March 09, 2006

The Informant

One of the better non-fiction books I've read in the past few years is Kurt Eichenwald's "The Informant", the chronicle of one informant's work with the FBI to bust the Archer Daniels Midland company ("Supermarket to the World") for price-fixing and various other illegal things. What sets this book apart from other "Civil Action" style books that I've read is that the main character is pretty much just as bad as the company and ends up going to jail, and because of his problems, you never quite know whether the FBI is going to end up successful.

Eichenwald tells a good story, very complete, and he has lots of details to offer because the informant in this case made a lot of tapes of high-level meetings involving various executives in the company. It's kinda chilling, actually, to know that all this stuff took place long before the Boy King came to power and, with control of all three branches of government, corporate oversight and law enforcement has been reduced to its lowest levels in decades. One wonders what the hell they're getting away with these days.

There is also a lot of educational stuff here about what multinational corporations do, how they make money, what strategies they employ and so forth. It's a real education into how the directors of these companies think and how they are covered by the media. For a long time, ADM was the primary sponsor of ABC's news show "This Week with David Brinkley" and even while all this scandalous stuff was going on, there was never a mention on that show of it. There's also a lot of interesting detail about how the FBI works and what obstacles they have to overcome (especially politically) to investigate a big company.

The best non-fiction books contain both attention-grabbing page-turning stories and also a lot of really useful educational material. Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" was like this. Robert Reid's "Year One" was like this. Hell, almost every non-fiction book in my sidebar has these two elements, which is why I've bothered to shine a little spotlight on them, and this is one of the best.

Posted by Observer at March 9, 2006 05:57 PM

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Worth noting that they are also a major sponsor of NPR and I don't think I heard anything about this there either but it is possible I just missed those stories.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on March 10, 2006 11:54 AM