Bad Blood by Wall Street Journal journalist John Carreyrou is a gripping page turner, telling the story of Theranos, the company which had set out to revolutionize the biomedical point-of-care-diagnostics space. The various problems with Theranos have been reported multiple times, starting with Carreyrou’s first explosive expose in WSJ over the past couple of years. But this book, extensively researched and compiled through interviews with multiple former Theranos employees presents a picture of a company in utter chaos, with boss Elizabeth Holmes affecting a Steve Jobsian style to try to emulate her hero, and her boyfriend and second-in-command Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani maintaining an atmosphere of mistrust and intimidation among all employees.
Overpromising and under-delivering, misleading investors, hacking competitors’ commercially available machines to work with their samples, Theranos was not really developing the technology they claimed to be. The star-studded Board of Directors, albeit none of them with any medical or scientific background, helped keep up the smoke screen hiding the inner workings of Theranos. Hyper-paranoid of their secrets (or maybe just the truth, because their secrets weren’t really all that to begin with) being leaked to competitors or the public, Holmes and Balwani enforced a culture of intimidation, resulting in a constantly revolving door of employee turnover where few employees remained for longer than short periods of time. The whisleblowers who went to the press or federal agencies were subjected to strong arm intimidation tactics by Theranos’ legal team. Yet courageous former employees and Carreyrou, along with his team at WSJ, finally broke this story.
The book is an absolutely fascinating read, and I was hard pressed to make out whether I was reading a true story, or a work of fiction like Arthur Hailey’s Strong Medicine, since the events that transpired are just that unbelivable. I had been following the Theranos story since the first glowing reports of Holmes in the press in 2014, and, like a lot of others, was rooting for possibly the first “Unicorn” in the biotech space, and one led by a woman at that. Subsequent events that played out were such a massive disappointment. Bad Blood is a detailed account of the larger than life personality of Holmes which pushed the image of this company to far beyond where it actually was. Anyone interested in the tech sector, or just a fascinating read about an almost unbeliveable story that played out over the past decade and a half in Silicon Valley should absolutely read Bad Blood.
PS: It looks like this is also going to be made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence.