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The Smartest Guys in the Room

The Smartest Guys in the Room
Bethany McLean & Peter Elkind
New York: Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2003
HD9502 .U54 E5763 2003

Until the Spring of 2001, the Houston energy giant Enron epitomized the triumph of the new economy. Feared by rivals, worshipped by investors, Enron seemingly could do no wrong. Its profits rose every quarter; its stock price surged ever upward; its leaders were hailed as visionaries.

Then a young Fortune writer named Bethany McLean wrote and article posing a simple question - How, exactly, does Enron make its money? - and the company's house of cards began to collapse. Though other business scandals would follow, none has had the shattering effect of Enron's bankruptcy, which caused Americans to lose faith in a system that rewarded top insiders with millions of dollars while small investors, including many Enron employees, lost everything.

Despite enormous media coverage of Enron, the definitive story of its astonishing rise and fall comes alive for the first time in this gripping narrative by McLean and her Fortune colleague Peter Elkind. Drawing on a wide range of private documents and well-placed sources, many of them exclusive, McLean and Elkind lead you behind closed doors and deep into Enron's past, to pierce the veil of secrecy that has surrounded the company's inner workings and corrupt culture.

The Smartest Guys in the Room is fundamentally a human drama - of people drunk on their own success, people so ambitious, so certain of their own brilliance, so fueled by greed and hubris that they believed they could fool the world. The book explores the motives, thoughts, and secret fears of a fascinating array of characters, including:

Ken Lay, the genial but clueless CEO who reveled in the trappings of his office but ducked the responsibilities. From the earliest days of Enron, his weakness allowed greedy lieutenants to run amok.

Jeff Skilling, the brooding, mercurial genius who was the architect of Enron's greatest triumphs - and its ultimate disgrace. "I am Enron," he once boasted. As the company unraveled, so did Skilling.

Rebecca Mark, the glamorous It girl of Enron International who raced around the globe in high style and battled Skilling for control of the company.

Andy Fastow, the brutally ambitious, deeply insecure whiz kid. Inside Enron his colleagues marveled at how his complex schemes allowed the company to scam Wall Street - not realizing that he was secretly scamming Enron.

Ken Rice, the midwestern farm boy who was seduced by Enron's fast-money culture and who cashed in while hyping a high-tech business that didn't exist.

Cliff Baxter, the manic deal maker and Skilling confidant who resented Fastow's murky self-dealing. "He's a goddamn master criminal," Baxter would rail.

No matter how much (or how little) you already know about Enron, the revelations in The Smartest Guys in the Room will shock you. You'll witness the astonishing extent to which Enron's business was an illusion. You'll meet the enigmatic Enron executive who seemed interested in only two things: money and strip clubs. You'll learn the truth about the California power crisis. You'll see how much Wall Street knew about Enron's shenanigans and why the Street chose to look the other way. You'll learn the dirty secrets that Merill Lynch, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan Chase have kept out of the headlines to this day.

Just as Watergate was the defining political story of our time, so Enron is the biggest business story of our time. And just as All the President's Men was the one Watergate book that gave readers the full story, with all the drama and nuance, The Smartest Guys in the Room is the one book you have to read to understand this amazing business saga.

Quoted from dust jacket.