In End of the Line (Free Press), USA Today reporter Leslie Cauley tells the humbling story of how AT&T, once the world's largest, richest and technologically most advanced telephone monopoly, ended up in the arms of one of its regional subsidiaries, SBC Communications.

While there are many executives who contributed to Ma Bell's demise, most come across as more feckless than nefarious in Cauley's tale. Former chief executive Robert E. Allen, a nice but ineffectual man, is faulted for failing to chart a fresh course for AT&T before its long distance business withered. Successor C. Michael Armstrong is portrayed as being unable to manage his warring subordinates and overly eager to buy into another monopoly business -- cable television -- no matter the price or the amount of debt required. Daniel Somers, the former chief financial officer, gets his share of the blame for overpaying for cable companies, and then mismanaging them once he had them.

Although this book provides a quick summary of AT&T's rapid and, in Cauley's view, avoidable decline, it would have benefited from less breathless prose and a few helpful aids for the reader, such as footnotes and chronologies.

-- Arshad Mohammed