Thursday, October 8, 2020

Book 254: The Informant


"Shepard turned to Weatherall, shaking his head. They had heard enough to know this tape was fabulous. Their witness—this lying, manipulative man who had just failed a polygraph exam—was in the middle of a massive criminal conspiracy."

Dates read: August 9-16, 2018

Rating: 5/10

Well, this is embarrassing. Though I have no recollection of deleting the post I wrote for this book after reading it (I usually write my review within a few weeks of reading the book), it seems as though it has vanished. Maybe it was me, maybe it was a Blogger issue, but it is gone and the reality is that my memory of reading this book over two years ago is...not especially detailed. Therefore, this is likely going to be the shortest, least in-depth review I will ever post here, because I am not going to go back and re-read it so I can re-write the post.

The Informant, written by Kurt Eichenwald, is a true story that you would swear was a farce if you didn't know otherwise. Mark Whitacre was an executive for Archer Daniels Midland, a large agri-business company. For years, ADM had been working with their so-called competitors to fix the price of food additive lysine, which Whitacre confesses to the FBI. He then goes undercover to tape meetings at which this price-fixing continues to happen, repeatedly almost managing to get himself caught but capturing hundreds of conversations for his government handlers. As the case is moving towards trial, a complication emerges: Whitacre has embezzled several million dollars from ADM, in part because he actually got suckered into one of those Nigerian advance-fee scams. After years of working to help the feds build a case against ADM, the bipolar Whitacre turns against the FBI during manic episodes, claiming that they have tampered with evidence. His behavior related to these claims invalidates his plea deal with the government, and he is charged along with the rest of his colleagues in the underlying price-fixing scandal, eventually being convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. 

What I remember most about the book is its length, over 600 pages of often dense prose. The underlying crime is a very complicated white-collar conspiracy, and while Eichenwald did a decent job of trying to make it straightforward, my overwhelming recollection is that it frequently dragged. Whitacre himself is presented as a complex person: being a whistleblower/informant is a very stressful, pressure-filled situation, and combined with his untreated mental illness, he often behaves erratically. He is very sympathetic in some aspects, much less so in others. I feel like I remember that this was one of those books where the author was under the impression that his own reporting of the story was of particular interest to those reading it, which tends to be a pet peeve for me in non-fiction. It was often a struggle to read, and I didn't particularly enjoy the experience of doing so, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to others.

One year ago, I was reading: The Overstory

Two years ago, I was reading: The Library Book

Three years ago, I was reading: The Royals

Four years ago, I was reading: The Mothers

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