Book Review: “The Informant: A True Story” by Kurt Eichenwald

Oftentimes, when I start a new book my initial enthusiasm gets me through the first chapter or two. Then comes the moment of truth. If the author doesn’t succeed in capturing my pathetically short attention span, I find myself checking my progress every few pages. It’s the sound of my bored brain repeatedly asking myself “Are we there yet?”. But every once in a while I pick up a book which gives me the opposite feeling – instead of wondering when I’ll be done, I want it to last forever. “The Informant: A True Story” is a long book – over 500 pages, but I never once noticed what page I was on. It’s the kind of book you’ll stay up all night to finish.

The story revolves around a covert FBI investigation into a massive global price fixing scheme involving a number of companies, chief among which is a highly profitable and very powerful company Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). The FBI is lucky to have on their side Mark Whitacre, a senior Vice President at ADM who turns government witness against his employer. Whitacre is the most highly placed cooperating witness in the history of undercover FBI investigations. The ensuing twists and turns might seem too far fetched if they weren’t all true. Eichenwald foreshadows the developments thusly:

By the night of the raids in June 1995, the government had amassed an arsenal of evidence unprecedented in a white-collar case. Despite the secrecy of the criminals, despite their ability to spend millions of dollars on a defense, despite the political influence they could bring to bear, the possibility that they could beat back the prosecution seemed ludicrous. They were trapped – trapped by their own words and images, forever captured on miles of magnetized plastic ribbon. The government agents did not know whether Whitacre would emerge as a hero or an unemployed martyr, but they felt sure of their investigation. That night, they could hardly be blamed for believing that this case was all but over.

But it would be their last night of confidence and celebration for years to come. For despite all of the evidence the agents had collected, critical information had escaped them. Before dawn broke, they would sense that something had gone terribly awry. Years later, they would understand that the evening had not signaled the end of the case, but rather the beginning of events that eventually touched the highest reaches of government and industry around the world, events that no one could have imagined.

For on that night in the summer of 1995, almost nothing was what it appeared to be.

I heard about the recent film based on this book (which I haven’t seen yet), thought the story sounded intriguing and noticed the book was extremely well reviewed on Amazon. “The Informant: A True Story” did not disappoint – it’s a thrilling, informative and well researched book. But most of all, it’s a fun book you won’t be able to put down. And when you’re done, I think you’ll agree that it proves the old adage, once again: Truth really is stranger than fiction.

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