The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos—one of the biggest corporate frauds in history—a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.
In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the next Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with its breakthrough device, which performed the whole range of laboratory tests from a single drop of blood. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.5 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. Erroneous results put patients in danger, leading to misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments. All the while, Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani, worked to silence anyone who voiced misgivings—from journalists to their own employees.
Bad Blood is a piece of investigative reporting about the creation and downfall of the multi-billion dollar start-up Theranos. By now, I am sure you are familiar with the name Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Bad Blood is thorough and well-researched account of their story.
The topic of this book is clearly fascinating. I knew little about the rise of Theranos and was mostly familiar with its downfall. I found the narrative of Bad Blood to also be interesting but at times slow, particularly in the middle.
While I found the writing to be simplistic, I did not mind since I listened to this as an audiobook. I did, however, have difficulty trying to keep all of the people mentioned straight. John Carreyrou introduced a lot of people, both directly and tangentially involved. The storyline skips around from one person to another and when it returned to someone that had not been mentioned in a few chapters, the writing failed to reintroduce them to the reader.
Although I mostly enjoyed Bad Blood, I thought a few things could have been improved. For a journalist, I was surprised by how much bias Carreyrou presented in the book. He definitely did not present Elizabeth Holmes or Sunny Balwani in a neutral light. His writing style almost sensationalized these two people in a manner that felt at times inappropriate, calculated, and/or manipulative.
My biggest issue with Bad Blood is the lack focus on the people behind Theranos, rather than just the business side. I finished the book still wanting to know the human side of the story. There was not enough of Elizabeth Holmes’s backstory to understand how she came to be or what motivated her to do these things. Carreyrou only wrote a very small section about her family that is mostly surface-level biographical details. There was also very little written about her relationship with Sunny, which is one of the most interesting aspects of the entire thing for me. I am not familiar with the author and do not know if his primary focus at the Wall Street Journal is mostly business, and thus, that drove the focus of his book and reporting. Either way, I found that Bad Blood lacked a crucial part of the story and left me with a lot of questions.
Moreover, Carreyrou’s motivation or reasons for penning Bad Blood seemed to be simply to recite a story. There are no real conclusions drawn about how and why this happened. He did not take time to dissect what happened or examine it within a larger context.
Overall, I enjoyed Bad Blood and learned a great deal from it. However, I was left wanting additional details and to better understand the human aspects of the story. I do recommend it, but I think you should adjust your expectations prior to reading.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Narrative Nonfiction; True Crime
January 28, 2020