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Conspiracy of Fools : A True Story
by Kurt Eichenwald
Publisher: Broadway
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Book Description
From an award-winning New York Times reporter comes the full, mind-boggling story of the lies, crimes, and ineptitude behind the spectacular scandal that imperiled a presidency, destroyed a marketplace, and changed Washington and Wall Street forever . . .
It was the corporate collapse that appeared to come out of nowhere. In late 2001, the Enron Corporation--a darling of the financial world, a company whose executives were friends of presidents and the powerful--imploded virtually overnight, leaving vast wreckage in its wake and sparking a criminal investigation that would last for years. But for all that has been written about the Enron debacle, no one has yet to re-create the full drama of what has already become a near-mythic American tale.

Until now. With Conspiracy of Fools, Kurt Eichenwald transforms the unbelievable story of the Enron scandal into a rip-roaring narrative of epic proportions, one that is sure to delight readers of thrillers and business books alike, achieving for this new decade what books like Barbarians at the Gate and A Civil Action accomplished in the 1990’s.

Written in the roller-coaster style of a novel, the compelling narrative takes readers behind every closed door--from the Oval Office to the executive suites, from the highest reaches of the Justice Department to the homes and bedrooms of the top officers. It is a tale of global reach--from Houston to Washington, from Bombay to London, from Munich to Sao Paolo--laying out the unbelievable scenes that twisted together to create this shocking true story.

Eichenwald reveals never-disclosed details of a story that features a cast including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul O’Neill, Harvey Pitt, Colin Powell, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alan Greenspan, Ken Lay, Andy Fastow, Jeff Skilling, Bill Clinton, Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone. With its you-are-there glimpse into the secretive worlds of corporate power, Conspiracy of Fools is an all-true financial and political thriller of cinematic proportions.

Download Description

In 2000, when The Informant was published, few would’ve imagined that a story about price fixing at Archer Daniels Midland could be as un–put–downable as the best crime fiction. Yet critics—and consumers—agreed: The New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald had taken the stuff of dry business reporting and turned it into an unparalleled page–turner. With Conspiracy of Fools, Eichenwald has done it again.

Say the name “Enron” and most people believe they’ve heard all about the story that imperiled a presidency, destroyed a marketplace, and changed Washington and Wall Street forever. But in the hands of Kurt Eichenwald, the players we think we know and the business practices we think have been exposed are transformed into entirely new—and entirely gripping—material. The cast includes but is not limited to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul O’Neill, Harvey Pitt, Colin Powell, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alan Greenspan, Ken Lay, Andy Fastow, Jeff Skilling, Bill Clinton, Rupert Murdoch, and Michael Eisner. Providing a you–are–there glimpse behind closed doors in the executive suites of the Enron Corporation, the Texas governor’s mansion, the Justice Department, and even the Oval Office, Conspiracy of Fools is an all–true financial and political thriller of cinematic proportions.

Product Details
  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; edition (Mar 14, 2023)
  • ISBN: 0767911784
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 Based on 73 reviews.
  • Sales Rank: 411

Customer Reviews

0 of 0 people found the following review helpful:

5Excellent Book-Strongly Recommend, Aug 15, 2023

Conspiracy of Fools is the 4th Enron related book I have read and it is clearly the best. I would strongly recommend it to all. What's really nice is that Kurt is able to weave in a great deal of up to the minute information related to Fastow's indictment and the morphing case against Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. COF therefore takes a perspective that other Enron books written earlier are not able to provide. Despite its length, it is a quick, easy read and the case against Lay, Skilling and Fastow is laid out in vibrant detail. It will likely change your perception as to who is at fault in the $60 billion Enron implosion. I can't recommend it any more strongly.

Andrew Stoltmann

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

5A painful but gripping read, Aug 14, 2023
If you're a fan of accounts of business boondoggles, this book will provide a satisfying main dish.

In a huge upset, the author actually manages to bring off a doubtful technique: reproducing verbal dialogue in a non-fiction book from scenes where the author wasn't present. At first, the technique of reproducing conversations after-the-fact is a bit leaden; soon enough, however, the narrative takes on increasing momentum as the increasing rot and corruption at the heart of the once-mighty Enron corporation get peeled like the layers of an especially ripe and tear-producing onion. You also get a more intimate view of how the Enron scene unfolded through the years and months before the company's final dissolution.

This book also provides the most understandable account of the specious financial mechanisms employed by Fastow and the company to phony up their reported financial numbers. Also coming under withering scrutiny are the appalling ethical lapses and outright corruption of David Duncan and the execs at Arthur andersen - and the few Andersen analysts who fought valiantly to maintain the truth. The willful gullibility of the investor community, the business press and the financial houses is also excruciatingly spelled out. There just isn't much missing here and it's probably the definitive account - at least until Skilling and Lay go to Sing Sing.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

4Excellent rendition of events, Aug 13, 2023
This book is very accurate on the facts presented about the deals. It does portray some of the higher-ups as a little cleaner than we otherwise might find to be the case. It does not discuss all the nasty deals but does capture some of the more sinister ones in excellent detail. With all the coverage on this case and the various writings/information sources out there, this book by far paints the most complete condensed picture of the inner workings.

I cannot fault the writer for not catching what is in my opinion the most dastardly act of all, as no one else has since this case has unfolded. Maybe someday we will all hear about it, or maybe it will never see the light. The author is so close to the subject matter it isn't funny. If the reader is very familiar with the litigation cases, maybe you can put the last puzzle piece in place and write the last chapter.

Well worth the read!

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

4Dense but enjoyable, Aug 6, 2023
I was interested in this story, and found the book a fun read because of that. I'd characterize it as well-researched infotainment. (which to me, is not a bad thing....) The action is written in an omnipotent voice, and the book actually a fairly quick read for folks comfortable with a bit of business jargon. It is dense with names, and the reference guide provided in front is only a little helpful in that regard. Overall the book made me want to seek out more straight journalism on the Enron story.

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:

2Enron agit prop that gets us nowhere, Aug 3, 2023
K. E.'s Enron chronicle is an entertaining read, written in novel form, with naturalistic dialogue. The book is carefully researched and informative. It is not entirely accurate. As history or as a useful dissection of why these events happened, the book falls far short. Both human and moral dimensions of the debacle are foreshortened. This book is a detailed factual narrative, but it is not the truth ... at least, it does not reflect any particularly deep truths.

Here's the rub: There are many avenues of inquiry regarding Enron's collapse that should be explored so that we can better prevent another Enron. Unfortunately, K. E.'s cartoonish, black hat/white hat -- and bizarrely political -- narrative does not illuminate but rather forecloses these useful paths of inquiry.

K. E. has populated Enron's executive suites with stock characters from 1930s social-realism literature. K. E. states flatly that Enron CFO Fastow was unintelligent, and paints Skilling, and nearly every other top manager at Enron, as terrible dolts - but as this is false, it sheds no light on what actually happened at Enron. I've met Skilling, and have several common business acquaintances with Fastow. Believe me, these men were anything but dim: They were, in fact, genuinely very talented. Ill suited, for sure, but not for the reason K. E. suggests (I'll suggest my own explainations below). The "stupid" angle jibes with the old Marxist view that successful businesspeople are, ispo facto, undeserving. As a roadmap, however, it leads nowhere useful. If all American business has to do is avoid idiots in black hats - I mean, why didn't we think of that before?

Had Jeff Skilling stayed in the relative abstraction of McKinsey Consulting, and Fastow stayed within the narrow bounds of Wall Street financial engineering, no doubt both men would still be lionized (if less well known) today. So why did the best and brightest of Corporate America fail so miserably, and inflict such pain on the rest of us? Why were the two men so clearly ill suited for the jobs they were given, both in skills and in ethics? If not to brilliant minds, then to whom should we entrust our corporations?

I suspect that K. E. sees the world through a rigid ideological lens. Do we need to wonder how K. E. arrived at his portrayal, such socialist cliché as it is? In one piece of hackneyed agit prop, he recounts an executive's wife getting a pedicure ("the older woman sat in front of the younger woman's feet ....") It seems related to the main action only by way of insinuation. K. E. doesn't make these points subtly. So what am I to conclude, seriously? That Fastow is not in fact a corporate thief, but rather a class criminal in the Marxist sense? The institution of pedicure is proof of bourgois false consiousness? We should rip out our yards for gardens? What?

The narrative style jumps between simultaneous events at disparate locations, i.e., at Enron, at Arthur Anderson, at the SEC, etc. These threads tie together in the dramatic climax of Enron's unraveling. Except for one thread: K. E. intersperses the Enron narrative with vignettes of Ken Lay's political relations with the (future) Bush administration (Lay was a local political hack, setting up fundraising dinners and pep rallies; important enough to get periodic audiences with Bush, but not enough to get a cabinet post). The Bush thread simply runs out, however. K. E. never makes clear any logical nexus with the Enron story ... aside from a few insinuations that Enron is indicative of all Republicans everywhere (e.g., K. E. notes how John Ashcroft, a former state attorney general, and Ken Lay shared "common values." The men were probably referring to their relgious faith, but K. E.'s insinuation is otherwise.) I suppose reasonable people can differ in their view of electoral politics, but this book offers only a priori conclusions here: Republicans are crooks, just like the Republican who Chairman of Enron. (Oddly, the political affiliations of the most culpable players isn't mentioned. If they were Democratic fundraisers, would K. E. have highlighted their "shared values" with Bill Clinton or John Kerry?)

Another basic problem with the book is that the legal wheels haven't stopped turning. The basic premise (though not stated explicitly) is that Fastow was the active criminal, while Skilling was mainly a terrible manager, and culpable mainly in failing to properly supervise Fastow. Ditto for Lay. This may turn out to be the truth, but it is also identical to Jeff Skilling's current legal defense. In other words, K. E. puts all the dirt on Fastow because Fastow has already confessed, and the legal record is ample on his involvement; Skilling and Lay are yet to come to trial, so our understanding of them remains necessarily incomplete.

What paths of inquiry would I suggest to K. E. ? My first thought reading the book was how little hands-on experience either Skilling or Fastow had running a business. Skilling joined Enron, at the top rank, directly from the quasi-ivory tower of McKinsey Consulting. The ideas he used to transform Enron came directly from the real ivory tower, Harvard Business School (I took the same course!) Fastow was a brilliant financial engineer who structured bond-derivative deals, but had no clue how to balance the corporate checking account. I think this is largely generational, and a great cautionary tale for our times (which K. E., of course, misses entirely).

Skilling and Fastow (in contrast to the older Lay) were products of the Wall Street / Consulting nexus that absorbs the best and brightest young business people currently. Like many of their generation, both Skillng and Fastow got top grades from high school one, then jetted from high-powered business schools directly to the executive suite, skipping over the "shop floor" career phase altogether. In contrast, Lay, also typical of his generation, spent years as a low-level economist at Exxon, on the proverbial shop floor. Whatever his shortcomings turn out to be, at least Lay successfully ran several corporations up to and including Enron (until he turned the reigns over to Skilling, at least). Lay aside, the current generation of business leaders has produced fraud and incompetence on a scale not seen since the 1920s, far in excess of anything Lay's generation ever dreamed.

Top management is by necessity dealing with abstractions. The elite B-school grad today has never done anything but deal with abstraction, and thus might find something tangible like the checking account a terrible challenge, as Fastow did. So, is the B-school system flawed? Should corporations be more chary of the "thought leaders" in the professional class, desipte their polished credentials? Those are serious questions, but ones excluded from K.E.'s simplistic prism.

Was Enron a special case, because it's industry was undergoing dramtic change? As its industry structure transformed from that of the regulated utility (i.e., Ken Lay's background), where management of great talent is neither needed nor employed, into a sophisticated financial trading enterprise ... in other words, was the problem that the older generation was peculiarly unable to supervise the younger, due to a particular industry dynamic? Again, a path foreclosed if one assumes that Enron management -- and Texas generally, Republicans generally, etc. -- were simply idiots and crooks, all black hats and no cattle. The real world, unfortunately, is a stubborn thing, and does not yield to K. E.'s facile construction.


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