Tuesday, June 26, 2018

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

The question that keeps coming up since I started reading this book, which was only a short two days ago, is what makes this different? What makes Theranos different from any other company (e.g. Enron) that went wrong and was charged with fraud? Why is Elizabeth Holmes now synonymous with failure while Mark Zuckerberg is only known as a young genius?

I'll never forgive what he did to Andrew Garfield
I'm not here to delve deep for that answer, but what I will say is that no matter how you slice it this was different. Even just in so far as Theranos was not simply a tech company that pushed the "fake it til you make it" model of Silicon Valley. No, it was first and foremost a Healthcare company that had patients and doctors that relied on the data it spewed. Fraud that can potentially affect lives to the point of death automatically should slot you into a category all your own.

Bad Blood follows the Healthcare/Tech startup Theranos and its CEO Elizabeth Holmes from its insurrection all the way to its unavoidable demise, which the author helped facilitate. John Carreyrou is the journalist that broke the initial story of the company's bad faith dealings in the Wall Street Journal. Following that is his book that takes a deeper look into all that went wrong with this "Unicorn."

While there can be claims that the book spouts a bit of sensationalism for drama's sake, it's hard to look at the players involved and not be overcome with frustration at the steps each took to deceive. Elizabeth Holmes most of all.

The story is essentially multiple paths that include former employees of Theranos, employees of Walgreen's and Safe Way (two companies who had contracts with Theranos), military personnel, Doctors, and families of patients who used Theranos's blood reader cartridge that all ultimately converge on the company and its illustrious CEO when the light is finally shown on the heap of lies.

GOOD POINT: I enjoyed getting a sampling of stories from various people with various connections to the company and Elizabeth. It showed that no matter how you tried to swing it the common factor of bad was Elizabeth and Theranos. It made it easier to believe and swallow the story.

Theranos purported to conduct multiple disease and wellness tests using a single drop of blood. This tech simply put, does not exist. But this didn't stop Elizabeth or Theranos from claiming that it did. This resulted in her revolutionary blood reader cartridges to come back with faulty data that couldn't pass basic inspections. Still, they managed to get it out to the public for use, mostly because the red flags were simply ignored.

The book is well researched and just as well written. I had a hard time pausing to do things that I couldn't avoid. I needed to know what happened, even though I had read reports about what ultimately does.

The level of manipulation, threats, and lies is almost comical. How could someone get this far and not get caught? And it wasn't like there weren't people who were suspicious. There were plenty who were and by some moronic miracle they were all brushed aside like their complaints weren't even the least bit valid.

GOOD POINT: The tension in this is great. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Every time I thought she had finally gotten caught or someone was going to stop her she was able to swerve out of the way and come back stronger. It was frustrating but oh so juicy that I needed to keep going until I saw her get crushed.

Elizabeth Holmes even managed to keep herself from being removed as CEO when it was clear she didn't know what she was doing. After she was sure her throne was secure she went about firing those that tried to stop her and made the board of directors powerless without her. Remember folks, there were other people and they stood by and let her do this.

We are led to believe that it was her charm, her charisma, her HUGE deep blue eyes that could hypnotize, and her startling baritone voice that made the people around her complete idiots. And mind you these weren't complete idiots, these were they top of their field Silicon Valley bros.

GOOD POINT: I enjoyed the fact that Carreyrou didn't hold punches even when it came to his sources. One source in particular, while helped bring Elizabeth down, was not an angel himself. In fact I would have loved a way for him and Elizabeth to just take each other out. However, the sources that were good people and were ultimately hurt in getting this story out he defended and helped as best he could. 

Clearly if they didn't see anything wrong with her creepy eyes and unsettling voice then not only was there absolutely nothing to worry about, but no need to question anything either.

Look into my eyes...deeper
Ultimately, she is caught and is currently facing 9 counts of wire fraud and 2 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud along with her number two executive and ex-lover Sunny Balwani. Theranos is all but bankrupt and all we can hope is that the investigation doesn't come up with any deaths her company may have left in its wake.

I am also giddy at the prospect that movie rights have been purchased for Carreyrou's book where Jennifer Lawrence is slated to portray the CEO sociopath herself. I can't think of anyone better to play Elizabeth Holmes as the coo-coo bananas manipulator that she is. My wish at this point is that she goes to prison for a long long time.

BAD POINT: Black turtlenecks.

5 out of 5 stars

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