PIPE DREAMS: Greed, Ego, Jealousy, and the Death of Enron
Robert Bryce, Molly Ivins, , intro. by Molly Ivins. . Public Affairs, $26 (416pp) ISBN 978-1-58648-138-4
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.
Reviewed on: 09/02/2002
Paperback - 440 pages - 978-1-58648-201-5