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Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story Paperback – December 27, 2005
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What went wrong? Veteran New York Times financial journalist Kurt Eichenwald does an epic job of telling Enron's story in his 742-page tome Conspiracy of Fools. Eichenwald, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, also authored The Informant, an acclaimed account of a vast international price-fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland. Conspiracy of Fools tells the Enron tale with a cinematic narrative style, relying almost exclusively on scene and dialogue to bring his account to vivid life. We see how federal regulators opened the doors for the Enron fraud early on when they let the company loosen up its accounting rules and essentially cook its books. We read how Enron bullied Wall Street firms into issuing favorable reports about its share price by threatening to take away lucrative banking fees. Eichenwald also reveals how Enron manipulated electricity prices during the California energy crisis of 2000. Eichenwald's book is less successful in situating the Enron debacle in its wider context--the cycle of market speculation that reached a historic summit in the dot-com bubble. Was Enron just a cautionary sign of the greed and lack of ethics of a few bad apples, or was it more symptomatic of an entire market system? That may be a debate for another book. --Alex Roslin --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Very simply put, I love Eichenwald's style. He has taken a subject, which can be extremely complex and dry (i.e. special purpose entities), and has provided the reader with a basis to understand how they were initiated, what they were "designed" to do, and where they failed miserably. And, while a novice to structured finance and accounting may not walk away from the book totally schooled on SPEs, one cannot say Eichenwald failed to explain the general basics. Further, Eichenwald has not created a historical rendering of events; rather, he has created a historical novel, of sorts. The book reads more like a novel and less like a business/non-fiction book.
Two of the more interesting features in this book are Eichenwald's "Cast of Characters," and "The Primary Deals," both of which occupy the forward section of the book. The "Cast of Characters" is no less than six pages (I didn't count the actual characters, but I'd bet there are in excess of 100).Read more ›
Eichenwald presents his story as a Greek fable in the John Grisham and Scott Turow mold. The reader is introduced to protagonists Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and the Andy Fastow as the story's villain.
Although the book makes good storytelling, anyone who has read earlier books about Enron has to be skeptical about Eichenwald's sympathetic portrayal of Lay and Skillings and their supposed lack of knowledge about the stealing, lawbreaking and abuse that occurred under their watch. One can't help but wonder how Lay, who has a Ph.D in economics, could be so clueless about all the things that came to light about his company as it imploded. Skilling comes off as a sobbing, emotional wreck. It's a mystery how he ever attained the rank of CEO at a Fortune 500 company. I strongly suspect that both men served as major sources for this work.
Fastow is only a too familiar character to anyone who has worked in an office as the imcompetent, dishonest but scheming employee who charms the higher ups and climbs on the back of others to achieve power. But as with most work environments, Fastow couldn't achieve his crimes without the arrogance, disorganization and willful ignorance of his supervisors.
Another problem with the book is the author's retelling of various conversations and thoughts of most of the principal characters. Unless each source was keeping journals of the events as they unfolded, it's highly unlikely that the author's interpretation could be totally accurate.
Honesty is not a profit center in the business world. Managers do not receive bonuses for honesty. In a legal system that historically has been exquisitely soft on corporate criminals, the conflict between profits and honesty is resolved in favor of the former. If Ken Lay was so honest, why did he not emphasize the need for honesty within Enron during the many years when he could have done so. He had every opportunity to develop internal controls to ferret out managerial dishonesty and to instill a culture of honesty. We do not hear that the annual reviews even considered honesty; instead, the focus was on performance. Those who raised red flags received bad reviews. Clearly, all that mattered was for the rowers to make it possible for accounting earnings to meet or exceed analysts' expectations.
The book claims that Enron collapsed because it made too many bad investments. This is an amoral and simplistic view. Another view is it collapsed because decision-making took place within a culture of hubris and dishonesty. Ali Baba and the 400 Thieves pushed the envelope to the breaking point in the knowledge that they were too smart to be caught.
I give the book 5 stars for entertainment and 2 stars for depth, or in the spirit of charity, an average of 3.5.
This is a stunning book. The reviews are true: it does read like the best of corporate thrillers. More important to me, it is the real story about what happened. For the first time, at least every event I know about is recognizable, but more important, so is the company, in all of its twisted, psychotic and mismanaged ways.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is almost impossible to put down. I very easily could have given it a five, but I have a problem with the portrayal of Lay and Skilling-but not completely the same way... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Alice Cooper
I am listening to the book on Audible and find it compares to the fascination of watching a train wreck or auto accident caught on film... Read morePublished 24 days ago by Loves2Read
What a shame that the greed of a few individuals at a high level of management could hurt so many people who were employees of Enron and stockholders of the company. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Dbanner
The raw ambition, lack of principles and perspective of some of the leading characters made organized crime bosses look good. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Brookemeister
Couldn't put it down! A breathtaking account of the machinations of the Enron folks. Anyone involved in public business or investments will be spellbound by this account.Published 2 months ago by Stuart
To the point a great timeline of Enron and the hubris that drove them to despicable crimes and points out how important vigilance really is.Published 3 months ago by Jerome A Wingate
If your an accountant or an professional in the trading professions, you can really appreciate the manner in which the events and transactions that led to Erons's downfall occurred... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Jeffrey Martyn
Although the research was thorough, the "made up" dialog put me off. Tough job keeping track of so many characters.Published 4 months ago by Deborah