Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Anyone who enjoys a true story about shady people who (for the most part) get what’s coming to them.
In a nutshell:
An experienced Elizabeth Holmes convinces a lot of people that she is on to the next big thing in biotechnology. She isn’t, and she gets VERY touchy when people point that out. Also, lots of powerful old white guys make some absurd financial decisions.
Why I chose it:
I listened to the podcast “The Drop Out,” which is just a few episodes long, but was definitely enough to get me interested.
Oh MY god did I love this book. I purchased the audio version and planned to listen to it during some long runs I have coming up. Instead, I could barely put it down, and listened to it every chance I got. It is a meticulously researched book, and Carreyrou explains complicated things (like how blood tests work) in ways that are not condescending or difficult to understand. The story develops slowly but never drags, as Carreyrou lays out the entire fiasco step by step.
What it comes down to is the Elisabeth Holmes was — is — a fraud. I think she started out with an idea (blood testing without the needles), and then became like a dog with a bone. She couldn’t and wouldn’t accept anyone disagreeing with her, because she was going to change the world. I don’t believe she was motivated by greed or money; I think she was fully motivated by her ego. She couldn’t dare admit that she was in over her head, or that her company Theranos wasn’t able to do what she promised; she just kept lying to others (and possibly herself) in the hopes that everything would work itself out.
The story is at times unbelievable. The number of attorneys involved. The cloak and dagger way the company treated its ‘trade secrets.’ The threatening letters. The lawsuits. The firings of anyone who questions anything. To think that people act this way — and think it is justified — is distressing to say the least. And frankly, I reserve about as much disgust for the attorneys who did Elisabeth Holmes’s bidding as I do for Holmes and her C-suite colleagues. The way the tormented people is offensive.
One area I think could have been developed a little bit more is the exploration of what the failures of the blood testing did to people’s lives. Carreyrou does share some stories of those who were harmed — such as a woman who ended up with $3,000 in unnecessary medical bills — but that can at times get lost in the story. And of course many of the whistle-blowers were motivated by the danger that faulty blood testing can cause, but it still wasn’t necessarily woven in as much as I would have liked. But that’s a very minor quibble, because it’s definitely discussed.
A little more than halfway through the book, the author become part of the story. It’s a slightly dramatic moment, but I think it is handled very well. The investigation of the Wall Street Journal article that predates the book is a huge reason why Theranos has been sued and why some of its leadership have been charged with crimes. It would be impossible for him to stay out of it, and the book would have suffered greatly without his perspective being shared in this way.
There were many moment when I got so angry at the things people were getting away with, but the last couple of chapters — I mean, there are some serious just deserts being served. It’s chef’s kiss come to life.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: Keep it. And probably listen again soon.