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The Informant! book review

Amid the speculation of the extinction of the newsasaurus, a book like The Informant! is an argument in favour of the in-depth coverage papers provide. Author Kurt Eichenwald reviewed more than 800 hours of interviews along with reports and other news coverage to put together this whopping book. That's a little deeper than your average unpaid blogger is prepared to go.

The book focuses on a price-fixing scheme by US food giant Archer Daniels Midland. Business is never sexy but throw in the complexity of food additives and it sounds about as attractive as business socks pulled over the knee. So Eichenwald narrows his focus on the individuals of the case - mostly whistleblower Mark Whitacre who dobs in his own company by wearing a wire and videoing meetings, but also FBI agents like Brian Shepard. At several points in this true story people involved remark that it's like a John Grisham book, but it's much better than that.

Eichenwald uses the tropes of a thriller to keep this big business gone bad story racing along. He develops character in a very crowded space (the investigation broadens and more FBI and legal eagles are brought into the story) keeping an eye on Whitacre. But Whitacre is a mercurial figure so FBI agents are a reader's touchstone empathising with their feeling of the case falling out underneath them as Whitacre plumbs new lows.



And in terms of the Book vs Film Stoush, The Informant! wallops Matt Damon's effort. Damon's comic take on cooperating witness Mark Whitacre looks cheap beside Eichenwald's real concern that Whitacre has a mental illness. The depth of the book means that readers get impressive insight into the daily running of the FBI and machinations of corporate America. It whets the appetite for Eichenwald's next book: an expose into the post-9/11 intelligence world.

If newspapers are going extinct then investigative journalism like The Informant! is the kind of book we need in our collective museums.


This review originally mumbled through and chatted over with Alicia Sometimes on Triple R's Aural Text.

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