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The Informant: A True Story Paperback – July 3, 2001
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"The FBI was ready to take down America's most politically powerful corporation. But there was one thing they didn't count on."
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 the Audio CD edition.
"The Informant is epic in scope, a tale of human foibles--of greed, deceit, and arrogance--and also of the search for truth. Eichenwald has told it masterfully, with the narrative drive of a novel. I guarantee it'll keep you reading late into the night."
-- 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.
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Top customer reviews
The way those Archer Daniels executives talked about women was disgusting. Such jerks. And how they messed with farmer's lives with the price of lysine was infuriating. It really got me so mad, I couldn't sleep.
Would not have pulled me in as much if it had been fiction. Sometimes truth is way stranger and more compelling than fiction. Sure is in this case.
There are a lot of players in this intricate story but the author tells it so well. It is suspenseful and the best part about it is that this is a true story- what they say is true- fact is stranger than fiction.
The book starts out depicting the informant as a great humanitarian who acts out of altruistic goals. As the tale of the Informant proceeds to unfold, we are no longer sure who the good guys and bad guys are. Worse still, at the end of the book, there are many questions as to the appropriateness of the way in which the government deals with the various participants.
Comparisons have been made with A Civil Action. While both are true stories of major litigation, the Informant does not have the excitement of A Civil Action, where the lawyers risk everything to obtain justice. In the Informant, there is no such risk as the large law firms and the government lawyers are getting paid their hourly rates, regardless of the outcome. Nonetheless, the Informant is a very worthwhile and enjoyable read for its insights into the territorial conflicts between the various sections of Federal law enforcement.
Kurt Eichenwald does a superb job of bringing the characters to life, especially the FBI agents who slogged through plenty of dark days in this lengthy investigation. What will keep you hooked though, are the endless shenanigans of their main witness. His constant machinations rival any complex plot twist in modern fiction. Enjoy!