“The way Theranos is operating is like trying to build a bus while you’re driving the bus. Someone is going to get killed.” ― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Bad Blood is a nonfiction book by journalist John Carreyrou, released in 2018. The book covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes.
Theranos as a company founded in 2003 by then-19-year old Elizabeth Holmes. Idea of Theranos was revolutionary. It advertised to be able to complete hundreds of blood tests just from a small drop of blood, obtained from a finger prick sample. The company went through numerous funding rounds and collected hundreds of millions of dollars. Investors and other supporters of the company are well-known, names such as Walton family, Robert Murdoch, Cox family, Betsy DeVos, Henry Kissinger… But there was this one little thing about Theranos’ revolutionary technology. IT NEVER WORKED.
I’ve been extremely fascinated by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos for quite some time. Especially for the past year when the lies were uncovered through this book, HBO documentary: The Inventor and numerous news articles. I remember reading a lot about her back in 2015 both in Forbes and Time and as healthy skeptic I recall thinking that something about this doesn’t make any sense. If this technology was so good, why was it not in use everywhere. Why had someone else not invented it first. I brushed it off thinking I must be too dumb to understand all this scientific stuff (like you know that feeling when you open and immediately close the Scientific American).
“It was as if Boeing built one plane and, without doing a single flight test, told airline passengers, “Hop aboard.” ― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Bad Blood is SO good. It’s impossible to stop reading. It’s like a dystopian thriller, except that every bit is true. The book starts from describing Holmes’ childhood and her family, then her dropping out from Stanford and to founding her own startup. And the craziness. And the lies. God the amount of lies.
Madness that starts from Holmes saying there was a working device to investors, FDA officials and employees, her employees telling her that the devices are not functioning, employees not being allowed to communicate cross other departments, employees risking their health working in an environment surrounded by glass shards and blood, employees being sued if they said anything about the company… “Elizabeth told the gathered employees that she was building a religion. If there were any among them who didn’t believe, they should leave.” And madness that continues when Theranos goes live with the blood tests that cannot give accurate results causing patients to fear they have cancer when that’s not true. And finally that madness coming to light.
“We turned to my questions about the Edison. How many blood tests did Theranos perform on the device? That too was a trade secret, they said. I felt like I was watching a live performance of the Theater of the ― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Elizabeth Holmes is extremely fascinating person. There’s sometimes this charisma about people. I have encountered such types a couple of times and let me tell you, you just want to follow them anywhere. Later realizing that those big charismatic people are actually ones sometimes making absolutely horrific decisions. To quote the book: “And Elizabeth was so persuasive. She had this intense way of looking at you while she spoke that made you believe in her and want to follow her.” And what if you don’t realize this until it’s too late? What is it like to meet someone with charisma this big? And there’s this question… Just how far would you fake it until you make it? And Holmes would have made it. She would have been wildly successful. Just NOT in medicine. Bad Blood portrays super interesting person, it’s an addictive story and it is written superbly. Among the best books I have ever read. 5/5 stars
How-To Read Bad Blood
1. This reads like a thriller. You’ll find yourself thinking that this too wild to be true. It is very very true. It’s like Breaking Bad but a book. Read this if you thought that HBO documentary was spectacular.
2. Non-fiction addicts, you’ll love this. If you are looking for good investigative journalism then you’re in for a treat of Bad Blood.
3. Not ruined by length, it’s just perfect at 339 pages or Audible edition at 11 hours has excellent narration. I warmly recommend both.
Thoughts? Fake it ’til you make it?
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