Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A blockbuster book on Enron

For a definitive account of the whole Enron matter, grab a copy of Conspiracy of Fools (Broadway Books) by Kurt Eichenwald, a New York Times Reporter, based in Dallas.

At over 700 pages, you won't exhaust this book quickly, but you'll have difficulty putting it down.

Unlike creators of the TV movie "The Crooked E" (with questionable casting of Mike Farrell as the late Ken Lay) or authors of the well-titled, but shallow account Final Accounting by Barbara Ley Toffler and Jennifer Reingold. (Yes Ms. Toffler it's true, partners at professional services firms must sell work) -- Mr. Eichenwald delivers more substance.
Ken Lay, Wikipedia

Eichenwald manages to avoid easy stereotypes of all the major players in his meticulously-researched tome.  He writes with the verve of a mystery novelist, so you can't turn the pages fast enough, even though you know how the narrative ends.

This detailed account confirmed some of my early impressions about the primary players involved.  After reading the news stories, it was hard to come away with much sympathy for the now incarcerated, ex-CFO, Andy Fastow.  After reading Mr. Eichenwald's book, that hasn't changed for me.

I'm still unsure if the fired Andersen partner turned government witness David Duncan, was truly an unwitting sacrificial lamb offered up to the wolves by Andersen's leadership, or a firmly culpable player that deserved everything his actions wrought.

When reading Conspiracy of Fools, readers are reminded that Mr. Duncan repeatedly ignored and possibly distorted advice given from Andersen advisers rendering in-house guidance on push-it-to-the-line accounting matters.  Still I have some pity for Mr. Duncan and his family.  Like Icarus, he flew way too close to the sun and burned himself...big time.   

I disagree with Mr. Eichenwald's conclusion that Andersen as an entire firm "deserved the death penalty."  Andersen was a dynamic, monolithic institution with a rich history and I was fortunate to be a part of it -- even for a short two and a half years.  Eichenwald might feel differently if he (like me and 29,000 other Andersen people in the U.S.) had been displaced by this debacle because of the actions of a few Houstonian Andersen people and an overzealous Justice Department. 

All that notwithstanding, I recommend that interested parties read this fine book.