Good books tend to stick in my brain days after finishing.
I find that’s the simplest way to determine how much I enjoyed a book. The longer it occupies space in my brain and Google searches on my computer the better it is.
I like to think of myself as an avid reader, but I’ll admit my pace has slowed recently. Taking over as the Union editor has led to a busier schedule which has meant less time for books.
However, as things have calmed down this summer, I’ve been able to resume reading and recently knocked out two books in two weeks.
The most recent was “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I put it back on the shelf.
“Bad Blood” is the story of Theranos, a Silicon Valley tech company that had a swift rise and a swift fall.
Theranos was founded by a 19-year-old Stanford dropout named Elizabeth Holmes. The company claimed a lot of things, but it was mostly a blood testing company.
Theranos said it had invented technology that could give people the result of a blood test with just a small drop of blood. The technology was set to revolutionize the health care industry because it was going to make blood testing easier.
At one point, the company was worth $8 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) and Holmes herself was worth more than $4 billion. She was on magazine covers, given fawning interviews and positioned her company as one that would change the world.
There was just one problem. The technology didn’t quite work — and by that I mean it didn’t work at all.
Carreyrou, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, got a tip that something was fishy with this fast-rising company. He investigated and, in a series of articles in the Journal, exposed Theranos.
I first heard about Theranos because my buddy Nate is an editor at the Wall Street Journal. The story broke and Nate shared it with me in a “can you believe this?” sort of way.
The story sounds crazy on the surface — teenage wunderkind claims invention will change the world and after a little digging by one reporter, the narrative falls apart.
More stories came out and, eventually, Carreyrou decided to turn his extensive reporting into a book. The details provided by Carreyrou are what really makes “Bad Blood” stand out and are the main reason I can’t stop thinking about it.
One of the reasons I find the story so fascinating is, at its heart, it’s the tale of a scam. At no point could Theranos actually do what it said it did.
And yet, that didn’t stop the company. Holmes and her partners pushed forward. Prototypes didn’t work? No problem. Test results were sketchy? Toss them out.
The book opens with a subordinate questioning Holmes after finding out the technology has some flaws. The guy is fired on the spot.
It’s hard to tell if the whole thing was a grift from the start, but that’s what it became. Things kept not working and Theranos kept raking in the money.
Theranos bought its own hype and ignored facts — all in the pursuit of getting richer. And this wasn’t a vicitimless con either. Theranos used its bogus testing machines and gave faulty results to actual patients.
Holmes has been suspended and was recently charged with fraud.
That Theranos was taken down is another reason I enjoyed the book. It’s always fun to see good old journalism work.
When I read, I tend to stick to nonfiction books. I like facts and works by people with reporting backgrounds. It’s good for the soul, for me at least, to be reminded of the power of journalism.
Carreyrou got a tip and then went to work reporting his butt off. He talked to people constantly and spent months, not weeks, reporting out the story.
By the time the story was written, it was still more weeks while editors checked it over and made sure it was all factually accurate.
When the first article came out, Theranos went into attack mode. Theranos claimed it was all baseless and threatened lawsuits. More digging resulted and Carreyrou and the Journal were proven right.
In a time when journalism is under attack from so many people, it’s nice to read about the good guys getting a win.
“Bad Blood” is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. I can’t recommend it enough.