I don’t often read nonfiction books, but John Carreyrou’s promise to uncover the biggest scam in Silicon Valley was too tempting to ignore – and boy, did he deliver. In Bad Blood, Carreyrou takes his readers for a whirlwind ride into the depths of Theranos, a promising unicorn startup that crashed in 2015 when it was revealed that its CEO Elizabeth Holmes had been duping investors and was selling defective products and tests to patients. In his novel, Carreyrou reveals the sensational tales from Theranos employees and business partners that gets more thrilling with each and every page.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
by John Carreyrou
Genres: Nonfiction, True Crime, Journalism
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.
Carreyrou paints a perfect villain. We never get to peek into the mind of tech genius Elizabeth Holmes, leaving her a complete enigma. Meanwhile Carreyrou describes the woman’s diabolic schemes to dupe investors – from faking test results and projected earnings to ‘hacking’ rival company products for their own tests, Holmes stopped at nothing in her determination to achieve fame and glory. A master manipulator, Holmes used her enthusiastic and driven personality to charm everyone into believing in her vision to save thousands of people from disease. Inspired by her ambitious zeal, distinguished politicians, celebrities, and investors fell for her scam, pouring money into a product that never came to fruition. She fired whistleblowers and employees who protested against the immorality of her deception, and set out to ruin their lives. Even worse, she was indifferent to the hundreds of patients she put in harms way due to her faulty technology, placing their lives in the balance as they based life-changing decisions on the results on the results of her medical tests. With every page my hatred for Holmes grew, and I could not wait to get to the part where justice was delivered.
A long and arduous path to the truth. Carreyrou unravels the inner workings of Theranos slowly, revealing little by little the stories of individual employees who uncover inconsistencies within the company that made them raise questions on the legitimacy of Theranos and its product. As the employees inched closer and closer to the truth, I couldn’t stop turning the page in my desperation to find out when Holmes and her deceptions would be exposed and she could finally get her due. The reveal was slow and tortuous, but it only kept me hungering for more. Carreyrou builds up the anticipation and suspense, and it felt like I was reading a riveting thriller instead of a nonfiction book.
An easy read for a layman. Understanding the medical laws and regulations Holmes sidestepped would be extremely confusing for someone unexperienced, but Carreyrou makes sure to explain it well so anyone could understand. Similarly, he breaks down the mechanisms of Theranos’s products and their failures, describing in detail why her faulty products were so dangerous. This made the book an easy read for someone who knows nothing about medical devices.
An abrupt ending that leaves one wanting more. The book ends with the publishing of the Wall Street Journal articles that proved fatal to Theranos and brought the downfall of the company. As Holmes is currently standing for trial, there isn’t much more to write, but I would love to read a piece on her current status. With the way Carreyrou has described her remorseless actions, I can’t help but look forward to her punishment for endangering patients with her deception.
Carreyrou keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the whole ordeal, and I felt immense satisfaction reading Holmes’s company slowly unravel through the efforts of whistleblowers and journalists alike. With all that was at stake, I can only be grateful for Carreyrou for his efforts to uncover this tremendous fraud.