Get a free audiobook

The Smartest Guys in the Room

The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
Written by: Bethany McLean
Narrated by: Dennis Boutsikaris
Length: 22 hrs and 30 mins
5 out of 5 stars (18 ratings)

CDN$ 14.95/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime.

Publisher's Summary

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

©2003 Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind (P)2010 Penguin Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    17
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    0

Performance

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    16
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    1
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

Story

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    16
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    1
No reviews are available
Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 2010-12-11

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.

35 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Augustus T. White
  • 2012-03-07

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.

49 of 50 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • 2011-03-31

Thoroughly enjoyable!

This is book is very well written and more importantly, it is very well narrated (I’d put they enjoyment of Denis Boutsikaris’ voice right up there with the likes of Malcolm Gladwell’s).

The author’s research on this subject and second-to-none and her analysis unfold systematically, introducing the characters, one by one, and tying together fascinating stories along the way. Like any great book, I had a difficult time ‘turning it off’. I highly recommend it.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • A. Peraza
  • 2015-04-04

repatative, boring and exhaustive

It was a long and ardeous path to finishing this book. Too many people to remember and too much information that might interest those obsessed with Enron, but alienates the casual reader (listener). I will give it four stars for the authors effort and the lessons I learned about mark to market accounting. It was still a valuable read, despite how dry it is. Buy it learn, not to be entertained.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Finn B.
  • 2013-09-16

Excellent subject, excellent story

Would you consider the audio edition of The Smartest Guys in the Room to be better than the print version?

I think this was about the same as the print version. But that's a compliment—I always prefer print to audiobook. The narrator was stellar.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Jeff Skilling, of course—the villain you love to hate. His arrogance, his failure to recognize problems, and his head-in-the-sand approach to business troubles are amazing.

What about Dennis Boutsikaris’s performance did you like?

Loved it. I generally hate listening to narrators do "voices," which is why I never listen to novels in audio form, but this narrator had a real flair for imbuing dialogue with realistic intonation.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

All of them. I couldn't "put it down," metaphorically speaking.

Any additional comments?

Highly recommend for everyone and anyone. No business experience required, although the accounting tricks detailed make more sense if you have a background in accounting.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Julia
  • 2017-11-03

If you love minutiae then this one's for you!

Covered every single thing related to Enron and its downfall. Cram packed with information. For me this was a little too into the numbers. I wanted to know more about the people involved. There was only one mention of Martha Steward in the epilogue which quite surprised me.

After reading this version of the downfall of an organization which really was more of an empire with it's executives who really felt that they were minor deities and above the law, I can see how such power can corrupt and ruin lives.

The whole story is so incredibly sad as the final outcome was devastating.

All in all a pretty good read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Goody2shoes
  • 2015-08-20

Great Read (Listen)

This book is long...but worth it. The storytelling is excellent, and the amount of research and care that went into structuring it in a way to build chapter after chapter really pays off. I enjoyed this book immensely.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jeff Lacy
  • 2018-01-07

An intriguing thought provoking read

Nice performance, well calibrated to this business morality tale. The book is thought-provoking and written with clarity and forward energy, it does not get bogged down with tangential issues or technical jargon. It’s about people who made bad choices and the consequences of those choices.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Annabells
  • 2017-09-30

Required reading for corp Legal & Finance

I'm general counsel for a drug company, and I'm not too familiar with the energy space. Turns out, Enron wasn't really an energy company. It was a financial conglomerate, a deregulation-securitization-self-dealing disaster.

The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean is a detailed account of the rise and fall of Enron and it gives the most insight into the actions of Lay, Skilling, and Fastow. Dennis Boutsikaris is a fairly good reader for nonfiction. I find his reading a bit slow, but perhaps it's good for complicated material.

This story of corruption is broadly applicable across sectors and the laws broken are relevant for corporations and public markets generally. There are some universal lessons here. If you work in the corporate world, particularly in BD/ M&A or G&A functions like Finance and Legal, you'll find this tale particularly illuminating (and cautionary).

Here are some of the gems:

- Your superiors won't always be superior.

- No person, idea or company is infallible.

- Maintain your inner compass so you can be guided by your own principles rather than blindly follow the orders of your boss (or CEO, parent or spouse).

- Don't do things that you think you "shouldn't email." You shouldn't be sending legal memos and important matters via interoffice or ways that don't create a record. If you hear colleagues saying "don't put that in email," ask yourself who this lack of documentation would protect? Nobody. You're actually creating risk and potential financial and government liability. The best way to protect yourself and the company is to refrain from whatever discussions or actions you think you "shouldn't email." Period.

- Communicate responsibly. If your recorded statements and emails contain profanity, racial or gender slurs or nicknames that are the same as those overheard on a grade school playground or in a blockbuster movie, you need training. The reality is that you're creating risk and if people are laughing it's probably to alleviate discomfort than express humor. There are many helpful courses on business communications.

- If you ever find yourself questioning a decision, ask yourself if you'd act differently if your pay or bonus was... half? double? zero? If so, revisit and research the matter until you can clearly show you're motivated by substantive factors that weigh in the company's best interest, rather than your personal financial interest.

- It's time to change course if you find yourself involved in events that are harming people and you wouldn't want printed in The NY Times or shared with your grandma/ dad/ wife/ kids/ etc (e.g., shutting off people's electricity in order to price gouge or selling company assets to your own partnership so you can steal millions).

- "Ask why, @$$h01e." Lol

- If your corporate "culture" is so macho that it involves company funds being spent on strip clubs and all-male trips where your colleagues risk their lives and break bones, it's time to find a new job.

- Always know what value you (and your work or company) provide to the world. If you ever lose sight of it, find a new company or career. Work and "making a living" isn't the only thing that matters, but it's vital to most people's security, health and spiritual wellbeing.

What's fascinating about the Enron story is the number and variety of fraudulent schemes this single company engaged in. It truly was a culture of corruption. It's tragic how many people lost their jobs and savings as a result of the illegal actions of a few greedy, seedy men at the center of this disaster.

Disasters like Enron cannot occur unless many people who know better remain silent instead of speaking out for what's right. If you're an in-house counsel, accountant or compliance officer and you think your company may be engaged in fraud, you are obligated to prioritize the law over fears about your job and personal finances. In those roles, it's impossible to be simultaneously doing your job and engaging in CYA. The 2 are mutually exclusive. Know the law and inform yourself (meaning, don't "cry wolf") and, when appropriate, use your voice and the wondrous electronic record-making capability that's available to you: email. You'll be shocked how much power you have, even as a junior attorney, auditor, quality assurance or other oversight professional, to keep your colleagues on the straight-and-narrow. All it takes is, "I'm concerned about XYZ..." 99x out of 100, others are concerned, too.

Even if you don't work in an oversight role, you can often escalate concerns through your company's legal or HR departments or compliance hotline. If you've tried to shine light on a potentially harmful and illegal situation and gotten nowhere internally, call a regulator. You're a taxpayer, funding these public servants ostensibly to act as watchdogs and checks-and-balances on industry and markets, right? Make them do their jobs.


1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • A dude
  • 2016-05-25

Excellent read

If you want to find out what really happened with Enron this gives you more detail than the movie could ever give you

1 of 1 people found this review helpful