book review

October 5, 2018

I just finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.  Read it in two days. Couldn’t leave my gravity well sofa. It was great, and horrifying. Like, I knew there was a certain amount of cargo cult thinking in Silicon Valley but this. . .

The short version:  this is the story of Theranos, a company that insisted it had developed a technology that would run hundreds of blood tests on small, finger prick samples of blood. Spoiler:  it had not successfully developed such a technology. But at one point enough people believed it that it was valued at 9 billion dollars. That’s billion with a B.

It is now worth nothing. The company was dissolved last month, the assets sold to pay debts. The CEO and COO are up on multiple Federal fraud charges.

And after reading the book, it’s hard not to believe the company’s founder and CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, is an outright psychopath.  As a character study, it’s riveting. Near as I can figure she never had an actual real job with a paycheck that someone else signed before dropping out of Stanford to start Theranos. (Because that’s what you do in Silicon Valley apparently — drop out of Stanford and then make millions of dollars with your company.) And yet people gave her hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a decade to run this business. That’s amazing to me.  (I’m told that this is normal in Silicon Valley, which is its own pocket universe that has very little connection with reality.)

(Note to self, I don’t think I’ve read enough non fiction this year. Fix that!)

So I might have mentioned that I’m a fan of Daniel Abraham’s writing. Full disclosure: he’s also one of my oldest friends in the writing/publishing world. His fantasy series, The Dagger and the Coin, has an amazing villain, Geder.  Geder is paranoid. Geder will do anything he needs to to win. Geder absolutely believes he’s in the right and everyone who opposes him is wrong and evil and out to get him on a personal level. Geder burns cities to the ground when he gets angry enough and spends a lot of time talking about how it was the right thing to do.

I kept thinking about Geder while reading this book. People like that are real. They exist. I’m not sure I really understood that before.



2 Responses to “book review”

  1. People like that are real. They exist. I’m not sure I really understood that before.

    Hell, I still don’t understand how such people exist, yet they do. 😦

  2. CEC Says:

    Plenty of folks like Geder in that dimension of angst, ego, and economics we call ‘The Corporate World’, so there are a lot more stories of companies just like Theranos out there. Like my undergrad advisor said, “It’s hard to overestimate the joint impact that greed and stupidity have on business decisions. That’s why comments about short-run market efficiency make me laugh.”

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