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

This book is proof positive that a free press is paramount to our society. Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, John Carreyou, with the help of some very brave mid-level ex-employees, took down a company valued at $10 billion in a multi-article investigative expose.

 And, this company, Theranos, and its leaders, Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani, deserve way worse than what they’ve gotten so far.

 Carreyou reports on Holmes’ career starting off as an inventive kid growing into a nineteen-year-old Stanford dropout with big ideas and then into a multibillion dollar venture capitalist wizard. Holmes’ goal? To revolutionize some aspect of the medical field. Her idea? Blood collection technology that would do hundreds of tests on a mere pinprick of blood. The problem was the technology didn’t (and still doesn’t) exist. And what limited technology she did cobble together didn’t work.

Bad Blood shows how Holmes used connections and charm to assemble a board of directors full of experience and influence, including the likes Henry Kissinger and two former Secretaries of State, as well as the mega rich as investors. Notably, however, none of her high-level people had scientific or medical backgrounds. How did she hook them? With a fake baritone voice, an unblinking stare and conviction.

With the help of her secret boyfriend, Sunny Balwani, a hot-headed Pakistani also with no science background, they raised hundreds of millions of dollars, hired talented staffers and inflicted the fear of God on anyone who crossed them. They required all employees to sign onerous confidentiality and non-compete documents, erected firewalls between groups of employees who should have been directly working together and tracked employees every move including reading emails and following people. 

What should have resulted in Holmes’ demise was staved off through trench warfare by one of the biggest, most expensive law firms in the country. David Boies and his firm of Boies Shiller & Flexner didn’t just drown any Theranos’ naysayers in legal paperwork, they engaged in harassment and scare tactics.

But for some incredibly brave ex-employees whose moral compasses were more in tune than probably their common sense and Carreyou, with the editorial and legal backing of the WSJ, it is unclear how long Holmes and Theranos could have maintained the farce.  

This book reads like fiction. It has intrigue, thrills and it is chock full of good versus evil, although there is a lot more of the latter than the former. The wrongdoing in this decade long scandal is colossal: the greed and negligence of the investors and the hubris and criminality of the founders. Pretty much everyone who was anyone on the Theranos’ side of the table either knew better or should have.

The reporting Carreyou did was astounding and his writing is fantastic. He gave credit where credit was due and was able to convince reluctant witnesses to come forward despite all sorts of reasons not to. Read it. You will be sorely disappointed in the bad guys, and you will be grateful for our freedoms. 

Published: 2018
Publisher: Knopf

Elizabeth’s rating: 4.5 stars