PERSONAL: Male. Hobbies and other interests: Bird-watching.
CAREER: Journalist and writer. Austin Chronicle, Austin, TX, journalist, twelve years; Texas Observer, contributing writer.
Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, introduction by Molly Ivins, PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2002.
Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas,America's Superstate, PublicAffairs (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Self-described muckraker Robert Bryce has been a journalist for many years, most of them in Texas. Beginning in 2002, Bryce began drawing on his extensive knowledge of the political, economic, and social climate of that state to write books exposing some of its larger scandals to a national audience.
In his first book, Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, Bryce presents a "well-researched and very readable" explanation of the fall of the Houston, Texas-based energy giant, Reg Birchfield explained in New Zealand Management. On paper, Enron was one of the ten largest businesses in the United States at the time of its collapse, yet the illusion of its wealth was merely the result of layers upon layers of accounting tricks. Bryce steers clear of the more arcane accounting issues, focusing instead on the personalities who drove the drama. "Lacking some of the convolutions of the more detailed books along with many clever turns of phrase," Carol Dahl wrote in Energy Journal, Pipe Dreams "made for easy and entertaining readings."
Although many critics noted that much had already been written about Enron, they found praise for the particular perspective Bryce takes in telling the company's saga. "Pipe Dreams is a fast-paced tale for readers who have already made up their minds about who is to blame and want details for cocktail party conversations," maintained Houston Chronicle reviewer Tom Fowler. "This is not Dallas, a critic wrote in the Economist, referring to the popular evening soap opera of the 1980s, "but it's not far off." However, Bryce's book does more than simply relay shallow gossip about Enron players Ken Lay, Andrew Fastow, and Jeff Skilling. It is the "most comprehensive" book about Enron, declared American Prospect critic Robert Kuttner, as well as the most "entertaining." Bryce also draws parallels between the personal corruption that he documents, particularly the numerous affairs had by Enron upper management, and the corporate corruption that led to the company's bankruptcy. Overall, Pipe Dreams is "a vivid cautionary tale about the consequences of the lurid excesses—personal and professional—of the recently ended economic bubble," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Bryce looks at a different aspect of Texas oil wealth in his second book, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate. As its subtitle suggests, much of Cronies is about the years from 1980 to its date of publication in 2004, during which time George H. W. Bush was vice president of the United States for eight years and then president for four, and George W. Bush served his first term as U.S. president. However, Cronies goes back much further, examining the intersection between oil and power back as far as 1931, when the governor of Texas used the National Guard to enforce the Texas Railroad Commission's authority to regulate oil sales. Bryce also closely examines the rise to power of twentieth-century Texan president Lyndon B. Johnson. Other famous Texan politicians whose connections to the oil industry are mapped by Bryce include Bill Clements, former governor of Texas and deputy secretary of defense; and James A. Baker III, formerly secretary of state. This long-term focus helped differentiate Cronies from the rest of the crop of partisan election-year hit-pieces. As Michael King wrote in the Austin Chronicle, the book "works as a history, as an analysis of an historical phenomenon, and also as a polemic about Texas business and politics." Still, Mike Shea wrote in Texas Monthly, Cronies "is a scathing indictment [of Bush administration policies] that will not win [Bryce] endorsements at whitehouse.gov."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Prospect, June, 2003, Robert Kuttner, review of Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, p. 47.
Austin Chronicle, June 18, 2004, Michael King, "'It All Leads Back to Texas': Robert Bryce on the Texas-Washington-International Crony Network."
Booklist, September 15, 2002, David Siegfried, review of Pipe Dreams, p. 179.
Boston Globe, December 4, 2002, Diego Ribadeneira, review of Pipe Dreams, p. E7.
Business Week, October 14, 2002, Wendy Zellner, review of Pipe Dreams, p. 26.
Campaigns and Elections, June, 2004, Morgan E. Felchner, review of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate, p. 47.
Economist (US), January 11, 2003, review of PipeDreams.
Energy Journal, October, 2004, Carol Dahl, review of Pipe Dreams, p. 115.
Houston Chronicle, Tom Fowler, review of PipeDreams, p. 21.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of PipeDreams, p. 1188; April 1, 2004, review of Cronies, p. 306.
Library Journal, November 1, 2002, Richard Drezen, review of Pipe Dreams, p. 101; March 15, 2003, Susan C. Awe, review of Pipe Dreams, pp. 62-63; May 15, 2004, Karl Helicher, review of Cronies, p. 100.
Multinational Monitor, May-June, 2004, review of Cronies, p. 43.
New Zealand Management, April, 2004, Reg Birchfield, review of Pipe Dreams, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, December 24, 2001, John F. Baker, "Quick Take on Enron Saga," p. 12; September 2, 2002, review of Pipe Dreams, p. 67; April 12, 2004, review of Cronies, p. 46.
Texas Monthly, June, 2004, Mike Shea, review of Cronies, p. 64.
Robert Bryce Home Page,http://www.robertbryce.com (December 13, 2004).*