Book Review: “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou

Like the lyrics “Baby did a bad, bad thing” (song by Chris Isaak) this month’s book is a biography of baby doing a bad thing. In this case the baby in question is former tech billionaire and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes. And the bad thing she did was defraud investors, healthcare companies (😲Walgreens) and the general public (those who knew about this, I was not one of those people) into believing she had invented a machine that would revolutionize the blood testing and healthcare industries. Why did I immediately have Chris Issak’s song “Baby did a bad bad thing” going through my head when I started to write this book review? I don’t know. Since I can’t hear music anymore or really much quality sound, my brain is a jukebox playing the songs I heard before my accident (before 2016) and it doesn’t take requests! So now that I have that song running through your brain as well 😈, I’m going to tell you about this book I read that honestly sounds like a novel yet it’s a nonfiction book. It’s “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the case, John Carreyrou. Elizabeth Holmes certainly makes for a central character who started off with good intentions but greed (and paranoia and nuttiness) got in the way.

In 2003, Elizabeth Holmes (then a 19 year old Stanford college student) founded Theranos (then called “Real-Time Cures”) and dropped out of college to continue developing her company. The technology, called “The Edison” was a small device that Holmes claimed could test blood with 1/100th to 1/1000th of the blood usually needed for lab tests. Holmes claimed she could get lab results faster and cheaper using only a pinprick of blood. Cut to 2015 and people (journalists, John Carreyrou in the Wall Street Journal, the author of this book) started to ask questions, mainly if the machine could really do all Holmes said it could. Or really any of what Holmes said it could. Then cut again to 2018 and Holmes and Theranos were charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with deceiving investors by “massive fraud” through false or exaggerated claims about the accuracy of her blood-testing technology. Holmes settled the charges by paying a $500,000 fine amongst other things. In 2018 Holmes and the former Theranos Chief Operating Officer (and her one time live-in boyfriend) Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani were indicted on nine counts of wire fraud and for distributing falsified blood tests.

Holmes seems to be moving on. She’s happily flaunting a new engagement and thankfully not to Sunny Balwani. Sunny Balwani is professing his innocence, but honestly after reading “Bad Blood” I would expect no less from him. He seemed like a narcissist and a narcissist is never going to admit guilt because he thinks everyone should thank him and owes him (just my untrained psychoanalysis).

Former Theranos founder and the subject of John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood” is Elizabeth Holmes.

I truthfully haven’t quite finished the book, but I will later today and I wanted to post this. There’s a lot of information out there on Holmes. Apparently there is a movie on the horizon starring Jennifer Lawrence and written and directed by Adam McKay (Vice, The Big Short). However the article I read about it was published in 2016, so who knows.

I hinted that Holmes is nutty or at least exhibits 🥜 behavior and you certainly get a taste of that in the book. Here are the most talked about behaviors:

1. She spoke in what some have said is a “fake baritone” (perhaps trying to be more like her idol Steve Jobs?) This is the one that people obsess over when discussing her. (For example this article.)

2. She idolized Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and may have given herself a little image makeover in his likeness (think all black and turtlenecks).

3. She doesn’t blink (or at least often). She sees it as a sign of weakness or something (I feel like she got this from a movie of a loony character but I can’t be certain).

Further reading on Holmes: Mashable article

HBO documentary “The Inventor”: Watch here.

Popular podcast “The Dropout:” Get here

A summary of Holmes related pop culture on NPR: pop culture happy hour podcast

An interview with a professor who was a skeptic from the beginning and has been featured in a lot of these pieces: interview with Phyllis Gardner.

John Carreyrou’s article in The Wall Street Journal that started it all (I also linked this above) WSJ article

This is definitely an interesting read that I highly recommend.

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