Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story

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9780739317693: Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story

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.

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Review:

Enron was a $100-billion-a-year company in October 2001--America's seventh-largest. The Houston-based energy firm enjoyed warm ties with newly installed President George W. Bush. Earnings were up 26 percent from the previous quarter, while Fortune magazine had named Enron the country's most innovative company six years in a row. Less than two months later, Enron filed for bankruptcy in the biggest corporate failure in history. Enron became synonymous with the greed and fraud of the go-go high-tech stock bubble of the late 1990s--the worst of a series of spectacular corporate collapses that also took down WorldCom, Tyco, and Global Crossing.

What went wrong? Veteran New York Times financial journalist Kurt Eichenwald does an epic job of telling Enron's story in his 742-page tome Conspiracy of Fools. Eichenwald, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, also authored The Informant, an acclaimed account of a vast international price-fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland. Conspiracy of Fools tells the Enron tale with a cinematic narrative style, relying almost exclusively on scene and dialogue to bring his account to vivid life. We see how federal regulators opened the doors for the Enron fraud early on when they let the company loosen up its accounting rules and essentially cook its books. We read how Enron bullied Wall Street firms into issuing favorable reports about its share price by threatening to take away lucrative banking fees. Eichenwald also reveals how Enron manipulated electricity prices during the California energy crisis of 2000. Eichenwald's book is less successful in situating the Enron debacle in its wider context--the cycle of market speculation that reached a historic summit in the dot-com bubble. Was Enron just a cautionary sign of the greed and lack of ethics of a few bad apples, or was it more symptomatic of an entire market system? That may be a debate for another book. --Alex Roslin

About the Author:

Kurt Eichenwald has written about white-collar crime and corporate cor-ruption for The New York Times for more than a decade. A two-time winner of the prestigious George Polk award for excellence in journalism and a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, he has been repeatedly selected by TJFR Business News Reporter as one of the nation's most influential financial journalists. For the Times, he has covered some of the highest-profile news stories emanating from the business world, including the Archer Daniels Midland story, and he is the author of Serpent on the Rock. Eichenwald lives in Westchester County, outside New York City, with his wife and three children.

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