The Smartest Guys in the Room

  • by Bethany McLean
  • Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris
  • 22 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The definitive volume on Enron's amazing rise and scandalous fall, from an award-winning team of Fortune investigative reporters.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Past is prologue

The events in this book happened over a decade ago, which would seem to put them firmly in ancient times, but the human failures that caused the problems at Enron, and the regulatory indifference that allowed those problems to turn into a catastrophe, are more than relevant today. McLean does a fantastic job of explaining the nuanced accounting tricks that suborned Enron while keeping the focus on the flawed characters who used them. The best reason to get this book, though, is to hear perhaps the most perfect marriage of reader to text that exists at Audible. Boutsikaris' sly mix of snideness and posed incredulity completely captures the essential nature of this book. Amazing work.
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- Amazon Customer

An excellent book, but with a missing chapter

While the Enron story was passing from business legend to business nightmare at 1400 Smith Street in Houston, I worked in an office at 1200 Smith. I always wondered what had actually happened. Now I know. McLean does a wonderful job setting out the history. She also does an exemplary job explaining Enron's rise and its culture. This is more than worth the price of the book. Even better, Boutsikaris' narration is possibly the best of any Audible I've listened to in quite a while -- possibly ever.

Here's my gripe: McLean starts by giving a reasonable, thoughtful, and completely convincing account of the factors that gradually pushed Enron onto a slippery slope. Her description of the pressures and temptations in the Houston energy community in the 1980's and most of the 1990's certainly hit the nail on the head from my perspective. But the narrative from 1998 onwards is tightly focused on upper Enron management, and it takes on an increasingly simplistic, moralizing tone as the story nears its end. In a strange way, McLean falls into the same trap as Ken Lay, progressively disengaging her analytical objectivity for the sake of telling a good story and, yes, making the extra buck.

In the end, the author gives up. There's no analytical conclusion -- no real take-home lesson. McLean even expressly disavows any conclusion about where and when Enron top management crossed the line from aggressive business to fraud. She often repeats a mantra about the evils of following the letter of the law while ignoring its purpose. Here, it's obvious she has never actually had the responsibility of running or growing a business. One has to do both, and Enron plainly refused to do either; but that isn't the right question. The real issue is why it didn't.

McLean makes much of Enron's corporate culture, and perhaps that's the core issue. Here, Bethany McLean has a great deal of experience and comparative knowledge. But there's no end chapter dealing with the take-home lessons. Lord knows, after dealing with facts so well, she must have some serious insights on the subject. Business people, regulators, and investors need to know -- perhaps more now than in 2002. To return to the personal, I'm currently general counsel of a Houston company; and I desperately want to make sure this doesn't happen to us.

So, this is a book I have to recommend. It is excellent. It will give me a lot to think about. I just wish that this one last chapter had been written.
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- Augustus T. White "ATW"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-11-2010
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio