Book Review: “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou

by Chris Murray, adult services supervisor at SCLSNJ’s Bridgewater Library branch

In 2003, Elizabeth Holmes had the idea of making and marketing a device that would run various diagnostic blood tests from the few drops provided by the prick of a lancet, rather than the vials drawn from a vein in the arm, citing her own fear of needles as the inspiration. Dropping out of Stanford at 19 to form Theranos (the name combined therapy and diagnosis), she eventually raised over $700 million in venture capital; by 2013, the company was valued at $10 billion. There was just one issue: the hardware didn’t work.

Despite operating for 12 years without showing any concrete results, Theranos raised its money on Holmes’ marketing skills, the clout of those who had already invested, and the promise of a revolution in diagnostic technology. The thought of being able to run a battery of tests on a far less invasive sample was enthralling to clients as varied as Walgreens and the Pentagon. Holmes’ fear of needles is one of the more universal phobias, and patients would surely appreciate the idea of only needing to give a few drops at the local drugstore (or in a field tent in a war zone) than having to go through the whole experience with a phlebotomist.

John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” is an extension of his reporting in the “Wall Street Journal” of the rise and fall of Theranos. Carreyrou got a tip in 2015 that not all was well at the company, and started to dig deeper. It seems that Theranos had issues from the start. Despite the early influx of money based on the idea, even the prototypes that attracted that money were fake. The units would often fail in demonstrations, and in at least one of the initial demonstration runs, in the (correct) fear that the device would not work, the home base deliberately sent over fraudulent results to cover up any possible failures.

Carreyrou discusses his methodology in peering through the cracks in Theranos’ facade, with sources coming to him anonymously and off the record at first, only to come openly and in greater numbers as the cracks widened. Despite the legal threats sent to him and his sources, he persevered with his reporting, even as Holmes and her partner Sunny Balwani evaded, disguised, and outright lied about the company and its methods to the outside world.

In my opinion, this book is an interesting look behind the scenes, or at least as behind the scenes as they could get. I would recommend this book for readers who are into political intrigue, whether they have business knowledge or not.