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Speed Review: Best Business Crime Writing of the Year

Speed Review: Best Business Crime Writing of the Year

Speed Review: Best Business Crime Writing of the Year

by James Surowiecki

Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, ImClone, Tyco, Martha Stewart, Arthur Andersen and many others have had their share of bad press over the past couple of years, and that bad press has made for some terrific reading. Compiling the best of this compelling new genre of true business crime stories, The New Yorker’s business columnist James Surowiecki has amassed a compelling collection of fallen leaders and the repercussions that accompanied their leaps from grace. Gleaned from the best writing to have appeared in recent magazines and newspapers, such as The Washington Post, Forbes, and Vanity Fair, these stories jump off the pages with tales of tragic mistakes, convoluted fraud, and outright greed.

Review

Tragic Mistakes, Fraud And Greed
Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, ImClone, Tyco, Martha Stewart, Arthur Andersen and many others have had their share of bad press over the past couple of years, and that bad press has made for some terrific reading. Compiling the best of this compelling new genre of true business crime stories, The New Yorker's business columnist James Surowiecki has amassed a compelling collection of fallen leaders and the repercussions that accompanied their leaps from grace. Gleaned from the best writing to have appeared in recent magazines and newspapers, such as The Washington Post, Forbes and Vanity Fair, these stories jump off the pages with tales of tragic mistakes, convoluted fraud and outright greed.

A common thread that runs through the stories in this collection is the men and women at the top who built their companies from almost nothing, created multi-billion dollar corporations, and then destroyed them with their scandalous behavior. According to Surowiecki, this looting of corporate America by greedy CEOs is "as much a failure of the system as it was a failure of individuals."

The book's first part, "Visionaries, Hucksters and Con Men: CEOs and the Games They Played," contains many examples of top executives whose corporate malfeasance cost their companies dearly. The depth of the recent wave of corporate fraud and deception is seen through richly detailed narratives. They describe some of the world's largest companies slipping deeper and deeper into trouble due to the misdeeds of CEOs who lacked obstacles to keep them from plummeting into the quagmire of fraud and desperation as they tried to make good on impossible promises. Two stories in this section describe how WorldCom collapsed due to the inability of CEO Bernie Ebbers to properly manage the company he had assembled while he was chasing new companies to acquire.

Who Watches the Watchmen?
The book's second part, "Who Watches the Watchmen?" delves into the corruption of Wall Street and the shady accounting practices that led to the downfall of Andersen and others. Stories in this section describe how investment banks failed to protect investors from companies who could not be trusted, and instead of offering impartial advice and representing investor interests, approved investments in questionable corporate strategies. Conflicts of interest abound, and several stories describe how the accounting industry failed to act as a check on executives and instead helped them to deceive shareholders and investors. Writer Noam Scheiber suggests that the systems which are supposed to allow accountants to regulate themselves do not work.

The book's final section, "What Went Wrong, and How Do We Fix It?" takes a broader look at corporate corruption and analyzes the system that allowed these financial debacles to take place. Here, the writers describe how executive greed, investment banker corruption and accountant shenanigans are the visible signs of a system that needs a tune up. To place the capitalist system on a healthy track that benefits society as well as certain individuals, seven writers dive into the corporate muck to investigate solutions that might be able to reduce the corruption taking place. Along with encouraging more investor vigilance and a reevaluation of the use of stock options in CEO incentive packages, the writers offer their suggestions for regulatory reform and self-imposed changes for Wall Street and the rest of corporate America.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
In the past, a book that focused on the year's high crimes of business executives would have been difficult to compile. This year, with an unusual abundance of headlines featuring corporate scandals, fraud and turmoil, there was a bountiful plethora of offerings from which the editor could choose. Surowiecki has brought together numerous examples of business crime writing and has turned hard facts, complex scenarios and insider humor into a compelling book that offers deep insights, great stories and exemplary journalism.