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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 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 or that Batman movie.

  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Badass Baritone: Elizabeth Holmes has one. However, a number of characters believe that it's an affectation she perpetuates to appear more confident and authoratative.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Insistent Terminology: Elizabeth's status as a college dropout is frequently mentioned every other time she personally appears in the narrative.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Carreyrou.
  • 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.
  • 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).

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