Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Number 12 is The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean. This book details the rise and fall of Enron, which earned the dubious title as filing the largest single bankruptcy in US history. Way to go guys!

I work for a company that develops risk management software, and all I could think while reading this book, is how desperately Enron could've used some. Of course, they also probably wouldn't have USED it, they were rampant in their desire to run barely legal end-games around sound risk management and accounting procedures, but still... what they tried to get away with was just wow. And the thing is, working for the company I do, I actually understood some of what they were trying to get away with. I know what credit derivatives and zero return swaps and counterparties are. Makes me feel smart :) I mean, I don't understand everything; it's kinda like knowing enough of a foreign language to get the gist of the conversation, but knowing you're still missing nuances.

Anyway, it is a fascinating, maddening book reading about all these people who got pretty damn rich yet it never seemed to be enough. And that's the problem, no one ever said 'enough', not the banks, not their accounting firm, not their lawyers, becuase everyone was too busy making money off them, until finally, the house of cards couldn't be sustained and no one was making money anymore. Then they were cut loose.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Number 11 is The Sound of No Hands Clapping by Toby Young. This is the sequel memoir from Young, who gave us How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which was his 'insider's report' when working at Vanity Fair. It was turned into an amusing movie starring Simon Pegg (yes, it seems we really will see him in anything), but I hadn't yet read the book. G tried to find a copy of the book in a used bookstore, but was only able to come up with this one.

SoNHC is about Young's attempt to be a screen-writer. He has no experience in doing so, but manages to land a couple of jobs that require him to crank one out. Of course one of these jobs is to adapt his own book, How to Loose Friends... so that some big-shot Hollywood producer (he never names said producer, nor really gives enough good clues as to his identity, but I took great delight in deciding that the producer was Robert Evans, because frankly, everything is better with Evans in it). But as Young embarks on this career, his family life becomes more complicated as his newly wedded wife becomes pregnant (twice, over the course of the book) and so now he must worry about actually making money from his writing efforts.

It's an interesting look at Hollywood from someone who really had no clue how to play the game, wasn't entirely sure he wanted to play the game (no, no he didn't) and eventually decided that yeah, his family was more important to him than becoming a BIG NAME SCREENWRITER (which really no one becomes anyway). He does become a bit of a playwrite, which makes him some money and makes him happy, so the book does end on a nice, happy note.

I still want to read How to Lose Friends and Alienate People though, because I'm definitely going to read VF editor Graydon Carter as being played by Jeff Bridges. He was a hoot in the movie.