Here’s a little story to preface this review.
I asked for a whole bunch of books for Christmas, and I would rather have Kindle books than physical books for all but one of them. (Of note: the one I wanted the physical copy of, I have all of the other books in the series in physical books and wanted this one to complete the set. If anyone cares it’s the Pillars of the Earth series by Ken Follett. But that’s neither here nor there or even relevant to the story.) So after I showed her how to send someone a Kindle book on a specific date, she started getting these emails that she had book credits from buying one. This went on for the better part of the week. On the upside, I’m getting like 8 or 9 books or Christmas. But she made a mistake with one of them – she accidentally bought an Audible book rather than the ebook.
So she gave me her Amazon login and told me to go ahead and listen to it.
The book was Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.
I knew a bit about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos – I was deeply into the lab world when a lot of this was going on, but I admit that I didn’t know a lot. I didn’t follow it closely. But this book was on the list of books that I could chose from, and it sounded interesting. I love books like this – books that uncover secrets and people’s dirty deeds, especially when they’re making millions while they do it.
You don’t need to have a science background to read this book, but it helps. I didn’t need an explanation of what immunoassays were, how lab automation worked, licensing processes, what various government agencies did what, etc. It was funny – as they talked about lab equipment companies and specific analyzers, I knew what most of them were and had actually used a lot of the equipment. Part of me chuckled every time they mentioned Abaxis’s Piccolo analyzer, or talked about DiaSorin. Sometimes with fond memories, sometimes not.
So yes, I had some personal connection to the story. But right from the beginning, when Carreyrou was talking about what Holmes’s goals were. Laudable, yes. Revolutionary, yes. Plausible? Not really. Especially not in the early aughties. The technology just wasn’t there. But had they made it work, if they had designed the equipment that they set out to make, it would have revolutionized blood testing. I can’t stress that enough – revolutionized.
But Holmes and her second in command, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, were nuts. I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but at least from Carreyrou were top level narcissists. They seemed to be more concerned with pretending to do what they said they were doing than actually developing something useful, even if it wasn’t what they originally set out to do. Elizabeth seemed to spend more time trying to convince people that the press about her was true, and that she belonged to the club of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
They bullied their employees, they lied to investors and the media, they tricked consumers, and they maliciously misled government inspectors and agencies, all as a means to their own end. .
The book is incredibly well written and well researched. If you have even a passing interest in Silicon Valley, startups, medical device companies or testing procedures, or even horrible people that finally get what they deserve, I highly recommend this book.
I’ve only read a few audiobooks, but this is probably the best one I’ve listened to. (Close second is Into the Wild by John Krakaur.) Between the story itself and the narration, I couldn’t put it down. I was planning on primarily listening to it at the gym, and I found myself huffing my ass off on the treadmill just to listen longer. It was absolutely fascinating.
And you know what? This is going to make me delve more into ebooks. The audible platform is easy to use and navigate, and I really enjoyed listening to something other than music or podcasts at the gym.
Stay safe, friends.