four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

A True Story

A-ConspiracyFoolsIn the mid-1980s, Enron was a traditional brick-and-mortar company, with 37,000 miles of natural gas pipeline under its control. By 2000, the company reached the seventh spot in the Fortune 500. By December 2001, it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Drawing from a host of first-hand sources, New York Times reporter Eichenwald (author of The Informant, 2000, about the ADM scandal) provides a front-row seat to the hubristic rise and calamitous fall of an American corporation—and the people and companies it took down with it.
Broadway Books. 742 pages. $26.
ISBN: 0767911784

Baltimore Sun 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Kurt Eichenwald’s richly detailed narrative is likely to be a landmark record—not just of what went wrong at Enron, but of how American business went crazy during the 1990s, when it seemed that everyone had a shot at becoming a billionaire in the New Economy." Larry Williams

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Eichenwald has given his material the structure and drive of a good suspense novel. He lays his foundation carefully and quickly, offers brief bios that attempt to capture the essence of his main players’ characters, and develops the interactions of these characters in brief scenes dense with detail, all while building tension with narrative hooks and hints of the catastrophe to come." Duane Davis

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The writing is crisp and clear, and as the stories take on their separate lives, the march toward catastrophe builds inexorably from tentative little steps to determined strides, and finally to a wide-eyed, wild-haired, all-out sprint to the cliff. The overall effect is riveting." Charles R. Morris

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Conspiracy of Fools is one of the best nonfiction investigative books I’ve read in years …" Jeanne Nicholson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Conspiracy of Fools is a rollercoaster of a read whose style mirrors the wild ride of the Enron debacle it chronicles. The result is a dynamic blend of the inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy and the cliff-hanging breathlessness of The Perils of Pauline: You know what the terrible ending will be, but each time you must put the book down, you can’t wait to get back to it to see what the next installment will bring."

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Perhaps the most valuable lesson for the general public imparted by Eichenwald is the preventable nature of the unethical and illegal activities. … Individual investors, stock analysts, government regulators, journalists all noticed signs of trouble but could not overcome the twin cultures of self-imposed ignorance (Enron is too complicated to really figure out) and … greed." Steve Weinberg

New York Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]here are aspects of Conspiracy of Fools that make one pause before declaring it an unqualified success. Some of it feels almost too good to be true. Although the extensive notes and sources look solid, there are moments when the quotes and descriptions of what a character is thinking at a given moment seem, well, a little too pat, even puzzling." Jonathan A. Knee

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"[F]or all of Eichenwald’s success in getting insiders to spill details and combing court papers for sizzling nuggets, Conspiracy of Fools fails to explain just how Enron managed to ride so high. The unrelenting focus on chicanery leaves unexplained why so many presumably sharp Wall Streeters believed, at least until late 2000, that Enron’s frenzied dealmaking culture truly represented the brilliance of a new mold of corporation." Peter J. Howe

Critical Summary

The Enron story remains the same, no matter how many times it’s retold. In matters of style, at least, Conspiracy of Fools trumps the other books on the subject. Critics’ pens dangle like swords of Damocles over the cinematic scenes that are central to the book’s appeal: Can dialogue be recounted so accurately after 20 years of echoes? Maybe not. But 40 pages of detailed source notes buy Eichenwald some relief from the red ink. There are nitpicks: Enron executive Andrew Fastow comes across as a less rounded character than Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay (both of whom were interviewed extensively for the book), and Eichenwald pays little attention to analyzing why the gross misconduct was able to occur. But Eichenwald’s keen storytelling ability carries him across these speed bumps.