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

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If I had to pick the best book this last decade, this would be it. I read it in three days flat and that too because I had to work during the day, otherwise I’d have finished it in one sitting. After reading it, I wondered what was the point writing a novel or any work of fiction because what could be more thrilling than this:

The youngest female billionaire brought down because she committed fraud.

You must have heard of the saga but I’ll summarize anyway: A young woman named Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford to set up her own company called Theranos, where, she envisioned, she would build a device to perform blood-testing and analysis small enough to be placed in people’s homes. The intentions might have been noble, but the methods certainly weren’t. Over the course of a decade and more, she apparently lied, manipulated and willfully defrauded investors by claiming her technology was ready when it really wasn’t.

A friend, to whom I narrated this story, floated an interesting theory that she was framed. Quest and Lab Corp, two of the biggest corporations in the US that look after healthcare, account for more than billions of dollars in revenue. So I did think it plausible that they would try to discredit anyone who devised technology that would disrupt their business completely.

But now that I’ve read the book and seen videos of her interviews after she was placed on trial, its obvious that this theory doesn’t hold. Evidence, witnesses, and the sheer number of people involved make it impossible.

There are many things that shock me about this story. How did it go on for so long before being caught? How did she gather the guts to lie in people’s faces while doing the wrong thing?

Though it is set in Silicon Valley, the author notes that she never built a software company. At its core, Theranos was always a healthcare company. As he notes in the book, she took the dictum of ‘fake it till you make it’ to the extreme. And though that was possible in software firms, it couldn’t be replicated in a company wherein peoples’ lives literally depending on this functioning perfectly.

At the end of it all I am mostly just annoyed at this woman because she’s now made it tougher for all other women to be taken seriously. What’s the bet that the next woman founder who makes a breakthrough in Silicon Valley won’t be taken as seriously because of Elizabeth Holmes setting a precedent? Enough problems of sexism thrive already, and it definitely doesn’t need one more added to the list.

Its also quite alarming that a number of reputed people were associated with this, like George Schultz. All of them were taken in too easily by the charms of the young woman.

The other fascinating aspect of this story is the woman’s voice. God alone knows why she decided to opt for the fake baritone. I marvel at her ability to maintain it throughout while speaking. Sure it sounds distinct, but I think it proved a distraction, which is maybe what she wanted in the first place.

I read this book in a right rush the first time around. I plan to savour and read it a second time, and this is one I’ll be keeping a print copy to go back to a third time and more. I’m definitely waiting for the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence!

Have you read this book? What do you think of the whole saga? Are you looking forward to the movie?

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