Book Review: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the decade or so, you’ll have heard of Elizabeth Holmes. Once hailed as an entreprenuer-wunderkid, Holmes was the founder of “revolutionary” biotech company Theranos, who believed they had the power to change the way the world conducted blood tests. She was valued in 2015 by Forbes at $9 billion, making her the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America. She was a powerhouse, until June 15th 2018. Following an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that lasted over two years, a federal grand jury indicted Holmes and her COO on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. It all fell apart, and they’re now facing 20 years in prison.

It’s a wild story, full of secrets, deception, lies and fraud, and trying to understanding it through the media is almost an impossibility. So to make the story a little (and I do mean, little, there’s a lot of medical and business jargon involved), Wall Street Journal reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Carreyrou wrote Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up, and God, is it gripping.

Starting at the very beginning of Elizabeth’s story and the founding of Theranos, Carreyrou has interviewed and quizzed a range of people, from her ex-employees to neighbours to put together the full picture. So many lies. So much deceit. From examining her obsession with Steve Jobs (her employees noticed how she changed her behaviour in accordance to what chapter of his autobiography she was on) to her tyrannical leadership style and her right-hand exec/boyfriend Sunny, who Carreyrou paints as an even more distrusting, narcissistic and deranged leader than she was.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

While I was reading this I was wondering how they company got away with all the lies and deception for so long. She had venture capitalists committing to multi-million dollar investments and Apple geniuses joining her (admittedly very noble) cause. But no one high up seemed to bat an eyelid at a 20-something girl, who had dropped out of college, and with no real skills or experience wanting to launch a product that revolutionised medicine. Carreyou makes it clear that it was only the people on the ground – her employees, and the workers at the companies Theranos was partnering with – who noticed anything was amiss. Everyone else was too obsessed with the potential financial gains to care about what was at the centre of this cause: real-life patients.

In terms of the actual reading of Bad Blood, it was a dense read that did have a lot of biotech jargon scattered through it, and I did have to keep referring back to previous passages to remember what certain acronyms meant, but it wasn’t as challenging as I imagined it would be. Carreyrou’s writing is enthralling, and I could barely stop myself from speeding through the pages, desperate to get to the heart of the Theranos story.

Even now that I’m out the other side, it all seems to outrageous to be true. But it was. Sometimes real life is wilder and more outlandish than our craziest dreams can imagine.