong in an economic system that lacks adequate checks and balances coupled with the increasing disempowerment of other important economic actors (labor unions etc). Unfortunately whatever lessons have been learned from Enron have y...more
Rishi Prakash
I had read about the scandalous fall of Enron while studying in graduation but it was just a news for me that time which was like any other news in the business page. It was much later that I started seeing the refernce of Enron in various corporate stories while reading and that is how my curiousity started building. And i must confess I would have never ever understood the significance of the entire Enron story if not for this great book. Enron has gone on to become a master case study to set...more
Jarrod Jenkins
That I am an internal auditor at a major oil and gas company undoubtedly contributed to my interest in this book. Nonetheless, McLean and Elkind's ability to present a convoluted and complex topic in an intriguing way culminate in this page-turner that anyone with even a moderate interest in business, accounting, economics, or current affairs will enjoy. The authors strike an effective balance between providing the nitty-gritty details of the accounting, the bigger picture, and the gossip.

In ma...more
This book is a must for just about everyone. It reads like a novel, but unfortunately its all non- fiction. This book proves that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
For anyone who has an interest in protecting your wealth and hard earned money, this is a must reead. I learned how important it is how your personal actions and behaviours can have such a detrimental affect not only to those around you but way beyond those that might seem unafected. The enron scandal was something that everyon...more
Jul 15, 2007 Ryan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: people interested in business ethics or think smart people will make the right decisions
Detailed history of Enron from its foundation to collapse, with particular attention paid to the critical characters (Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Andrew Fastow, etc.) Interesting if you think fall of Enron is an interesting subject (I do, but don't blame you if you don't). My biggest takeaway was the question of whether getting "the smartest guys" all together in a room will lead to good results, since it was clearly such a catastrophe in this case. And, if getting the smartest guys together in a...more
I watched the documentary based on this book, and while it was entertaining (in a sad, "how the hell do they get away with this sort of stuff" kind of way), 110 minutes is nowhere near enough time to unwind all of the chicanery and manipulation at the heart of the Enron scandal. The book, I'm happy to say, is far more comprehensive. And yet, although dealing with potentially dense, head-scratching issues of the structuring of complex financial instruments, it manages to be a compelling, dare i s...more
Thom Dunn
"Until the Spring of 2001, The Houston energy giant Enron epitomized the triumph of the new economy. Feared by rivals, worshiped by investors, Enron seemingly could do no wrong. Its profits rose every quarter; its stock price surged erer upward; its leaders were hailed as visionaries.
Then a young Fortune writer named Bethany McLean wrote an article posing a simple question--How, exactly, does Enron make its money ? --and the company's house of cards began to collapse...." (from the inside fron...more
Billy Keene
I normally won't write a review but for this masterpiece I will make an exception. This book goes into great detail profiling the giant behometh known as Enron and the genius behind its marketing, product, and accounting structure which later turned out to be a pure illusion. The scope and breadth of the research involved was enjoyable to read. I especially enjoyed the way the characters were able to relate to and the author did a great job highlighting Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling's "Win-At...more
This book takes accounting fraud so complex that Wall Street write large didn't understand it for years and boils it down in a way that is understandable and, more surprisingly, fairly riveting. I am a bit of a junkie for this kind of story (I'd really like to be a prosecutor of white collar crime, I think), but the writers do a pretty incredible job, and given what a major issue Enron has been in our economy, in the law, and in the regulation of corporations, I think this is a worthwhile read f...more
The Smartest Guys In the Room is a well-written, well-researched attempt to unravel the financial shenanigans that led to Enron’s bankruptcy. It’s a compelling (and sometimes soapy) indictment of the worst side of business, and it queasily foreshadows the financial crisis of 2008.

I can’t say enough about how well McLean and Elkind present the material in this book, but the fact remains that (a) it’s really, really long, and (b) it’s about finance. I learned a lot about securitization (etc.) as a...more
Very well-researched and detailed book, sometimes too detailed. It's pretty well-written, but I gave it three stars because you can really get bogged down in the all the financial mumbo-jumbo. It's also kind of exhausting to read because you will be irritated by how arrogant and stupid the Enron leaders were, and as they make the same mistakes over and over, it's easy to lose interest as a reader. If you are someone who really likes reading about financial markets and business, though, this will...more
Virgilio Pigliucci
A great depiction of one of the biggest example, in modern history, of the "mafia" evolution to the highest levels, where the street violence and the low-level crime become high volume bribery and financial crimes that are capable of hitting way more people than the mob of the 70s.
I read the book in a few months... very interesting but hard to follow between so many numbers, episodes and not an easy narrative plot. When I was done with it I found the documentary on Netflix and after those 2 hour...more
If you scratch your head trying figure out all of these acronyms in finance, it's worth going back and reading about some of the boys who took off-balance sheet transactions to a whole new level. So much has been written about the rise and fall of Enron, but this book does it succinctly and at a layman's level. Plus they give you the whole People magazine backstory on these traders, including the names of the strip clubs in Houston the frequented and Ken Lay's difficult childhood.
Lance Cahill
A (fairly) dispassionate narrative of the collapse of Enron. The authors focus primarily on weaving together a narrative of Enron while providing details of the specific financial transactions which led to Enron's ultimate collapse and subsequent regulatory inquiries. At times, the authors seem to inject some hindsight analysis into some of the narrative, which may be seen as unfair to the players involved, however evil we see them today.

The authors focus heavily on mark-to-market (MTM) account...more
Diane Pfaeffle
“malfeasance n. intentionally doing something either legally or morally wrong which one had no right to do. It always involves dishonesty, illegality, or knowingly exceeding authority for improper reasons. Malfeasance is distinguished from “misfeasance,” which is committing a wrong or error by mistake, negligence or inadvertence, but not by intentional wrongdoing. Example: a city manager putting his indigent cousin on the city payroll at a wage the manager knows is above that allowed and/or lett...more
Athan Tolis
This book is generally acknowledged to be the definitive account on Enron and the creative accounting era. And it is a truly overwhelming piece of research.

In contrast with "Barbarians", "When Genius Failed" or the more recent "Billionaire's Apprentice", it does not read like a narrative, and that's because it really can't. Enron was a lot more complex than a single transaction or a single hedge fund. It was an agglomeration of businesses, each with its own specific character. You can't go over...more
Greg Talbot
Agog with a sky-rocketing stock and astronomical return rates, Enron’s rise and cataclysmic fall is a breath-taking story. The book shows how the company transformed from Ken Lay to the big thinker, flippin brilliant Jeff Skilling. Skilling turned the energy world on its balding head, giving it renewal through multiple energy ventures and tricky accounting before the project feel apart.

You really get a sense reading this, that all involved parties were drinking the kool aid (or strawberry marti...more
Aaron Dev
This book is as ambitious, encompassing and massive as the firm in which it endeavors to cover. Fortunately, Ms McLean doesn't succumb to sounding like the 'pure intellects' the title is so named for, writing in brisk prose and simple language that leaves this firm's history easily accessible for most high school students.

The book gives a tremendously detailed account of the key players, the chess moves and the 'in the moment' justification that went into all of the chicanery which brought down...more
When the Enron scandal broke I was a freshman in high school, so although I remember hearing about it I didn’t really know much about it. Several years later, when I was a senior in college working in Houston for an internship, the Enron saga was brought to my attention again when a friend said “those are the old Enron towers” as we were driving through downtown Houston. I made a mental note to learn the details of what happened, and then promptly forgot until this book was called to my attentio...more
Liz Barr
I don't have a background in business or investment, so this was a difficult and technical read in many places. But it was absolutely worth the effort (and not just because now I have a better idea what I'm doing when I'm transcribing investment-related stuff at work).

I didn't pay much attention when Enron collapsed; it was in the Australian media, but not front page news. And that was before the days when I skimmed the business section as a matter of course. So I was absorbing a lot of new inf...more
Too detailed for my liking, but a good read nonetheless.
I started the book hoping for insights into what Enron was all about, why it was such a big fiasco, and was it really a fraud or more likely, a blame on the system and the herd of wall street.

I got my answers. It was a culture of heady gains, extravagance, gaming the system, musical chairs and dancing until the music went on and the booze kept flowing.

So, we have financial engineering - a relatively new thing then.
There is SPEs, fraudulen...more
Simon Wood

Enron, once the much favoured and slavered over corporation of the new paradigm economy of the 1990's (remember that?) is the subject of Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind's engrossing book. The chart the story of the company from it's origins as a lowly gas pipeline company, to it's metamorphosis into Enron, riding the wave of the future into deregulated markets, a share price reaching out for the stars, and a corporate strategy to profit where no company dared to profit be...more
Kerry Trombley
Tremendous book. A very detailed, in depth, and riveting account of the rise and fall of Enron. There was a good mix of background biography of the main players, details of the questionable accounting practices, and stories of the myriad of project mishaps and poor investments. You got a true sense of how poorly this company was run, and, more importantly, how the failure of its leadership to address the growing issues. What I liked best though was that the author was able to put me in the shoes...more
Kevin Rubin
"The Smartest Guys in the Room" was an interesting book, covering the rise, downfall and early aftermath of Enron. The authors aren't interested in presenting the Enron leaders as smart or skilled, and their goal seems to be to demonstrate their incompetence.

Ken Lay is portrayed as doing a good job getting Enron started as a big company, but eventually caring more for the trappings of being a big company CEO than actually doing any work. For most of the book he deals more with the philanthropy a...more

This one is an absolute stunner. It is better than any fast, action packed thriller. Being from the Konkan belt, the area where Enron’s most controversial Dabhol plant is located, I had a special interest in the book and it did not disappoint at all. The Smartest Guys in the Room tells the story of the incredibly fast rise of Enron and even faster demise. It’s a story that has many attributes common to other stories like Lehman Brothers, LTCM or Bear Sterns...more
Amazing detailed narrative on Enron's rise and fall. Its a roller-coster ride, gives you a detailed account of how Enron got buildup and how its shady practises when unravelled led to its fall like a pack of cards.

It wasnt just Enron who was gaming the system through its nefarious practises, but it was nexus of the company, the ausitors, the bankers and even for a good time SEC ignored what was happening at Enron. Its a stroy of self-believing but overconfident executives like Ken Lay, Jeff Skil...more
Elizabeth Reuter
General statements about the US financial crisis and corruption in big business are easy to refute. I can talk generally corporate corruption, but it's easy for someone to reply, "corporations make jobs" and "you're stereotyping big businesses."

So, it's necessary to get into specifics. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room goes into Enron's history to tell us about the men (and a couple of women) who built the famous company from nothing only to destroy it with greed and arrogance.

It's an aston...more
The Smartest Guys in the Room provides a comprehensive overview of the people behind the meltdown at Enron and the ideas that led a once great company to ruin. It is a story of greed, manipulation and egos that drove some of the "smartest" people in business to extraordinary ends. This book does assume a great deal of knowledge on financial tools and gets technical in its overview but having read several books on Enron this is one of the better ones. From the personality battles under Skilling i...more
Adam Ware
An interesting account of the history of Enron and - at the very end - a bit about the scandal itself. I appreciated it from a historical perspective, but I did not like the moralistic spin that the authors employed throughout the book. I found the book's tone to be self-righteous, and the use of sarcasm (usually employed when expressing amazement at Enron's carelessness) to be unprofessional. The authors also took an almost omniscient view of the events being discussed, even going so far as to...more
Jan 03, 2010 Samantha rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Fans of business books
Shelves: business, true-crime
The Enron scandal is old news now. The company collapsed at the end of 2001, officially declaring bankruptcy on December 2 of that year. Up to that point, it was the biggest corporate bankruptcy filing in American history. But the fallout from the scandal continued for years afterwards. There are still creditors still trying to collect money from the now-defunct company today.

The story of Enron's meteoric rise and stunning fall is a lesson in the dark side of corporate ambition. The bottom line...more
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Bethany McLean is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, and known for her work on the Enron scandal. She had been an editor at large and columnist for Fortune magazine.
McLean grew up in Hibbing and received her BA in English and mathematics at Williams College in 1992. After college and prior to joining Fortune, she worked as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs.
More about Bethany McLean...
All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis

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