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Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup Hardcover – May 21, 2018
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From the Publisher
"You will not want to put this riveting, masterfully reported book down. No matter how bad you think the Theranos story was, you'll learn that the reality was actually far worse."
—Bethany McLean, bestselling coauthor of The Smartest Guys in the Room and All the Devils Are Here
"Chilling... Carreyrou tells [this story] virtually to perfection… Reads like a West Coast version of All the President's Men."
—Roger Lowenstein, The New York Times Book Review
"The definitive account of Theranos’s downfall, detailing its motley crew of executives, legal knife fights, dramatic PR stunts, and skullduggery... Offers a lot for foreign-policy wonks... While Bad Blood is worth reading for its own merits—it’s a stunning feat of journalism that reads like a thriller—it also says a lot about Washington’s facile relationship with Silicon Valley. Most D.C. power brokers know next to nothing about science or technology but increasingly view Silicon Valley tech as a deus ex machina for some of the world’s most complicated challenges. Bad Blood offers a sobering warning of where that type of thinking can lead."
—Robbie Gramer, Foreign Policy
"A great and at times almost unbelievable story of scandalous fraud, surveillance, and legal intimidation at the highest levels of American corporate power. . . . The story of Theranos may be the biggest case of corporate fraud since Enron. But it’s also the story of how a lot of powerful men were fooled by a remarkably brazen liar."
—Yashar Ali, New York Magazine
"Even if you didn’t follow the story of charismatic Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes (and the ensuing trainwreck) in the news, you will find yourself zipping through a book that proves once again that fact is stranger than fiction. A stunning look into a high-tech hoodwinking; like a high-speed car chase in a book."
—The New York Post's "28 Most Unforgettable Books of 2018"
"In Bad Blood, acclaimed investigative journalist John Carreyrou, who broke the story in 2015, presents comprehensive evidence of the fraud perpetrated by Theranos chief executive Elizabeth Holmes... He unveils many dark secrets of Theranos that have not previously been laid bare… The combination of these brave whistle-blowers, and a tenacious journalist who interviewed 150 people (including 60 former employees) makes for a veritable page-turner."
—Eric Topol, Nature
"Engrossing… Bad Blood boasts movie-scene detail… Theranos, Carreyrou writes, was a revolving door, as Holmes and Balwani fired anyone who voiced even tentative doubts… What’s frightening is how easy it is to imagine a different outcome, one in which the company’s blood-testing devices continued to proliferate. That the story played out as it did is a testament to the many individuals who spoke up, at great personal risk."
—Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, Science
"In exposing the fudged numbers, boardroom battles and sickening sums of money tossed Theranos’ way, Bad Blood succeeds in highlighting Silicon Valley’s paradoxical blind spot. Insular corporate culture and benevolent media coverage have allowed a monster to grow in the Valley—one that gambles not just with our smart phones or our democracy, but with people’s lives. Bad Blood reveals a crucial truth: outside observers must act as the eyes, the ears and, most importantly, the voice of Silicon Valley’s blind spot."
—B. David Zarley, Paste Magazine's "16 Best Nonfiction Books of 2018"
"Carreyrou blends lucid descriptions of Theranos’s technology and its failures with a vivid portrait of its toxic culture and its supporters’ delusional boosterism. The result is a bracing cautionary tale about visionary entrepreneurship gone very wrong."
—Publishers Weekly (Starred)
"Crime thriller authors have nothing on Carreyrou's exquisite sense of suspenseful pacing and multifaceted character development in this riveting, read-in-one-sitting tour de force.... Carreyrou's commitment to unraveling Holmes' crimes was literally of life-saving value."
—Booklist (Starred Review)
"Eye-opening... A vivid, cinematic portrayal of serpentine Silicon Valley corruption... A deep investigative report on the sensationalistic downfall of multibillion-dollar Silicon Valley biotech startup Theranos. Basing his findings on hundreds of interviews with people inside and outside the company, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Carreyrou rigorously examines the seamy details behind the demise of Theranos and its creator, Elizabeth Holmes… [Carreyrou] brilliantly captures the interpersonal melodrama, hidden agendas, gross misrepresentations, nepotism, and a host of delusions and lies that further fractured the company’s reputation and halted its rise."
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The subject matter - developing devices and assays - is a complex dry topic, difficult to write engagingly about. But JC does a workmanlike job and I read this in one go after its midnight Kindle release. My only nit to pick is the poor editing: there are so many uses of '....named....' as in 'an engineer named John Smith' or 'a restaurant named Joe's Bar' that it got irritating. Find/replace 'named' with a comma would have worked fine in most cases. The text was also repetitive - eg '...an award named after Channing...' gets at least 2 mentions. But not enough to lose a star.
Kudos to the good people at Theranos who had the courage to get the story out and for JCs persistence into a headwind of legalistic intimidation. I've heard Theranos is now a case-study for MBA students: this book should be required reading for anyone thinking about 'disrupting' the medical devices industry. There are lives at stake.
Elizabeth Holmes leveraged her family's high profile connections to draw in early investors and supporters, who were not very inquisitive on details, nor very skeptical in nature. Drawing on the good name and reputation of these early supporters, she was able to build an impressive roster of other supporters with stellar reputations in tech and venture capital circles. From there, it was just a matter of stage managing the house of cards she was building.
Holmes crafted a Potemkin village that had fooled investors, customers, and visiting dignitaries. Her product demonstrations were outright theater, staged managed illusions worthy of David Copperfield. Theranos employees in on the ruse were assured it was just temporary, until the actual product could be perfected and the results repeatable. That day would never come. Those on the outside who also worked in this field had well founded and grave doubts about how Theranos could be touting a product that seemingly defied both logic and physics. Their suspicions, proven to be correct, was that it was too good to be true.
Without a trace of guilt or regret, she induced powerful tech workers to leave lucrative careers at other major tech firms, giving up millions in stock options, to come work for Theranos, surely knowing the whole thing would collapse one day. When skeptical board members asked to see data affirming the effectiveness of their product, Holmes would defer, saying those papers were in perpetual legal review. Some employees, when they were no longer useful to her, or deemed disloyal, were immediately and unceremoniously marched out.
This is a real life thriller, the story of someone who is a true diabolical movie villain. Holmes is portrayed vividly as a paranoid sociopath who could also be disarming, charmingly manipulative, utterly ruthless and devoid of conscience. This is a tale of corporate greed and lack of regulatory oversight gone all awry.
It is staggering how many people she swayed. We’re not just talking about a co-worker or two but former heads of state, who later joined her board, people who amassed fortunes in the billions who were willing to loan Theranos money, major corporations including Walgreens and Safeway who wanted to get in on the ground floor, and many more. It is equally astonishing how so many smart, successful people were not taken aback by her freakish obsession with imitating Steve Jobs. Perhaps, they chalked this up to her eccentricity.
It took courage for people to come forward. They were threatened with lawsuits that could bankrupt them ten times over, by one of the leading and most intimidating litigators in the country. Carreyrou, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, who has been with The Wall Street Journal for almost 10 years, had the support of his editor, newspaper, and its attorneys. He never thought for a minute to back down. The result – a series of articles in the paper that exposed Theranos and Holmes for the fraud they committed.
It is dumbfounding to read BAD BLOOD and to think that Holmes and her number two in command, Sunny Balwani, also her romantic partner, which was kept secret, got away with so much for so long, and even when finally confronted and their hands were forced, they still would not admit fault. Is Holmes a criminal? Is she delusional?
What I do know is that you will not be able to put this book down.
Top international reviews
I'd like to compliment the author. The depth of the investigation is extraordinary; but most importantly, the narration is done in this perfect documentary style when even the most chilling events are described with high precision but without falling into emotional judgement.
I also would like to say a big thank you to all the sources and contributors who made this book possible. You're very brave people; I applaud your courage and ethics.
This story is fascinating, having worked in the software and technology industry for many year, this book rings true, its always shocking to see how unwilling people are to ask the hard question and speak up, even when its clear something is clear wrong within a company.
It’s a modern day emperor's new clothes, where even big name software and investment entrepreneur can’t see the woods for the trees.
Carryrou's book covers three and a half years of investigation into Theranos, its founder Elizabeth Holmes and her meteoric rise and spectacular fall in the obsessive pursuit of a dream. Its a fascinating read and Carryrou uses his research to tell the story from the beginning. The story of his investigations as a Wall Street Journal reporter follows the cronological order of events and is documented towards the end of the book.
Essentially, Elizabeth Holmes developed a start-up in Silicon Valley where she attempted to develop a device which could provide multiple blood test analyses for a range of conditions and diseases in a box not much larger that a large bread-bin. For the user only a small pinprick of blood was required to complete all these tests.
This would be a game changer. Some day, every home could have one and for a small charge could carry out blood tests and have them analysed almost immediately, providing early warning of developing conditions. What's not to like? Nothing it seemed.
What makes this book so fascinating, as well as the central characters and story, are the themes it explores such as:
Greed and denial
The historty of Silicon Valley start-ups is one where investors always try and get in at the beginning of potentially novel ideas and make a killing. Think Google, Facebook and Uber. Two things drive this. The idea and the confidence/ expertise/drive of those taking it forward. In the case of Theranos Elizabeth Holmes force of personality outweighed any doubts about the concept or the execution. However at the time she started Theranos, she was 19 and a Stanford dropout with no experience in blood testing whatsoever, beyond a grand idea and good connections.
Holmes exerted an almost Svengali like hold of the people in her orbit. This is partly to do with her physical appearance. Tall; striking blue unblinking eyes; dessed in black turtle necks (a la Steve Jobs) and speaking in a baritone voice. Supremely confident in both her idea and herself she managed to persuade and recruit a Board of former ex- Government Cabinet members; a 4 star General (Jim Mattis of Trump fame) and big name investors, who blinded by either the promise of the idea or the money to be made from it, were sufficiently incurous as to seek the detail of how this invention actually worked. People and organisations such as Walgreens were happy to put hundreds of millions of dollars investment into Theranos without demanding independent expert due diligence of the product.
At the time of Theranos's demise it was valued as a private company at $9bn, with Holmes's share of that valuation at $4.5. Up to that point no investor in Theranos had seen the inner working of the product or questioned the fabulous claims made for it. Neither had any member of her company Board.
Secrecy and lies
Holmes and her senior executive partner were secretive to the point of paranoia over their idea. Two reasons for this. First they were genuinely concerned about their ideas being stolen, but as time went on and they could not get their invention to work the secrecy hid a raft of corner cutting, false promises and outright lies as to how the equipment was performing. Only those in Theranos working on the project could see how far from the truth the claimes Holmes made for the product and its readiness to market actually were. Some turned a blind eye while those with professional or ethical concerns were either fired or left, all under rigourous confidentiality clauses.
This secrecy coupled with an agressive management style also stifiled the creative initiative of the Theranos team. Knowledge was power and developers were deliberately siloed to ensure they only worked on their own area so the ability to share thinking across the firm was severly limited.
Weaponising the law
What I found perhaps most shocking of all is the way the agressive use of the threat of litigation is used to force compliance, especially against those who cannot financially afford to fight their corner. The lawyers who command the most fees are the legal pit bulls of the industry. Holmes spares no expense in protecting her secrets and covering her lies with the determined use of agressive legal firms and the threats of legal action to force whistleblowers to keep silent. This extends to Carryrou as well. Of the $900m raised by Holmes in her third funding round, $300m went on lawyers fees!
The FDA and other regulators seemed broadly incurious about the claims for this machine and remained so until things started to go badly wrong when what was essentially an idea at prototype stage went live to the public. The degree to which private companies can avoid such scrutiny is alarming.
The debate is still ongoing as to whether Holmes deliberately misled or had sociopathic tendencies. The story is not over. She is now charged with alleged Federal and SEC crimes which carry up to 20 years in prison.
I highly recommend this book, which I think will become a textbook on leadership, governance failure and greed.I also recommend Gibney's HBO documentary which brings to life the people and events in the book, not least Elizabeth Holmes herself. It also adds visual detail on the development of the blood testing device in the way Carryrou's book can not.
Hope this is helpful.
I can't believe I completely missed the news about Theranos but that certainly made for an even better reading experience - so much drama, intrigue and bad blood was a recipe for one of my favourite books of the year.
Easily a five star, definitely a must read.
Can't wait to see the film.
So hurry and read it before events, I hope, render it a manifestation of a past we have at last learned to put behind us.
Elizabeth Holmes was a young woman in a hurry. Both to change the world (for the better, let’s say at once) and to make a great deal of money. Indeed, she saw herself as the new Steve Jobs, even to the extent of adopting his style of dress, including the black roll necks.
Her idea was superb. A device that could be fed just a drop of human blood, the quantity that could be obtained from a pin prick to a finger rather than from a syringe in a vein, and use that tiny sample carry out a vast array of diagnostic tests with high accuracy.
It’s a wonderful idea because, particularly with the chronically ill, the need to collect relatively large blood sample can become increasingly difficult over time. Nurse, including some colleagues of mine, have told me what a sickening task it can be to search for a vein in particular on an elderly patient, and to inflict great suffering to insert a syringe into it.
With that idea, Holmes took a Silicon Valley startup she founded to a valuation of some $9bn making herself one of the youngest ever billionaires in the process, a prominent figure in the worlds both of science and of business.
But the idea didn’t work. It took some courageous whistle blowers and a tenacious investigative reporter on the 'Wall Street Journal', John Carreyrou, the author of 'Bad Blood', to expose what Holmes’s firm Theranos was up to. Indeed, some of the most gripping pages in the book show why both courage and tenacity were needed, as Theranos fought back in the most vicious way possible, using high-powered lawyers and every trick they could get away with to silence their critics.
Today Holmes is still under investigation, facing a possible twenty-year gaol sentence. The tale of how she went from Stanford dropout to meteoric business success only to end up where she is now makes for gripping and sometimes painful reading (on occasions, I had to put the book down, saying to myself, “oh no! She isn’t going to do that next, is she?” But she did). And it contains a lesson not to be passed up: as journalist Arwa Mahdawi put it in the 'Guardian', it’s time to “stop fetishising entrepreneurs”.
only problem is the dustjacket- the silver letters come off if you give them a bit of a rub, and it is a bit disappointing
She was so determined to get going on the road to fame and fortune that she ducked out of her university course and set about accumulating her fortune but, alas, her idea to develop a system of simplifying the fast diagnosis of blood testing to give fast and accurate health warnings, was without scientific merit. But she was a great saleswoman and soon sold the concept to venture capitalists who saw lots of green $ before their eyes and piled lots and lots of money into her company Theranos.
A cohort was soon acquired, Sunny Balwani, a bit of a svengali character, becoming both her secret lover and co-director aiding and abetting her to hoodwink investors.
A very distinguished board of directors were assembled by the very persuasive Ms Holmes which included Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Mattis, James Mattis, Sam Nunn and William Perry. The company solicitor was David Boies, senior partner of Boies, Schiller and Flexner, one of the most famous, feared, aggressive attorneys in the States. This impressive line up were not quite that impressive because they to were taken in by Ms Holmes but they did give Theranos a seemingly goldplated aura of respectability.
At one point based on the PR put out by the company it's worth rocketed to quite a few $billions and Elizabeth Holmes became a paper billionaire.
However doubts and nervousness were growing in certain quarters about Theranos's medical claims, and when John Carreyrou's excellent exposure was published in The Wall Street Journal, and US Regulatory Bodies started to investigate Theranos soon came off the rails and went belly-up.
At the outset of Theranos's life I am inclined to think that Elizabeth believed in what she was doing was a good thing for humanity (and, of course, for her own fame and fortune) but as time progressed it must have become very clear to her that she was defrauding lots and lots of people. Voltaire might provide her with a bit of a get out with his words "The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man (or woman) to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever he wants to believe."
The exposure of Elizabeth Holmes, and others by the author was a very brave thing to do as he was constantly harassed by Theranos and its pit bull terrier attorney David Boise and colleagues.
You will never read a better written book on corporate fraud that keeps you enthralled until the last page.
If you weren’t aware you’ll see how Silicon Valley provides the perfect breeding ground for a combination of hubris, absence of ethics and a gold-rush-blindness. It’s about a start-up company and its rock–star founder/CEO that has developed supposedly easier and faster blood tests, potentially revolutionizing the medical world. Well-known, high-profile investors lined up to back the company and helped to secure a market cap of $9 bln at its IPO. . If you are not familiar with the actual events, I will try not to spoil the story. But there was an issue with the entire proposition, a big one.. And it’s fascinating how the CEO, with her Steve Jobs-Syndrome, manged to pull rational and experienced people into her cult.
So ultimately it’s another disturbing case about how regulators, investors, staff and sadly patients were all misled through bogus claims and plain fraud with quality standards. The latter part of the book deals with the subsequent threats, lawsuits after the author, a Wall Street Journal journalist that obviously portrays himself in clever light, exposed all this.
As a professional investor it’s the type of book that will entertain you on a not-too lengthy flight. But it also serves as a reminder not to close your eyes to the pitfalls and red flags when investing in companies. A lack of oversight and serious governance issues lie at the heart of this drama; the well-respected board of the company included no-one with experience the medical field to properly assess what the company was actually trying to achieve..
That said once the snowball began rolling downhill it created an avalanche!
Worthy of a read, just stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.
All in all a solid piece of brave investigative journalism which involves scandal, threats, scaremongering and lies of the highest order.
Soon to be made in to a Hollywood movie.
This book is an excellent blow by blow account of how a blood testing company led by a charismatic and highly intelligent Stanford drop out, Elizabeth Holmes, became one of the hottest Silicon Valley start ups and then crashed to nothing
The book is very well researched with the author (a Wall Street Journal Journalist) interviewing staff who were brave enough to speak up about the wrong doing they saw in the company. A number of them left and were then hounded by the firm's lawyers who were desperate to keep them from telling the truth.
The list of investors (Rupert Murdoch and others) and high profile people (Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and others ) who were duped into investing and supporting the company makes scary reading.
Whilst there are innovators out there who create something brand new and totally different, there are others like Elizabeth, who rely on people's greed, optimism and desire to do something new, in a way that makes the Emperor's new clothes look like a modest trick.
The book is marvelously written and meticulously researched. John Carreyrou provides a detailed chronological account of the company's history from multiple angles. It is fascinating how he was able to piece together the extremely secretive company's 15-year history even though he only started investigating Theranos in 2015. It reads like a thriller novel by John Grisham and you won't be able to put down the book until it's finished.
Format Note: I absolutely recommend getting the Hardcover edition - at least for me, reading in paper is much more enjoyable and impactful. I got it for £13, it is now £20 and I would still buy it at that price even though the Kindle edition is £6.