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Literature / Bad Blood

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A Purposeful Life.
"I don't care. We can change people in and out. The company is all that matters."
Elizabeth Holmes

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup "unicorn" promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes's worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn't work.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup from 2018 by the French-American journalist John Carreyrou is the full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of the multibillion-dollar biotech startup by the prize-winning journalist, John Carreryrou, who first broke the story and pursued it to the end, despite pressure from its charismatic CEO and threats by her lawyers.


Not to be confused with that Taylor Swift song, that Batman movie or the TV-show about gangsters in Montreal.

See also The Inventor Out For Blood In Silicon Valley, a documentary on the rise and fall on Holmes and Theranos.


  • A Father to His Men: Deconstructed with General Jim "Mad Dog" Mattis, whose sincere desire protect the lives of the men under his command made him far too eager to back the development of the Edison devices due to their flimsy promise of doing so.
  • Amoral Attorney: David Boies' court battles in support of LGBT rights are quickly contrasted with how he'll use all manner of underhanded manoeuvres and strong-arm tactics to help his clients win so long as he keeps getting paid. His fellow lawyers who work for Theranos, such as Heather King, are about as vicious with little concern as to whether or not the company's products work as intended.
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  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Each chapter of the book up until The Tip focuses on a different character (with some recurring) dealing with Theranos in their own way with varying levels of disaster.
  • Badass Baritone: Elizabeth Holmes has one. However, a number of characters believe that it's an affectation she perpetuates to appear more confident and authoritative.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Not the book (obviously), but Theranos early success were the reason why so many people invested money in it. Most infamously, Walgreens decided to not only invest in it, but also make a deal with them in order to open Theranos wellness centers in their stores which would feature their machines. Except their machines never worked and couldn't do even half of what was promised, forcing Theranos to use regular blood testing machines and rigging them (poorly) to take the diminutive "one drop" samples they were taking... before giving up on the whole thing and going with venipuncture blood draws for their testing. Which they still couldn't do properly.
    • In some interviews, Theranos staff and Elizabeth Holmes touted the machine was being used by the military in combat. It wasn't.
  • Blatant Lies: Theranos and its technology in a nutshell. Would be easier to list how many times Holmes and Sunny actually told the truth.
  • Broken Pedestal: Many of the doomed protagonists initially joined Theranos because they genuinely believed in Elizabeth's vision of more efficient blood tests, saving countless lives... only to quickly grow disillusioned by the infeasibility of Elizabeth's goals, her nonchalant attitude towards the company's problems, and how the danger she put the lives of countless patients in thanks to the flaws in the testing technology.
  • Can't Take Criticism: Holmes, to the point where she would fire employees on the spot if they dared question her.
  • Charm Person: Elizabeth managed to trick a veritable cavalcade of powerful political and societal figures such as Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis, George P. Shultz, Rupert Murdoch, the Obamas, and the Clintons into believing in her and Theranos through sheer charisma and a little slight of hand.
  • The Conspiracy: Sunny accused Labcorp, Quest Medical, and at one point John Carreyrou of this. note 
  • The Dog Bites Back: The last quarter of the book consists of several ex-Theranos employees and other persons the company had wronged helping Carreyrou assemble enough evidence to foil Elizabeth and Sunny's schemes.
  • The Dreaded: David Boies had this reputation with every other attorney mentioned. This was, after all, a man who had taken on Microsoft and the State of California and won.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani is a deeply unpleasant (and seemingly racist) businessman.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: The damning articles Carreyrou wrote wouldn't have been possible without the courage of Tyler Shultz (who refused to give up the names of John's other sources) and Erica Cheung (who alerted the relevant authorities as to how Theranos was cutting corners) in the face of the company's very aggressive threats.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Media mogul Rupert Murdoch (yes, really) purchased a large amount of Theranos shares during the company's prime, but when Elizabeth (who had been trying to cozy up to the chairman for quite some time by that point) tried to manipulate him into killing Carreyrou's story before it was published, Rupert refused, citing his faith in The Wall Street Journal's staff for quality content.
  • Ignored Expert: Damn near every character around Elizabeth Holmes, Sunny, and Theranos board members.
    • Walgreens somehow managed to hire an expert that, after making his due diligence, told them that Theranos looked a lot like a fraud and not to invest on them... only to ignore him and invest on it anyway due to a paranoid fear that if they didn't, their arch-rival CVS would. Needless to say, it didn't end well for Walgreens.
  • Insistent Terminology: Elizabeth's status as a college dropout is frequently mentioned every other time she personally appears in the narrative. Finally brought to a head in the final chapters, where it is explained that, contrary to other fields in Silicon Valley where you can "Fake it till you make it" a big reason Holmes failed was that you really CAN'T fake knowing about medical practices and topics when you dropped out of college in your first year. Had Holmes gotten her degree and then started Theranos she would have been in a FAR better position to have a realistic assessment of her goals and dreams for Theranos.
    • Finishing college would have at least given her more terminology to throw around. A big point is that she wasn't even good at making up plausible lies - all of her claims sounded ridiculous, or used comically vague descriptions and talking points. She got away with so much just based on her charisma and ability to confidently present brazen lies. The professors she actually did take classes with during that brief time period all considered her an idiot.
  • May–December Romance: Holmes and Sunny were in a relationship for most of Theranos's existence. He is 19 years her senior.
  • Nepotism: Holmes eventually hires her younger brother, who is fresh out of college and has no work experience, and places him in a high position at Theranos. By all accounts, he spent most of time there browsing sport articles on the web or hanging out with the his old fraternity buddies, whom he also convinced Elizabeth to hire on.
  • Never My Fault: Elizabeth Holmes' basic modus operandi through the whole book. As of 2020 she has yet to apologize for her actions, instead blaming everyone and everything else for Theranos failing as it did.
  • Not So Stoic: Carreyrou, who eventually lost his cool during an interview in the The Wall Street Journal's offices with a Theranos delegation of 7 people, 4 of them lawyers including Heather King and board member David Boies. He realized very soon that not only he was going to get no answers out of them, but that they were basically approaching the interview as a deposition for a legal proceeding. To his credit, by the point he raised his voice the whole interview had already devolved into a shouting match between Theranos' lawyers and Carreyrou's editors.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Carreyrou.
  • It's Personal: Attempted by several characters throughout the book. It rarely works, and when it doesn't it usually ends in total disaster.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Most of the book focuses on the individual stories of employees, partners, rivals, critics, and investors of Elizabeth's although many of them share common elements such as whether or not the person in question fell for her charms.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Attempted by Elizabeth Holmes, thinking that if she cozy up and surrounded herself by some of the most powerful people in Washington she would be untouchable. She wasn't. It only worked in the short term.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Tyler Shultz and Erica Cheung.
  • The Spook: Despite supposedly having decades of experience in the tech industry, it is noted that there is almost no information online about Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani. Some employees speculate that he has somehow arranged for all his info to be scrubbed. Up to mid 2018 there were next to no photos of Balwani available online (this finally changed when 60 Minutes managed to find some video of Balwani giving a speech about Theranos).
  • The Stoic: Elizabeth Holmes to an unnerving degree, even as Theranos collapsed around her and she could no longer lie her way out of it.
  • With Us or Against Us: Taken to insane levels by Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny. Anyone at Theranos who was not 100% behind Holmes or who voiced even the slightest bit of concern about the company's tech was immediately branded a "cynic" or "not a team player" and would invariably be marginalized or outright fired from their jobs. Meanwhile, sychophants who never questioned or disagreed with Holmes and Sunny were always promoted to better positions, even if they were incompetent.
  • Unknown Rival: The two biggest figures in the book are both Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes and Intrepid Reporter John Carreryrou as the man who's articles began the domino effect which would take Theranos down. While both were well aware of each other, they never met. Holmes refused Carreyrou's interview requests every single time.

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