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Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower Hardcover – February 4, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Cooper's thorough and efficient narrative about the fantastic collapse of telecommunications giant WorldCom there are two distinct themes: her insider's view of the corporation's widespread wrongdoing and the life experiences that led Cooper to becoming a courageous whistleblower. Cooper, former vice president of WorldCom's internal audit department, is most successful with the former. She brings us into the boardrooms, the backrooms and, somehow, into the heads of key players as some struggled with and others embraced the deceptions that would bring WorldCom down. Less engaging are Cooper's autobiographical anecdotes, which offer everything from her high school math scores to clichéd advice from Mom and Dad ("when you are unkind, you can't go back and change the hurt"). Other unnecessary personal details-like the fact that 12-year-old Cooper called her violin teachers first when she was moving away-and mundane meanderings about haircuts and gender differences take the reader off course. Too, many of these folksy anecdotes paint the author as a goody two-shoes. Cooper is better and trumps other WorldCom accounts with a perspective available only from a business-smart insider with a conscience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"…the book provides a compelling lesson in the importance of having "escape paths" for bad news, particularly in highly disciplined, hierarchical, compartmented organizations (read defense contractors, the military, police departments, etc.). Absent opportunities to correct problems while they are small, big problems tend to emerge...the book also offers instructive lessons in individual courage." (NationalJournal.com (expert blog); 12/30/08)

"This book presents a brilliant overview of the whistleblower process by describing both personal and business lessons. Extraordinary Circumstances presents relevant information and useful guidance for identifying conflicting incentives, opportunities and rationalizations that can result in fraud. The book is, by and large, well written and comprehensive in its coverage of events leading to the bankruptcy of WorldCom. (The International Journal of Accounting, 9/2008)

"…provides insight into an incredible corporate saga contrasting the influence of greed and moral weakness with principle behavior. It is an inspirational story of courage and character under immense pressure. (Journal of Corporate Accounting & Finance, July/August 2008)

"What Cooper experienced could be every internal auditor's nightmare - uncovering a scandal of such great proportions that an auditor's reputation, job security, and even personal safety is jeopardized. In my opinion, this book is a must-read not only for internal auditors, but also for anyone in the business environment. Cooper's account of a scandal that shook the business world is an eye-opener and helps explain today's regulatory and corporate environments." (FSA Times, July 2008)

"…offers a detailed, intimate, and fascinating account of the WorldCom debacle in Extraordinary Circumstances. While most readers already know the outcome of the story, Cooper's book is an absorbing and even suspenseful read." (BizEd Magazine, May/June 2008)

"Ms. Cooper tells a compelling story that most of us can relate to regarding how internal audit is sometimes viewed within organizations when confronting difficult ethical dilemmas. I had a difficult time putting it down." (Auditnet.org, May 2008)

"Extraordinary Circumstances details the struggle to get management to take internal audit seriously. The story of the investigation comes to life through Cynthia's words. I found myself drawn into the story. Congratulations, Cynthia, on a successful first book. And many thanks for being willing to stand up to the truth and fight to expose the WorldCom fraud." (bloggingstocks.com, 4/3/08)

"Cooper's story is personal and interesting…it's a cautionary tale for corporate executives. The book is an interesting story of how Cooper ended up as a major player in a very important business story." (TexaxLawyer.com, 3/31/08)

"Extraordinary Circumstances is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of an accounting fraud. It tells the story of how that fraud was uncovered and of the ugly manipulation and deceit she encountered along the way." (Bloomberg.com, 2/28/08)

"…blow-by-blow detail is what makes Cooper's "Extraordinary Circumstances" well worth reading. Cooper's willingness to reveal her innermost thoughts as she dug makes for gripping reading." (BusinessWeek, February 25, 2008)

"...with the publication of her new book, Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of A Corporate Whistleblower, we finally get an inside account of what really happened at WorldCom. It's a powerful tale. Cooper's story has been partially told before, most notably in the Wall Street Journal and in a report prepared for WorldCom's board of directors. But her adventures at WorldCom come to life in this first-person account." (USA Today, February 15, 2008)

"Readers of Cooper's book, Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower, will find it easy to identify with both the employees who manipulated the telecommunications giant's financial statements and those who caught them." (Reuters.com, February 7, 2008)

"...it's a fascinating study of the quantum changes in character that accompany the accumulation of unimaginable wealth as well as an uncomfortable reminder of how, faced with an ethical fork in the road, just how easy it is for some to take a wrong turn." (WebCPA.com, February 2008)

"This is a heroic, often exciting tale of a person who, in the course of doing her job, stumbles on a big lie and pushes on to get to the bottom of it." (CFO.com; 1/25/08)


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (February 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470528303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470528303
  • ASIN: 0470124296
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,694,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a baby boomer who lost some of my retirement savings because of the dirty bookkeeping at WorldCom, I was most interested in learning exactly how the good old boys had done it. When I heard that Ms. Cooper's book was coming out I was eager to read it but more than a little bit concerned about whether I'd be able to follow the details of corporate accounting. I needn't have worried. Cynthia Cooper (one of Time Magazine's Persons of the Year 2002) lays it all out and in a way that anyone can understand. In _Extraordinary Circumstances_ she tells how she and her team found the courage to risk their professional and private lives by doing what they knew was right. In this very personal account Ms. Cooper writes with clarity, candor and warmth, making this a book with great appeal for anyone--not just business majors and disgruntled former telecom stockholders. It's for anyone who believes that ethics must have a place in the marketplace and in every part of our lives.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the story of a telephone company (variously called Long Distance Discount Services, LDDS WorldCom, and just WorldCom), and its head of internal audit, Cynthia Cooper. In 1999, as the telecom boom began to fizzle, the management of Worldcom began to fiddle the books. This is the story of a crime, and the person who uncovered it. It's a great story, and one that has something to teach us about corporations and corporate crime today, almost ten years later, and will have something to teach us in another ten years. We're lucky to have Cooper, who was there to see it, there to do the right thing, and there to write about it afterwards.

Cooper does a good job in telling the story. She makes the accounting issues clear to people like me with no background in accounting, and the importance of internal audit obvious to people like me who have never had one and are not likely to. The book has a very thorough bibliography and index, although no chronology or time line. The book would have been clearer if Cooper had started at the beginning and told the story until she got to the end. The beginning of the book seems particularly clumsy: the narrative bounces backwards and forwards several times as Cooper foreshadows what's going to happen later in the story.

As Cooper describes how the fraud at WorldCom was committed and then discovered, she discusses the accounting issues clearly and in what I read as a matter of fact tone. I'm grateful that people like Cooper are focused on accounting and enforcing its rules, and I don't mean to belittle the profession, but I would have taken a different moral tone in telling the story. When you read the book, you have to remember that many of the people described are simply crooks.
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Format: Hardcover
I have already read this book twice! I've even given copies to friends and family members. What resonated with me the most is how Ms. Cooper draws out the human side of all the people who were affected by the implosion at WorldCom. This is not some jargony book on what went wrong with the numbers. It's an engrossing story about how anyone can get pulled in the wrong direction because of misguided loyalty, fear or greed. So no matter when the next fraud is, or what industry it's in, the only constant will be people and their choices. I'd recommend this as a great read to anyone!
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Format: Hardcover
The story is inspirational and should be on Oprah's list of must read books.

This is not only an account of what can and does go wrong when "meeting Wall Streets expectations" are driven by the greed of a select few, but also of what is right in American business from the people who have moral values and do not bend those when faced with adversity.

When all of their education, training and experience come together to tell the team of auditors something is wrong they properly pursued a course of action that was right and proper.

"Making the numbers" as we are all told does not mean you make fradulent entries and violate the laws of any country.

It is sad that people who knew better were deceived by a CFO who ruined their lives and those of many others fine people, while destroying a company.

Great read for all.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a university professor and former auditor, I found Ms. Cooper's book to be an outstanding book which will be required reading in my course. The book focuses on the personal challenges that auditors face on the job - and on the challenges all of us face in our everyday lives.

Finding a core set of principles to live by, and following those principles is not easy - especially when the people involved in wrong-doing are "friends" or business associates, while those affected by the wrong-doing are strangers.

I was impressed with her descriptions of her life experiences - that life isn't fair - and that learning how to "get up off the mat" is more important than having the best plan.

I was also impressed with her descriptions of the various ways in which she tried to understand what was being communicated to her. The "listening" and "communication" skills she discusses, and the inner strength she demonstrated when the easiest course would have been to ignore the anomolies or to take the explanations for them at face-value, are the real take-aways from the book.

The accounting issues are pretty straight-forward - though, for non-accountants, she might have spent a little bit more time explaining "allowance" (for uncollectible accounts) and "prepaid capacity" accounts under accrual accounting. Further, she might have discussed briefly why the "matching" concept didn't apply to the lease expenses (the right to use the lines couldn't be stored and thus, the cost were period expenses, not capitalized assets). Nonethless, her book is a perfect fit with the Dot-Com Bubble HBS case - and serves as a great set-up for a discussion of the current sub-prime loan/credit-crunch that exists in the current economy. A life well-lived, and a book well-done.
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