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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 11:29 GMT
'I lost so much on Enron, I bought the book'
Enron's logo at company HQ in Houston
Enron is attracting men and women of letters
Make room on your bookshelf. Publishers are set to flood bookshops on both sides of the Atlantic with volumes on the dramatic demise of US power company Enron, writes Maggie Shiels.

Where there is a scandal, there is a book deal. Or in the case of the biggest bankruptcy in American commercial history, a slew of book deals.

It seems the demise of Enron has inspired more than just anger as a host of publishers gear up their presses to release a number of tomes about the once great titan of the energy world.

Bethany McLean
Bethany McLean saw through Enron
At the moment there are at least seven books in the works as well as a flurry of other proposals doing the rounds for a buyer.

The one person making headlines with her seven-figure deal is 31-year-old Bethany McLean of Fortune Magazine. She became the folk hero of financial journalists as the first person to stand up and say the emperor Enron had no clothes.

Enron moneyspinner

She has signed a $1.4million contract with Penguin books to write her version of a story that has dominated front pages around the world.

The advance is being described as the biggest sum ever paid for a non-fiction book about a financial scandal.

McLean told BBC News Online she was a little nervous about the job ahead.


There's power, politics, the White House, suicide and vast amounts of money

Bethany McLean
"The size of the task, the complexity of it all scares me. But I think it's good to be a little bit terrified. I just wish I wasn't profiting from something that cost so many people so much."

Eleven months ago, McLean's article for Fortune Magazine asked the question no one dared ask: "Is Enron Overpriced?" The most startling fact she uncovered was the absence of crucial information in the company's financial reports.

Rush to hush

Before the story even hit the newsstands, she was subjected to a barrage of criticism by Enron top brass.

Chief executive Jeffrey Skilling attacked her work, chairman Kenneth Lay tried to get the story spiked and three Enron executives jetted to New York to convince her editors she was wide of the mark.

Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay
Lay tried to halt loose lips
The irony is that when McLean's work was published, it had little effect outside the Enron boardroom. But as Enron began to unravel last year, McLean's role as an early doubter amid the scores of Wall Street analysts and reporters in awe of Enron's rapid growth soon became apparent.

She quickly found herself being feted by the TV news networks which went to town on every morsel of information about the company's collapse.

'Not sceptical enough'

"I obviously wrote a sceptical story," McLean says of her initial article nearly a year ago, "but the truth is I didn't know the half of it. I didn't know the company was going to go bankrupt. It's hard not to look back and wish I had been more critical."

When she sits down to write her book she will have the chance to make up for that lost opportunity. Helping in her task will be Peter Elkind, an award-winning investigative reporter for Fortune based in Texas, and the magazine's executive editor Joseph Nocera.

Penguin believes McLean's book, as yet still untitled, will be regarded as the "bible" of the Enron scandal. Adrian Zackheim, publisher at Penguin's Portfolio Imprint, likens the Enron debacle to another history-making event.

President Nixon
Even Nixon wrote about Watergate
"Like Watergate, the Enron collapse will beget a compelling journalistic narrative that breaks through the chatter and defines the story. Enron is huge, an epochal event.

"There may well be books in the future from Enron participants, like there were books from Watergate players John Dean, HR Haldeman, John Erlichman and the rest. But this is unquestionably the big breakthrough book, the book we most wanted to publish."

Penguin expects its "bible" to hit stores at the end of 2003.

Enron groupies however will not have to wait that long to find out what went rotten at the energy giant.

Insiders will out

From the inside, former executive turned whistle-blower Sherron Watkins is said to be helping Texas-based writer Mimi Schwartz with her take of events. It's understood Doubleday Books has paid $500,000 for Power Failure. Expect it in shops from the autumn.

Another former insider-turned-author is rumored to be Barbara Ley Toffler, who worked for Enron's auditors, Arthur Andersen.

Enron executive Sherron Watkins
Watkins is talking to Congress, and then authors
She resigned in 1999 because she was "disillusioned by the company's business practices". Broadway Books are stumping up six figures for Our People: How Arthur Andersen Won Big Business.

Among the glut of offers from journalists rushing to print this autumn are two other appropriately titled books. One is called Pipe Dreams and the other is Power Shock.

It's only a matter to time before Hollywood enters the fray. While being coy about approaches from film companies, Ms McLean agrees the story has got the lot.

"There's power, politics, the White House, suicide and vast amounts of money."

See also:

06 Feb 02 | Business
Enron memorabilia market booms
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