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The Informant: A True Story Paperback – July 3, 2001
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So reads the cover of this high-powered true crime story, an accurate teaser to a bizarre financial scandal with more plot twists than a John Grisham novel. In 1992 the FBI stumbled upon Mark Whitacre, a top executive at the Archer Daniels Midland corporation who was willing to act as a government witness to a vast international price-fixing conspiracy. ADM, which advertises itself as "The Supermarket to the World," processes grains and other farm staples into oils, flours, and fibers for products that fill America's shelves, from Jell-O pudding to StarKist tuna. The company's chairman and chief executive, Dwayne Andreas, was so influential that he introduced Ronald Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev, and it was his maneuvering that ensured that high fructose corn syrup would replace sugar in most foods (ever wondered why Coke and Pepsi don't taste quite like they used to?). There were two mottoes at ADM: "The competitors are our friends, and the customers are our enemies" and "We know when we're lying." And lie they did. With the help of Whitacre, the FBI made hundreds of tapes and videos of ADM executives making price-fixing deals with their corrivals from Japan, Korea, and Canada, all while drinking coffee and laughing about their crimes. The tapes should have cinched the case, but there was one problem: Their star witness was manipulative, deceitful, and unstable. Nothing was as it seemed, and the investigation into one of the most astounding white-collar crime cases in history had only just begun.
Kurt Eichenwald, an investigative reporter, covered the story for The New York Times and interviewed more than 100 participants in the case. He methodically records the six-year investigation, leaving no plot twist or tape transcript unexplored. While his primary focus is on deconstructing the disturbed Whitacre and revealing the malleability of truth, the portrait of ADM (and even the Justice Department) is damning enough to make anyone a cynic. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
-- Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action
"The Informant is superb reporting in the service of a great story, one with the drama and suspense of a Le Carré novel. Set squarely in the American heartland, delving into the inner sanctum of a global corporation, it explores the shifting boundaries of truth and deception, loyalty and betrayal. It is a remarkable achievement."
-- James B. Stewart, Den of Thieves and Blind Eye
"The twists and turns of this nonfiction work leave many thrillers in the dust. Eichenwald's spare prose and journalistic eye for detail make the pages fly."
-- David Baldacci, Absolute Power and Saving Faith
"I would say The Informant reads like Grisham, only nobody ever could have invented these characters. A tale this riveting and this strange could only have been built from truth."
-- Sherry Sontag, coauthor, Blind Man's Bluff
From the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
An obvious exception is "The Informant," Kurt Eichenwald's extraordinary new book about the Archer Daniels Midland Company price-fixing scandal in the mid-1990s. Mr. Eichenwald, an award-winning journalist at The New York Times, has balanced a cast of a nearly unimaginable characters with meticulous reporting and sourcing built on endless of hours of government tapes, documentary evidence and interviews.
Mr. Eichenwald's masterfully constructed narrative describes how ADM, the self-styled "Supermarket to the World," conspired with international competitors to corner food additive markets. The book focuses on Mark Whitacre, the wildly contradictory former ADM executive whose secret cooperation with the FBI apparently was intended to hide his own crimes. As Mr. Eichenwald writes, the book is about the "malleable nature of the truth," and how nothing in the ADM case was necessarily what it appeared to be. Along the way, the story is told in a way that "lend[s] temporary credence to the many lies told in this investigation," according to Mr. Eichenwald. In the end, the book accomplishes what few of its kind have: it has woven an otherwise tedious collection of technical and legal details and deceptions into one of the best tales of corporate crime in the past 20 years.
As the federal government found in its development of the ADM case, it's difficult to humanize corporate schemes, whether in civil or criminal litigation, or in the news or entertainment media.Read more ›
Eichenwald has told this tale well. There are times when it is difficult to follow, but not due to the writer. There were just so many people involved, keeping them straight almost requires a white board and colored markers. The characters were depicted well. Between Whitacre's obvious instability and the government's inability to coordinate itself, it was like watching the Grinch's sleigh teeter on the tip top of the mountain. Will it crash or won't it?
I did find a few errors in the story, but they were not central to the story. (E.g. there is no passenger train service in Decatur - I assumed the writer meant Springfield. And there were a few mix-ups concerning dates.)
One word of caution to anyone who reads this book, however. It's easy to think of ADM as some faceless giant plundering its way through the agri-buisness world. But remember; the actions for which ADM was fined and three people were sent to jail are the actions of a few individuals. ADM employs thousands that put in an honest day's work every day. I am proud to call many of these people my friends.
Eichenwald, a finalist for the year 2000 Pulitzer and winner of other awards for his writing, has not only taken a riddle, wrapped in mystery, and shrouded by an enigma,(a nod to Winston Churchill) and made it readable, he has created a brilliant book. He created a book that could stand as a work of Fiction and be a novel of excellence, or be true to this bizarre story that strains credibility so many times, and yet he manages to give every bit of credence the reader needs to believe. Mike Wallace of 60 minutes couldn't have dissected this tale with greater skill.
And if you think I jest about the novel it would make, if 19th Century is your style, think Wilkie Collins, or if your taste is more contemporary, perhaps Charles Palliser of Quincunx fame. That is the type of labyrinthine thought that would be required to conjure this story from thin air.
At the center of the story is what at first seems to be an all-too-common tale. American consumers have gotten a great deal of exposure recently as to how a company can, in the opinion of The Justice Department, be detrimental to the public welfare. I would suggest there are issues that make bureaucratic careers, and issues that are literally participants in the lives of nearly all of us, and they are important.
Unless you treat eating as an extreme sport, you probably have not snacked on any software lately, be it Microsoft, or even Apple.Read more ›
The basic story, that the large agri-business Archer Daniels Midland - ADM - was caught in an international price-fixing scam for food additives would merit coverage in Business Week but little else. The key to the story is the informant himself, Mark Whitacre, the President of one of ADM's largest and most successful divisions. Manipulative, deceitful, delusional, sociopathic ... these are accurate but inadequate descriptions of the man who sucked ADM, the FBI and the DOJ into a five-year whirlwind, played out on the headlines of every newspaper in the country; he will suck you in, too.
Who hasn't wondered what kind of knucklehead responds to those crazy scam letters and emails from Nigeria? Actually, so many Americans with access to large amounts of cash responded in the 1980s and 1990s that the FBI had to set up a special liaison office in Lagos to deal with them. Meet Mark Whitacre: brilliant biochemist, builder and President of a hugely successful division of a multi-national corporation; and hopelessly entangled by his crazy belief that he could hit the jackpot by aiding corrupt Nigerian officials. And more, much, much more.
The story will sweep you along, from one unbelievable plot twist to another, not reaching a crescendo until the very end. Great fun. But also a great testament to the American justice system.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A well told story, an amazing revelation of corporate activity that ultimately impacts us all as consumers. How little we know .......Published 7 days ago by Beth
A great book. I couldn't put it down. In the end I found it discouraging how much high level political support there remains for corrupt business leaders. Read morePublished 16 days ago by Todd Lightner
I remember seeing the headlines when this was happening and it was fascinating to read the behind-the-scenes. I never knew how hard it is for agents to get their jobs done. Read morePublished 19 days ago by Ruth Paul
I enjoyed this book from page one to the end. The story unfolded beautifully helping the reader to sort through all the events. Read morePublished 23 days ago by Sue
Very interesting story of exactly what is happening everyday all around us. Fraud, deceit, greed totally out of control. All in the name of "good business". And it is True !!! Read morePublished 25 days ago by ELLEN ARSENEAULT
Great story but too long, the author just doesn't want to end the story, becomes arduous to read by the end of the bookPublished 1 month ago by James F. McDermott