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Power Failure:
The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron

By Mimi Swartz with Sherron Watkins


The electrifying behind-the-scenes story of the fall of Enron, the high-flying energy company once touted as the poster child of the New Economy.



“A fascinating inside look at Enron.”
New York Times Book Review

“Colorful, movie-treatment narrative style”
Entertainment Weekly

“Reads like Tom Wolfe himself.”
Daily Telegraph

“A compelling history of Enron . . . offering a savvy interpretation of its subject.”
Washington Post Book World

“The book most Enron watchers have been waiting for.”
New York Daily News

“Paints the most detailed portrait yet of the company’s ambitious executives and toxic culture.”
Business Week

“Although Watkins, the Enron executive who wrote the anonymous memo that blew the company's troubles wide open, is listed as this book's coauthor, the writing appears to be all Swartz. The Texas Monthly editor uses Watkins as an extensive source and treats her career at Enron as a major narrative thread, but her account of the energy company's financial misdealings casts a much wider net. The book offers particularly strong perspective on some of Enron's wilder escapades, like its disastrous foray into Internet broadcasting, and an unsettling body of evidence about Enron's possible manipulation of California's energy crisis. It does a stunning job of chronicling the power games within Enron. (Although he's not named as a source, it seems likely former CEO Jeff Skilling must have granted at least one interview off the record.) This version of Enron's history is as richly detailed as Robert Bryce's Pipe Dreams, but without that version's overtly moralizing tone; Swartz lets the facts speak for themselves. Watkins's input, interspersed throughout the story, offers a personal perspective on the cutthroat competition among the "hungry, restless, and tightly wound" Enron staffers, especially when she herself is at her most aggressive. The depiction of her gradual awareness that something was wrong, and her efforts to get her superiors to address the problem, helps make the financial crisis understandable on an emotional as well as an informational level, and provides an effective anchor to all the other sides of Enron Swartz includes.”
Publisher’s Weekly, March 2003

“A lucid account of the Enron debacle that may be the best informed and best written to date.”
Andrew Hill, Financial Times


“They’re still trying to hide the weenie,” thought Sherron Watkins as she read a newspaper clipping about Enron two weeks before Christmas, 2001. . . It quoted [CFO] Jeff McMahon addressing the company’s creditors and cautioning them against a rash judgment. “Don’t assume that there is a smoking gun.”

Sherron knew Enron well enough to know that the company was in extreme spin mode…

Power Failure is the electrifying behind-the-scenes story of the collapse of Enron, the high-flying gas and energy company touted as the poster child of the New Economy that, in its hubris, had aspired to be “The World’s Leading Company,” and had briefly been the seventh largest corporation in America.

Written by prizewinning journalist Mimi Swartz, and substantially based on the never-before-published revelations of former Enron vice-president Sherron Watkins, as well as hundreds of other interviews, Power Failure shows the human face beyond the greed, arrogance, and raw ambition that fueled the company’s meteoric rise in the late 1990s. At the dawn of the new century, Ken Lay’s and Jeff Skilling's faces graced the covers of business magazines, and Enron’s money oiled the political machinery behind George W. Bush’s election campaign. But as Wall Street analysts sang Enron’s praises, and its stock spiraled dizzyingly into the stratosphere, the company’s leaders were madly scrambling to manufacture illusory profits, hide its ballooning debt, and bully Wall Street into buying its fictional accounting and off-balance-sheet investment vehicles. The story of Enron’s fall is a morality tale writ large, performed on a stage with an unforgettable array of props and side plots, from parking lots overflowing with Boxsters and BMWs to hot-house office affairs and executive tantrums.

Among the cast of characters Mimi Swartz and Sherron Watkins observe with shrewd Texas eyes and an insider’s perspective are: CEO Ken Lay, Enron’s “outside face,” who was more interested in playing diplomat and paving the road to a political career than in managing Enron’s high-testosterone, anything-goes culture; Jeff Skilling, the mastermind behind Enron’s mercenary trading culture, who transformed himself from a nerdy executive into the personification of millennial cool; Rebecca Mark, the savvy and seductive head of Enron’s international division, who was Skilling’s sole rival to take over the company; and Andy Fastow, whose childish pranks early in his career gave way to something far more destructive. Desperate to be a player in Enron’s deal-making, trader-oriented culture, Fastow transformed Enron’s finance department into a “profit center,” creating a honeycomb of financial entities to bolster Enron’s “profits,” while diverting tens of millions of dollars into his own pockets

An unprecedented chronicle of Enron’s shocking collapse, Power Failure should take its place alongside the classics of previous decades – Barbarians at the Gate and Liar’s Poker – as one of the cautionary tales of our times.

From the Hardcover edition.


The Stories We Tell:
Classic True Tales by America's Greatest Women Journalists

Edited by Patsy Sims


The Stories We Tell celebrates the work of twenty women who have made major contributions to the cannon of American magazine writing.

While each has her own style, the women in these pages share the attributes of all good writers: meticulous research and reporting, attention to detail, a talent for choosing the perfect word. Above all, they are astute observers and sticklers for accuracy. Over the years, they have been both prolific and versatile, writing about a wide range of topics, including Joan Didion’s landmark story about a suburban California woman convicted of burning her husband to death in their family Volkswagen, Susan Orlean’s profile of a female bullfighter, Lillian Ross’s stylish Talk of the Town pieces, Janet Malcolm’s profile of the brilliant young pianist Yuja Wang, Gloria Steinem’s memorable piece about Jackie Kennedy after the death of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, and Robin Marantz Henig’s poignant account of the determination of one Alzheimer’s victim to end her life on her own terms.

Stories by: Madeleine Blais, E. Jean Carroll, Joan Didion, Melissa Fay Greene, Lis Harris, Robin Marantz Henig, Gerri Hirshey, Elizabeth Kaye, Jeanne Marie Laskas, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Jill Lepore, Suzannah Lessard, Janet Malcolm, Susan Orlean, Lillian Ross, Susan Sheehan, Gloria Steinem, Mimi Swartz, Joyce Wadler, Isabel Wilkerson.

The Stories We Tell is part of The Sager Group’s Women in Journalism series, which honors the contributions women have made (and continue to make) to the evolution of graceful literary reportage.


Constance Hale, who teaches writing and editing at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, has listed The Stories We Tell first on her list of Anthologies of Narrative Journalism.

“What a treasure trove! The fact that these stories are all written by women makes this book even more intriguing. How wonderful to be part of this vibrant and beautiful anthology.” 
Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief

“It only took 50 years for the women of long-form journalism to really get their due in an anthology, the newly published The Stories We Tell: Classic Tales by America’s Greatest Women Journalists. . . The anthology is a feast of great writing by 20 journalists at the top of their game.” Harvard’s Neiman Storyboard

“The caliber of work makes this collection a master class in long-form journalism.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This is the collection I wish I’d had when I was starting out as a writer. Back then, non-fiction was the purview of men; here’s an unequivocal affirmation that it no longer is.”

Elizabeth Kaye, author of Lifeboat No. 8.