Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (Non-fiction)

A blow by blow depiction of the sensational rise and fall of Theranos — the health technology startup founded by 19-year old Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes in 2003. Her compelling vision: small devices that could perform hundreds of blood tests on a single drop within a short amount of time. For over fifteen years, she was able to convert this vision into big money (over $400 million raised) and big political connections (her board boasted big-name political enthusiasts such as Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, and Sam Nunn) without any real breakthrough technology.  The scandalous story included strong-arm intimidation techniques on recalcitrant employees, drastic legal actions and threats against just about everyone, and general lying, cheating, and gross incompetence.

Easy to read and well-researched — the story is all based on interviews and depositions — and written by the man who first broke the story in the Wall Street Journal. While interesting, it’s not as cohesive or complete as it could have been and was completely one-sided. While that side is probably the correct side, I would have liked to at least hear what the other side said. However, what I’d really like to know is probably unknowable: Was Theranos always a scam or did the over-confident and over-encouraged Holmes really think she could do it, only falling into abhorrent behavior when things did pan out as expected? How did big partners such as Safeway and Walgreens agree to invest millions without any due diligence? What were people thinking as they got suckered in or were they thinking at all?  Why did Channing Robertson,  Stanford Professor of Engineering,  keep advocating for her when he of all people should have known better? (It’s just possible the 500k annual consulting fee might have something to do with that.)  The author does suggest a few answers. My favorite: “Like her idol Steve Jobs, she emitted a reality distortion field that momentarily forced people to suspend disbelief.”

For those wanting to know where Holmes is now: https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a26810723/elizabeth-holmes-now/.

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