Originally published April 2019
The good news with a book like “Bad Blood“? You won’t want to put it down.
The bad news? You’ll really wish it was just a suspenseful thriller and not the true story of a Silicon Vally startup that, had it been left unchecked, well …
I’m left so spooked by the story about Theranos and is creator, Elizabeth Holmes, that even I am wondering how much I can say without one of its lawyers showing up on my doorstep threatening to sue me for defamation.
Full disclosure: I know very little about science. Even less about blood. So I can’t critique Theranos’ promise to revolutionize the blood testing industry by reinventing the process. I’ll leave that up to “Bad Blood,” John Carreyrou’s in-depth reporting of the rise and fall of Holmes’ brainchild — an idea she was so passionate about that she left college after just a year to invest full-time in to bring to fruition.
What I do know is what it’s like to have worked for someone with a similar megawatt level of passion and a limited understanding of what it takes to make that dream a reality. So it was easy for me to see how someone could hide behind a facade of inspirational quotes painted onto walls. And even easier to relate to some of past Theranos employees deep regret at having to pass on the opportunity to really make a difference in the future of medicine because the environment in which they worked was so absolutely fraught with anxiety that just going to work became impossible.
Carreyrou’s reporting in “Bad Blood” takes readers back to the beginning of Theranos, long before the general public came to know Elizabeth Holmes as “the next Steve Jobs” and details the ideas that led to the invention of a machine touted to run multiple tests on a single, then several, drops of blood. The book details the rise of the company, up to and through its partnership with Walgreens, and its rather sudden downfall after Carreyrou’s reporting about the company in a Wall Street Journal investigative piece. The cast of characters is too long and too illustrious to list here, but I was gobsmacked at the number of very familiar names that appear throughout the book, two of the more notable ones being James “Mad Dog” Mattis and George Schultz.
And when I say you won’t be able to put the book down, I mean that. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re all at the movies in a couple of years watching the inspiration, corporate intrigue, personal despair, interrogation, mystery-thriller-level surveillance and legal threats all go down on the big screen. This is screaming for a movie treatment above and beyond the existing documentaries.
It saddens me there are people in this world willing to stop at nothing to protect themselves and their investors, but I’m inspired by the people willing to risk everything to stop a train about to go off the tracks. And glad for investigative journalists willing to tell their stories.