Review by Choice Review
The two books under review here are early entrants into what undoubtedly will be a growing literature on the downfall of Enron. In Pipe Dreams, Texas journalist Bryce has produced an observant outsider's history of Enron, from its founding in 1985 to its bankruptcy on December 2, 2001. His explanations of the financial manipulations are lucid, understandable by the average newspaper reader, and revealing of the company's high-executive rot, including the familiar names (Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Andy Fastow) as well as the less familiar. Bryce is especially good at detailing the corporate culture, from greed, arrogance, deception, and incompetence in the highest places to various intracorporate affairs and executives' housing choices in the best Houston neighborhoods. Bryce draws no conclusions save that greed was rampant and suggests no social, civil, or criminal remedies. This volume is fascinating, and it gives literary support for the Enron logo, the crooked "E." Little attention is paid to the auditing firm Arthur Andersen.What Went Wrong at Enron provides more detailed coverage of the financial issues at Enron, but without the interesting account of corporate culture. Fusaro (head of an energy consulting firm) and Miller (an economist and head of a financial consulting firm) offer a brief and clear analytic history of the Enron financial circus, from the company's founding to four months after bankruptcy. They address the major issues of mark-to-market accounting practices, CEO Jeffrey Skilling's gas bank, personnel evaluations, liquidity crises, Enron Online, broadband services, electricity and water investments and misjudgments, accounting concealments and misstatements (hiding debt, inflating revenues, misreporting "profit"), special purpose entities, and Chapter 11. Emphasis is on the financial aspects (as it should be); the financial side of Enron's corporate culture is revealed loud and clear. Appendixes include the cast of characters (23 Enron employees briefly described and a list of Enron directors); timeline (17 pages with dates of specific events described in the text); and the "Enron files" (reproductions of 11 documents, including Sherron Watkins's whistle-blowing memos to Ken Lay; the SPE approval sheet missing Skilling's approval signature; the Temple-to-Odum-to-Duncan memo "reminding the [Andersen] engagement team of [the] documentation and retention policy," which swung the jury to convict Andersen; the Baxter purported suicide note; and a memo from attorneys explaining Enron's trading strategy in California electricity). Bibliography of 75 references; good index. Both books are recommended for public and academic collections, lower-division undergraduate and up. What Went Wrong at Enron will also interest professionals. R. A. Miller Wesleyan University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Finally, an Enron book that actually explains what happened at Enron. Bryce, an Austin, Tex., journalist familiar with the energy and telecommunications industries, offers a colorful account of the most spectacular corporate self-destruction in American history. Tracing the company's history, he shows how deal-focused executives like CEO Jeff Skilling transformed a fiscally responsible energy supplier into an out-of-control trading firm. He describes risky practices, like "mark-to-market" accounting and shell corporations, in clear, concise language that doesn't confuse readers who don't have MBAs. The book relies heavily on good ol' boy colloquialisms (e.g., "If [George W.] Bush had been any more simpatico to Enron, he could've been charged with a misdemeanor under the state of Texas' buggery laws") but backs up every unusual assertion, revealing, for example, connections between Bush and Enron going back to the mid-1980s. Not that Democrats were innocent; there's also extensive coverage on what Enron got from government agencies during the Clinton administration. While the emphasis on sexual misconduct among the top brass and its correlation to the financial shenanigans is arguable, Bryce makes a reasonable case for former chairman Ken Lay's unwillingness to control his staff's behavior-and inability to lead by example. This isn't just the first book to make sense out of the debacle; it's a vivid cautionary tale about the consequences of the lurid excesses-personal and professional-of the recently ended economic bubble, where corporations and their employees were so obsessed with acquiring wealth they became "dumber than a box of hammers" about making-and saving-money. Agent, Dan Green. (Oct.) Forecast: As a contributor to the New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, Salon and the Texas Observer, Bryce shouldn't have trouble plugging his book in the business media. Once word gets out that it's an Enron book with substance, sales will be brisk. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
An Austin-based reporter delivers the behind-the-scenes story of Enron's rise and fall. As astonishing as the damage done by Enron to the American economy is the impunity with which the company operated when it was riding high in the go-go 1990s. Bryce, who understands the flamboyance built into Texas business culture, clarifies Enron's muddled and deceptive accounting practices, deconstructs the bone-headed and perpetually hyped ventures (Enron as water giant! Enron as broadband marketeer!) while lacing his account with the sexual foibles that played a tacit part in creating the company's anything-goes executive culture. Ken Lay set the tone by having a semi-public affair with his secretary while married to his first wife, whom Lay eventually divorced to marry the secretary. Other good-time guys at Enron included Rich Kinder, president of the company until 1996, ousted partly because Lay found out about Kinder's affair with Lay's executive assistant; Ken Rice, head of Enron's broadband division (though he knew nothing, and cared to know nothing, about broadband), who conducted public groping matches with his light of love; and Lou Pai, head of Enron Energy Services, whose taste for striptease joints was put on the company bill. Kinder's successor, the infamous Jeff Skillings, emerges in Bryce's account as the ultimate in CEO arrogance. Skillings was responsible for the two linked factors that did Enron in: accounting shenanigans and out-of-control costs. The off-the-records partnerships designed by CFO Andy Fastow hid Enron's mounting cash crisis and thus made sensible cost-control measures unlikely, especially given the executive team's taste for sybaritic pleasures. Skillings created a system that rewarded revenue generation with huge bonuses, regardless of the earnings derived from the revenue-generating ventures. Enron's dealers and managers had no incentive to cut costs and could be rewarded generously for flops. There are sure to be many accounts of Enron's collapse, but Bryce's gossipy version will be hard to beat for sheer readability.
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