Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Genre: Non Fiction, True Crime
In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood tests significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.
For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company’s value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.
This review was written on 19 December right after I finished reading it!
First of all, wow. WowwowwowwowWOW.
Second, I’ve only ever read one non-fiction that I devoured so quickly and I think I read this one even faster!
Third, JUST. WOW!
I really don’t know how to write this review right now because (clearly) I’m still a little shook. My brain keeps asking: did I just read a science fiction thriller or did this actually happen? I honestly can’t remember the last time I swore so much and so loudly while reading–there was a lot of “WTF, GTFO, and are you forking serious” going on during this read but I just couldn’t help myself! 😂 I had no intention of finishing the book today when I picked it up and decided to purchase the audiobook, but this was 100% unputdownable. I do think the audiobook is what helped me get through this so quickly though and I would definitely recommend it (I listened on 2x speed)!
The writing is straightforward and pretty easy to follow. This does go into the more technical aspects of blood testing and tech engineering in the medical industry, especially when Carreyrou delves into what Theranos actually tried to do, but it also goes into details about venture capitalism and the start-up culture in Silicon Valley. Despite not being well-versed or very knowledgeable about these topics, there were only minor sections that confused me, so I’d say it’s a pretty accessible read. It was just absolutely flabbergasting!
Everything about this non-fiction was so deeply unsettling. Reading about Holmes, Balwani, their outlandishly fabricated lies, the way the company was run on fear and secrets, the legal threats and intimidation tactics they used, and the mind-numbing willingness for so many rich and powerful people to believe every word that came out of their mouths without question was just… I have no words!
I wasn’t aware of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos when this went down in 2017, and when this book became popular in the last few years, I still didn’t really pay it that much attention, so it was only today that I Googled Holmes and WOW (I know I’m saying that a lot lol)! This is terrible of me to say but looking at her photos creeped me out so much! Even thinking about her now sends chills running down my spine! Maybe it’s the book’s influence but there’s just something about her presence that literally SCREAMS sociopath, and from the minute she’s introduced in the prologue, there was just a wrongness about her that really disturbed me. It’s absolutely shocking to me how so many people were swept up by her charisma. It was often mentioned in the book how people were taken by her passion and her smarts, but I can’t even imagine how commanding a presence she must exude to have all these powerful people, like her board members and even Obama, Biden, and Clinton, accept everything she says.
INTERLUDE: I just wanted to take a minute to question what the fork was George Schultz even thinking!? I think that’s the only part of the ending that I wanted more information about. What happened between the grandfather and grandson after everything blew up? Actually, I wanna know what happened to everyone who was brave enough to stand up to Holmes, Balwani and their hounds, after everything blew up!
As much as she terrified me if there’s one thing I wish we got in this story it’d be Elizabeth’s side of things. I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever understand someone who’s so clearly a sociopath, but I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking throughout all of this. I don’t believe she had bad intentions when she dropped out of Stanford and got this idea in her head, but her ruthlessness and need to be the next Steve Jobs was absolutely insane. Although there were times in the story where it was clear she was ‘losing her cool edge’, until the very bitter end for Theranos, she was unapologetic and unrepentant. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t upset me that she has continued to “live her life” like she didn’t create this empire of lies and put thousands of people at great health risk, all for the sake of money and fame. I do hope karma is just!
TL;DR: While I’m not much of a non-fiction reader this is, without doubt, one of the best that I’ve ever read. Carreyrou goes into great depth about complex (and what can often be boring) topics all without losing the reader as events quickly unfold. This was an absolutely terrifying and thrilling read and I think it’s going to be one of my top 2020 reads. Definitely highly recommended (especially the audiobook)!
Have you read Bad Blood or is it on your TBR? Did you know about the whole Theranos scandal when it was happening?