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

4.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  9,316 Ratings  ·  336 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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Dec 20, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the mid to late 90's, Houston based company Enron shone brightly as the pin up boy of corporate America. At it's peak in August 2000 it had over 20,000 employees world wide, projected revenue of $101 billion and a share price that hit an all time high $90. Fast forward just over a year and the unthinkable had happened with the company filing for bankruptcy as it share price ended the year at a disastrous $0.30.

The story of how Enron collapsed so quickly is one of corporate greed and deregulat
Jarrod Jenkins
Mar 10, 2009 Jarrod Jenkins rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Rishi Prakash
Sep 25, 2013 Rishi Prakash rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 15, 2007 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  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
May 31, 2007 Mathias rated it really liked it
Shelves: businessprofiles
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
Jan 05, 2009 George rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 16, 2013 Zack rated it really liked it
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
Mar 10, 2011 Nicola rated it liked it
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
May 20, 2012 Leah rated it liked it
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
Mar 23, 2012 Virgilio Pigliucci rated it it was ok
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
Apr 15, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adulthood
I enjoyed the documentary based on this book when it came out a few years ago and the book is fantastic as well. The book goes into a lot of detail about the chaotic profit-obsessed groundwork that led to the eventual scandals at the company. For example, years before their bankruptcy, Enron became so enamored with hotshots from Ivy League schools that they started ONLY hiring hotshot Ivy Leaguers who wanted to close big deals but had no interest in doing the grunt work necessary to make those d ...more
Athan Tolis
Jan 15, 2014 Athan Tolis rated it really liked it
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
Billy Keene
Jul 23, 2013 Billy Keene rated it it was amazing
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
May 29, 2008 Katherine rated it really liked it
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
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
Jowanza Joseph
Jan 07, 2016 Jowanza Joseph rated it it was amazing
I never thought accounting would provide so much entertainment. Since I knew little of exactly what occurred with Enron I wanted to give this a shot and it did not disappoint.
Nov 22, 2014 Frank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent summation of one of the most complex court case/bankruptcy/fraud. The book starts with the author comparing himself to Woodward and Bernstein's "All the President's men" which I found a bit presumptuous and set off a red flag. But after reading the book, I have to agree a bit with the analogy. While there's obvious differences (the author isn't even found in the book. Company versus government. Mildly complex but easy to understand vs. "WTF" levels of complexity" The comparison actu ...more
Jul 09, 2015 James rated it really liked it
Very interesting on so many levels. I heard a talk from a former Enron exec a couple years back and she talked up this book. She toted up how much Enron was working on HR improvements and how great of a company it was to work for.

Although long at times, I kept wanting to extend my drive to hear what other newfangled sh*& they were going to try next. And then to hear what they were making in profits just to support the growth of the stock through OBS entities. WOW, just WOW.

Bryce Wong
Sep 02, 2014 Bryce Wong rated it it was amazing
This book offers its readers a peek into the lives of Enron’s masterminds, graphically describing the events leading up to their demise. What first started out as a winning formula to earning truckloads of cash from trading soon culminated into a series of accounting frauds, lies, and deceptions to deceive the public into thinking that they were actually successful despite racking up huge debts. Think of Enron as the mother of energy back in its heydays. They had assets that were comparable if n ...more
Dec 13, 2008 Kate rated it really liked it
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
Mar 08, 2014 Lance Cahill rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
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
David Quinn
Nov 07, 2015 David Quinn rated it liked it
A solid 3 stars but a book I find difficult to recommend.

At its heart this is a story of several dislikable Icaruses (Icari?) with a Greek chorus consisting of the Enron trading employees. Unfortunately, to get to that story you must wade through much accounting arcana. The accounting aspects are central to the story so I don’t think there’s an easy way around it.

While the book deserves credit for being the first comprehensive telling of the Enron debacle, 12+ years after it was first published
Jan 28, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible, nonfiction, 2014
“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
May 28, 2014 Ellenw rated it it was amazing
It's hard for me to explain why I like this book so much. It's not just that I was very interested in the market manipulations by Enron during the California energy crisis (having been an intern in Governor Davis's press office for a few months of that) and this book does a great job of explaining that, but rather the people involved in the Enron scandal are *fascinating*.

This book can be a tough read- this was a purposefully complex scandal and I'm still only sort of sure what happened, but th
Jul 15, 2014 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well done piece, especially when keeping mind what would happen about 5-6 years later on Wall Street. A story of some very intelligent, but also very greedy and ruthless individuals who seemed to really believe they were running an excellent business while all the while committing what basically amounted to fraud for an extended period. The book reads quickly and while it does include some technical elements, specifically in the finance/accounting fields, it does provide explanations for th ...more
Mark Oppenlander
It's hard to believe that Enron declared bankruptcy almost 14 years ago now; the wound of it is still pretty fresh in collective consciousness. The rise and fall of this American company will stand for a long time as one of the great tales of economic hubris. Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind were the financial journalists who first broke the Enron story and this book is their definitive account of the whole sordid thing.

I've previously seen the documentary film based on this book, so much of what
Sep 21, 2015 Iain rated it really liked it
A case of study of infuriating capitalist greed, megalomania, and sociopathic tendencies, that would be the top brass of Enron. This book is well researched and brings all the players of the (at the time) largest bankruptcy in U.S. history into perspective. "The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron" written by Bethany McLean (a superb investigative journalist) brings you right into the boardroom (if you want to call it that) and shows what a group of A-type pe ...more
Kevin Manriquez
Dec 28, 2015 Kevin Manriquez rated it liked it
Enron used to be the model organization in the United States years ago, but once the individual benefits became more important than actually growing in a licit way, the fall was a matter of time, because the personal avarice and pride of some men blinded the reality and their catastrophic future.

It is a nice lesson, honesty and transparency will always be the best way to develop an enterprise and getting benefits not only for the chairman but also for the customers.

Neither you should never go ag
Greg Talbot
Jan 04, 2014 Greg Talbot rated it really liked it
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
Pranav Shrestha
Jul 01, 2015 Pranav Shrestha rated it it was amazing
This book is incredibly detailed. Even the smartest guys can be wrong, especially when you are self deluded that nothing can go wrong. This book shows the important of a corporate culture, it ain't just about the numbers! Though I am a public accountant(India) student myself, the sophisticated accounting-technical frauds that Enron committed is too hard to understand. I think Bethany McLean & Peter Elkind have done an incredible job trying to simplify them and working on the details of the c ...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.
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“The tale of Enron is a story of human weakness, of hubris and greed and rampant self-delusion; of ambition run amok; of a grand experiment in the deregulated world; of a business model that didn’t work; and of smart people who believed their next gamble would cover their last disaster—and who couldn’t admit they were wrong.” 1 likes
“Back in those less complicated times, there were lots of industries that operated more or less by rote: the old banker’s motto, for instance, was “3-6-3”: take money in at 3 percent, lend it out at 6 percent, and be on the golf course by 3 P.M.” 1 likes
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