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Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story Paperback – December 27, 2005
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“Ranks with A Civil Action as one of the best nonfiction books of the last decade.”
—New York Times Book Review
“The thriller of the year—and it’s all true!”
—Dallas Morning News
“One of the most intriguing—and nearly unbelievable—nonfiction books in recent memory . . . a tangled tale worthy of John Le Carré.”
“A compelling narrative . . . a business book for Grisham readers.”
“Reads like a well-written whodunit.”
“A spellbinding account, as much of a page-turner as a Grisham novel.”
“I guarantee it’ll keep you reading late into the night.”
—Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action
From the Inside Flap
It was the corporate collapse that appeared to come out of nowhere. In late 2001, the Enron Corporation--a darling of the financial world, a company whose executives were friends of presidents and the powerful--imploded virtually overnight, leaving vast wreckage in its wake and sparking a criminal investigation that would last for years. But for all that has been written about the Enron debacle, no one has yet to re-create the full drama of what has already become a near-mythic American tale.
Until now. With "Conspiracy of Fools, Kurt Eichenwald transforms the unbelievable story of the Enron scandal into a rip-roaring narrative of epic proportions, one that is sure to delight readers of thrillers and business books alike, achieving for this new decade what books like "Barbarians at the Gate and "A Civil Action accomplished in the 1990's.
Written in the roller-coaster style of a novel, the compelling narrative takes readers behind every closed door--from the Oval Office to the executive suites, from the highest reaches of the Justice Department to the homes and bedrooms of the top officers. It is a tale of global reach--from Houston to Washington, from Bombay to London, from Munich to Sao Paolo--laying out the unbelievable scenes that twisted together to create this shocking true story.
Eichenwald reveals never-disclosed details of a story that features a cast including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul O'Neill, HarveyPitt, Colin Powell, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alan Greenspan, Ken Lay, Andy Fastow, Jeff Skilling, Bill Clinton, Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone. With its you-are-there glimpse into the secretive worlds of corporate power, "Conspiracy of Fools is an all-true financial and political thriller of cinematic proportions.
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Eichenwald"s story should be required reading in any business course covering management, accounting and finance.
It's written with a good aherence to a time line, and in the Tom Clancy style of shifting back and forth from separate event to event, with the events slowly coming together into a crisis. It's not Clancy's submarines or airplanes or heroes or individual bravery, as here it's greed and overreaching (Fastow), an occasional flash of attempted adult supervision (Skilling) but who knows if he ever followed through or was serious, an aloof chief (Lay) (btw, I started by typing "leader" but I don't know if this was leadership he showed, thus the more neutral "chief"), and then lots of insiders and outsiders that wanted to feed on what was going on instead of blowing the whistle. A few people papered the file with cya stuff, and afterwords got some recognition, but the key is how one stands up at the time. This book should be required reading for any audit committee member, or board member, or corporate leader, because they are the oversight that sets the tone for their organization. What tone are you encouraging??
Only issue it's a bit wordy, could have been cut by 1/3 or more (OK, like this review coulda been cut by 1/3 too, but at least this review isn't 679 detailed pages.)
See my review on another Enron book, "The Smartest Guys in the Room" (McLean, Elkind) which book does a better job of capturing Enron and all its facilitators, and as I note in that review, both that book and this book are good to get.
Conspiracy of Fools, The Informant, and 500 Days are all equally enthralling.
As tragic as the ENRON situation is, what transpired behind the scenes was so incredulous, I found myself laughing out loud. The fact that they thought they could get away with some of these schemes was astounding. The fact that they got away with them as long as they did is a tribute to the stupidity of the supporting staff around them. This book should be required reading for any college grad going into the business world.
Top international reviews
There are many miscreants in this tale, all of whom primarily through a combination of greed. ego, fear or stupidity contributed to creating a business built on the 'white-sand-foundations' of fraudulent accounting, off-balance sheet skullduggery, illusory 'wonder' businesses, an avalanche of misleading public statements, personal financial gain ahead of corporate fiduciary duty, and downright barefaced mendacity, but three standout of this sorry bunch, viz Ken Lay Chairman, Jeffrey Skilling CEO, and Andy Fastow CFO.
Whilst in the early days Ken Lay may have been a shrewd wheeler-dealer, in the last few years of Enron's life transmogrified himself into a back-slapping, fellow-well-met, doler out of exhorbitant amounts of charity money, political contributions, and largesse, and became completely detached from the reality of Enron's kamikaze self-induced plummet into bankruptcy.
Skilling was, perhaps the cleverest of the bunch, in fact too clever for his own and Enron's good. Had he channeled his talents into the day-to-day running of the business and making profits from it's core activities, instead of concentrating on encouraging the growth of the company through derivative and structured financial instruments, as well as failing to curb the hyper-excessive spending and consequently irresponsible borrowings, then Enron's demise might well have been avoided.
Fastow, was consumed by personal greed, taking advantage of Lay and Skilling's fervent and desperate desire to hide bad assets and 'magic up' illusory profits by creating special off-balance sheet entities, which he was solely entrusted to run thus enabling him to pilfer Enron's funds for his and his family's personal enrichment.
Whilst all this was going on many other very senior executives were wandering at large, substantially unchecked making the most appalling business decisions, creating lots of company borrowings and frittering away exenses at an alarming and wholly unwarranted rate. The wonder is that in this environment of greed, stupidity, gross incompetence, fraud and dishonesty, Enron was able to hoodwink banks, investors and the financial media for as long as it did.
Kurt Eichenwald's book is a masterpiece in investigative economic journalism. He writes with all the skill of a mega-selling thriller writer like John Grisham, and by serving up the unfolding story in easy to digest bites, gives his readers a fast moving, like being on a white knuckle ride, through the many complexities and twists and turns of the Enron Story. A joy to read, was sorry when it ended.
The book title 'Conspiracy Of Fools' says it all.
While it may not be everybody's taste, for me it was a page turner. The author conveys the subject of Enron and the people involved in an unbiased matter, based on facts. The use of dialogue adds to the thrilling nature of the book.
It's a great read for anyone interested in the subject, or for someone looking for something a bit different.
No regulation will stop this this behaviour - people running those businesses are people writing those regulations. Ex - Goldman Sachs employees run Federal Reserve and many government institutions in charge of protecting our financial system. But guess what - only their 'friends' on Wall Street benefit.
But, back to the book - good read and an eye-opener. Unfortunately most people won't learn much from it and treat it just like another fiction novel.
私がエンロンに興味を持ったのは、CNNで見た政府公聴会での元エンロンCEOジェフ・スキリング氏の様子に同情したせいでした。関連本をいろいろ読みましたが、一番目配りが良いのは『The smartest guys in the room』で、同名のドキュメンタリーの元ネタとしても名を馳せています。本書は形式がいささか特異で、まるきり小説風に書かれています。「その場にいたのか？」的な危うさが最初は気になりはするものの、気がつけば800頁弱の本を時間を忘れて読み耽ってしまいました。まさに大河ドラマです。野心と希望と時代の熱気、信念と傲慢、夢と虚妄、喜びと悲しみ、人間なるものの悲劇性、全てが詰まっています。会計スキャンダルが持ち上がってから、ＣＰもロールオーバー出来ない、「We have no cash!!」という絶叫が響き渡るまでの数章などまさに手に汗握る、心臓鷲掴みの迫力でした。「信用」という無形物がいかに貴重で、いかに危うく、それを弄び続ける者にいかに牙を向くか。
ちなみに、著者さんによると、描かれる逸話の全てが関係者の証言に基づく再構築とのことです。大きなネタ元がいたとのことですが、そうなると、その人はジェフ・スキリング氏ということになってしまうんですね。でなかったら、エンロン危機を聞きつけ、ホテルの一室に閉じこもって「My baby is dying」と号泣するスキリング氏の姿、「誰の証言から起こした話ですか？」と。さて、真相はいかに。(2008年8月9日執筆レビューです)