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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Finally, an Enron book that actually explains what happened at Enron. Bryce, an Austin, Tex., journalist familiar with the energy and telecommunications industries, offers a colorful account of the most spectacular corporate self-destruction in American history. Tracing the company's history, he shows how deal-focused executives like CEO Jeff Skilling transformed a fiscally responsible energy supplier into an out-of-control trading firm. He describes risky practices, like "mark-to-market" accounting and shell corporations, in clear, concise language that doesn't confuse readers who don't have MBAs. The book relies heavily on good ol' boy colloquialisms (e.g., "If [George W.] Bush had been any more simpatico to Enron, he could've been charged with a misdemeanor under the state of Texas' buggery laws") but backs up every unusual assertion, revealing, for example, connections between Bush and Enron going back to the mid-1980s. Not that Democrats were innocent; there's also extensive coverage on what Enron got from government agencies during the Clinton administration. While the emphasis on sexual misconduct among the top brass and its correlation to the financial shenanigans is arguable, Bryce makes a reasonable case for former chairman Ken Lay's unwillingness to control his staff's behavior-and inability to lead by example. This isn't just the first book to make sense out of the debacle; it's a vivid cautionary tale about the consequences of the lurid excesses-personal and professional-of the recently ended economic bubble, where corporations and their employees were so obsessed with acquiring wealth they became "dumber than a box of hammers" about making-and saving-money.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The first Enron expose (The Anatomy of Greed, by Brian Cruver [BKL UF Ag 02]) was a view from the inside by a former Enron employee with a focus on the final months leading to Enron's demise. This one is a comprehensive piece of investigative journalism that gives a much larger overview of the energy industry, the history of Houston, and the complete story of how a medium-sized gas pipeline company became an international energy developer and trader in the complex world of energy derivatives. Along the way, Austin Chronicle reporter Bryce reveals the political history of "The Crooked E" with its ties to the Bush family and Senator Phil Gramm, who, without shame, sponsored legislation that directly benefited Enron and allowed the company to conceal its debts. All of the high-level players at Enron are profiled, and you get an excellent sense of their personalities and plenty of gossip about the sexual infidelities that ran rampant with this group of executives. Most importantly, Bryce unveils the intricate accounting schemes that allowed Enron to switch from a healthy cash flow business into one that put all its emphasis on trading revenues while ignoring the massive expenses that would ultimately pull the company into bankruptcy. Bryce's account is a prime example of how greed, arrogance, and influence lead to corruption, deception, and ruin. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Paperback Edition edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586482017
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482015
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,268,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It's also probably the funniest business book I've read.
Pat Burns
After that it tells the story in laymen terms that are very easy to understand.
The real story of Enron begins with the departure of Richard Kinder.
Robert S. Preece

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By TundraVision on April 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Penn Square was peanuts. Robert Bryce's witty racountement of the rise and fall of Enron reminds this reader of Mark Singer's equally entertaining tale of the itty-bitty shopping center bank in Oklahoma City that went bust and took the Western Oklahoma Oil Boom with it.
Bryce's book, with introduction by Molly Ivins, is as eminently readable and well organized as Enron was not. It starts and ends with sympathetic folk - those drug down in the Enron muck. Along the way, the reader meets the Politicos, the Pie (or is that Energy?) In The Sky Wheeler-Dealer Traders, "the Divine Miss Mark," Fast Andy Fastow, Snakey Skilling, and Kenny-Boy (President G.W.'s endearing nickname for his Buddy) Lay. Fans (if any) of Senator Phil and wife Wendy Gramm will not be amused by this foray through the Swamp that was Enron. This is an essential Enron primer, complete with footnotes, Index, and explanations of "Mark to Market" accounting that even us "Liberal Arts" majors can understand.
I urge you to BUY this book. Borrowing the library's copy is not recommended, as one should not write the outraged tirades that this book is sure to produce in the margins of Other People's Books.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. McKeon on January 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Okay, we all knew that the Enron scandal was noxious, and we knew that there was substantial governmental complicity. However, the degree of bald faced corruption and theft pervading all aspects of the commodities and trade professions and the extensive government acquiescence, if not compliance, which Bryce describes stagger the imagination.
This is a thorough, well documented study of the Enron scandal, from the corporation's early origins. While extensive, and depressing, Bryce alleviates it with sardonic depictions of the unvarnished vulgarity of the senior management feeding at the Enron trough.
Bryce is fair in that he gives the Clinton Administration its due for facilitating the depradations of Enron; however, while resisting the effort to go for the jugular, he makes it clear that the greatest beneficiaries of Enron's largesse were Republicans, particularly the two Bush administrations. He reserves most of his vitriol for Senator Phil Gramm and his wife, who were undeterred at any time by ethical concerns about their undisguised conflicts of interest in judgements on regulations benefitting the corporation that was filling their pockets.
Bryce provides a number of tutorials on accounting and trade and commodity practices that help the "lay" person understand how the transgressions were allowed to occur and mushroom. Reading "Pipe Dreams" you wonder first why the many members of the Enron management aren't in prison, much less the obscenity of their being able to loot the company and retain their obscene fortunes. It is incredibly disillusioning, and you are left with an increased sense of impotence, yet your outrage is alleviated by Bryce's biting sarcastic wit.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This will be my third and final online review of an Enron-related book (barring any oustanding new releases on the subject). As with all previous efforts, I remain anonymous since I was an employee of the company during the mid 90s and would like to avoid any attention which my efforts may draw. Having read the Cruver, Fox, the Bryce/Ivins books and reflected on all the events, this review may feel more like a commentary than an actual review.
That being said I think the common thread throughout all the books is that Enron remains an enigma. Everyone defines Enron differently depending on their perspective and that is affected by the information they have in hand. For some this is an indictment on greed in America. For others this is a monumental failure of governmental oversight and regulation. I believe in neither. In a recent conversation with another former Enron employee, he asked me to allocate 10 points towards the contributing factors of Enron's demise. I don't even recall how I allocated the points and would probably give a completely different answer today. His answer differed significantly from mine as he assigned the majority of the blame to accounting systems and Arthur Anderson. That is endemic of the ever-shifting nature of the situation, and to be honest, events still remain to unfold. Fastow has been indicted, but what is happening with Lay, Skilling, and the other senior managers and board members? If story ends here, the only lesson that will be learned from Enron is that it's probably worth the risk to create an unsustainable, poorly-capitalized business model (and discounting the possibility of fraud to cover up that fact) if you can walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars in stocks and options.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By E. E Pofahl on February 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a very readable account. The text opens stating, "My premise throughout this book is that Enron's failure wasn't due to faulty accounting or poor regulation.... Rather it failed because key leaders at Enron lost their moral/ethical direction at the same time that the company was making multibillion-dollar bets on fatally flawed projects." The author asks" Why did a seventy-six year old pipeline company with rock-solid cash flow and reliable earnings suddenly flame out in a maelstrom of accounting irregularities, fraud and skullduggery."
After a brief three-chapter history of Enron, the author develops his thesis that "Enron failed because its leadership was morally, ethically and financially corrupt," showing how deal-focused management took one of the most profitable companies in Houston into bankruptcy. The author, Robert Bryce, a Texas investigative journalist, interviewed over 200 individuals, and researched countless documents, including nineteen SEC filings for this book.
The text discusses the major players in the context of their work, their abilities, Houston society and their work-place relationships. Many former Enron people blamed Ken Lay stating ".... he flat couldn't judge people and said he became blinded to other people's faults. One Executive said Lay 'never understood that the pipelines that are paid for and power and processing plants that are mostly paid for, were the way to make money."
The harshest accounts concern Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow. Skilling, who became president in 1997, was called by one executive" the smartest son of a bitch I've ever met." However, "Skilling was not a manager, he was a deal maker. Exotic financing schemes and the deals that came with them excited Skilling.
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