By: John Carreyrou
Reviewed by: Glain Roberts-McCabe
In Bad Blood, Wall Street Journalist John Carreyrou gives a play-by-play recounting of the rise and fall of Theranos, a media-darling silicon valley startup that fell like a house of cards and destroyed lives and reputations along the way.
Carreyrou was the Journal reporter that blew open the story of Theranos despite immense pressure by an incredible cast of well connected characters and a legal team out for blood. The book walks the reader through the early stages of the startup when Elizabeth Holmes, a fresh-faced Stanford dropout with a deep voice, charmed investors with a compelling vision and machine that was poised to transform the medical industry.
Theranos’ ‘Edison’ machine was designed to analyze blood using a small drop from the tip of a finger instead of the typical needle to vein approach we’re all used to. Hailed as the ‘next Steve Jobs’ and featured on national magazine covers as a medical wunderkind, Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani hid a big secret: their device didn’t actually work.
Carreyrou is meticulous in his documenting of the various stages and steps that led to the Theranos’ unravelling, bringing in countless first-hand accounts and offering a true behind-the-scenes view of power, money and corruption.
I can say that, as an executive coach, this was a difficult book to read as it relates to leadership. Elizabeth Holmes and her partner (Thernaos COO Sunny Balwani) were the poster children for what NOT to do unless you’re interested in cultivating a workplace that’s led by intimidation, bullying and manipulation.
What was disheartening in reading the book was how easily otherwise educated investors ignored warning signs and cries for help from employees throughout the rise and subsequent fall of the business. It’s certainly a cautionary tale, for me, about how easy it is to ignore warning signs when we have a vested interest in believing things even when the stink is impossible to ignore. Several years ago I reviewed a book called Snakes in Suits that explored the idea of how psychopaths climb the corporate ladder using various manipulation techniques.
Although Carreyrou doesn’t out and call Elizabeth Holmes a psychopath, it’s hard not to think that she qualifies. Her medical device machines, which were intended to be able to analyze a variety of health issues, never worked from the get-go and yet that didn’t stop her from selling pharmacy giant Walgreens on putting Theranos labs in each of their stores. The number of incorrect lab test results would have been catastrophic to so many people’s lives if Theranos had not been ‘outed’. How one would sleep at night with that knowledge is baffling to me.
This book is definitely an interesting behind the curtain look at what can happen when a megalomaniac is allowed to run unchecked.
This is a fascinating story of a fall from grace. Did the book need to be 300 pages long? Probably not. I found it a little slow at points and, although Carreyrou does a great job of outlining all the players, it was hard to keep track of everyone. An org chart would have been useful.