The Battle of the Enron Books

Let’s be honest: The early wave of books that demonized Enron have not aged well. They were largely shallow when they came out, and the subsequent events, such as the broad economic collapse and the revelations about widespread prosecutorial misconduct, have made those early Enron books look downright silly. Let’s list a few of those sad books: Anatomy of Greed, Power Failure, Pipe Dreams, The Smartest Guys in the Room, Conspiracy of Fools, Enron: The Rise and Fall; Innovation Corrupted, and so on — the listless march of shallow, predictable, uninspired books goes on and on.

I was amazed at the hollowness of the books when I first read them, and when I browse through them now, they strike me as pitiable. The common problem with the books, of course, is that they all start with the premise that crime was rampant at Enron — then they unskeptically try to support the faulty premise by not questioning information that contradicts it. As a writer, I know that writers must make a living — therefore, I cut the authors of those books a little bit of slack for taking the easy road — they knew that the public loves to bash businessmen and they numbly wrote what they thought the public would buy. Of course, I find it more that a bit ironic that writers who try to pitch the Enron Myth as a simplistic story about greed are themselves guilty of more shallow greed than you see in any of the Enron executives they wrote about!

Perhaps the saddest thing about the books is the seeming lack of curiosity of the authors — none of them seemed to make even a token effort to approach the Enron story with a basic level of objectivity. They remind me of the many laughable books that support the theory that extraterrestials built the pyramids of Egypt, not humans — those books follow the same pattern — they start with a ridiculous premise and then systematically reject any evidence contrary to the premise. The result is nonsense — garbage in, garbage out.

Fortunately, we are starting to get books from people who actually have first-hand knowledge of events at Enron and the various Enron prosecutions. David Birmingham and Gary Mulgrew, two of the defendants in the Enron NatWest case, have written books. The books are on the vanguard of a coming wave of books and articles about the true story of Enron. Birmingham and Mulgrew both live in Great Britain and are free of the kinds of constraints placed on other Enron defendants in the USA — but the passage of time is opening up the opportunity for others to get their stories out there. It’s going to be fun watching the reactions over the next few years as more of the real story of Enron emerges.

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