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

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  16,968 ratings  ·  639 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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Margitte Sidney Powell's book License to Lie brings a totally different perspective to this tale. Well worth the read.…more
Sidney Powell's book License to Lie brings a totally different perspective to this tale. Well worth the read.

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 ·  16,968 ratings  ·  639 reviews

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Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, favourites
Great Expectations

This is the definitive case history of the demise of the most admired company in America. What it demonstrates is that the failure of Enron, although facilitated by the greed and moral indifference that is typical in corporate life, was at root down to its excellence in precisely that set of skills for which it was most admired: corporate finance.

Jeff Skilling, a former McKinsey colleague of mine, was the 'vector' by which the infectious scourge of financial theory found its wa
“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.”
― Bethany McLean, The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron

Man, if this book does not get you outraged...

This book tells the story of Enr
Rebecca McNutt
I never get tired of the sheer weirdness of the Enron Scandal, but at the same time it's quite sad to think how many lives may have been affected either directly or indirectly, be it in the "freak accident" California Blackouts or those whose jobs and finances were put on the line as the company began to fall apart. Not just a cautionary tale but also a chilling albeit gripping story of greed and the ways in which money has a habit of bringing out the worst in modern America, The Smartest Guys i ...more
Feb 16, 2009 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
Dec 13, 2014 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
Mar 10, 2011 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
Jowanza Joseph
Dec 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
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.
David Quinn
Oct 24, 2015 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
Nick Black
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
an outstanding, riveting book. glad i finally got around to it. one star deducted due to the authors' tedious repetition that the Enron executives were "white, privileged, men". most of the executives discussed grew up pretty poor, so let's leave the identity politics aside, please. other than that, an absolute page-turner.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2020
Recently I realized that I basically knew nothing about the Enron scandal. I was eleven years old when it first hit the news, so I wasn’t paying attention at the time. And in the years since all I’d really gleaned was that it was a corporate scandal….. and they did…. shady things with money?

I’m glad I read this book so that I now have more of an understanding of what went down at Enron. However, because so much of this was dealing with complex economic stuff, a lot of it went over my head. Even
Rishi Prakash
Sep 08, 2013 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
Owen Tuleja
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Smartest Guys in the Room is a very well researched and exhaustive account (haha, see what I did there?) of, as the subtitle suggests, the rise and fall of Enron. The book does a very good job of explaining the history of the company, Ken Lay's involvement in it, and his mentality and motivations. I did find that the middle of the book dragged on a little too much; after 200 pages of examples of different special purpose entities designed to hide Enron's debt, I didn't need another example. ...more
Mar 24, 2007 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
Jul 15, 2007 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
Virgilio Pigliucci
Jul 18, 2011 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 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
Jul 10, 2008 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 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
May 20, 2012 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
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Smartest Guys" provides a fascinating look inside a very troubled company. Some of the explanations of the various financial instruments that Enron used are a little hard to follow, but I suspect even accounting and finance professionals had similar problems with Enron's machinations. The authors do a great job highlighting the main personalities involved in the fraud, and they keep the narrative moving even through the most complex periods in Enron's history.
Gwen (The Gwendolyn Reading Method)
Get ready for a lot of really minute details about business deals, 480 pages of them. But they're all needed to build up the full story of what actually happened at Enron and that overall story is well worth the slog! Highly recommend.
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A phenomenal book; not just highly educational, but also completely and thoroughly gripping and immersive. This is one of those books that you both can't put down, but also need to put down so you can process the twists and turns of the story.

Despite having watched the documentary this inspired some years ago, I didn't know much about Enron before reading this, other than knowing they did something with the California Energy Crisis, and collapsed amidst some kind of criminal fraud that was taki
Tanel Joon
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about corporate fallacy, especially to those who work in energy, accounting, finance or M&As. Enron was the first case study when I started in one of the Big 4 10 years ago.

The real life story about Enron is fantastically educational: the failed but much promoted new business lines - the big Enchiladas, the drive to push through deals whatever the price, the price curves that bring the success today but will be disastrous for the future - these are issues that can come up but shou
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Long but bloody good!
Robert Parker
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Pride comes before the fall.
Nov 22, 2014 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
Achtung Englander
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
It all started with Enron. Before the banking crises that saw Lemhan Brothers file for the biggest bankruptcy in history, the word "Enron" was synonymous with failed business of a scale never heard of before.

The book is written in a gripping manner that is both easy to read without wallowing in the intricacies of its financial machinations, and delves into the personalities and politics of people who scammed the business. You will be shaking your head in anger at the sort of money we are talkin
Athan Tolis
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, biography
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
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
What an adventure. In short, the book describes the key players, their personalities, ambitions, and background, along with the financial forces at work that created the culture of Enron and thus the seeds for its dramatic rise and fall.

While a bit more background on the history of Northern Natural Gas (predecessor of Enron) would have been interesting, the book does a great job of describing the various markets that Enron entered (from securitizing natural gas futures to the attempts to do the
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
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Around the Year i...: The Smartest Guys in the Room, by Bethany McLean 1 12 Oct 31, 2016 05:53PM  

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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.” 3 likes
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