After the fact, I described this book to my sister as “The whole book, from a certain perspective, is full indictment of modern capitalism” (at the time I was hung up on the single sentence anecdote that a billionaire investor shrugged off his $100 million loss as a tax write off, so I was in full EAT THE RICH mode). The summation, while slightly cavalier, is also not wrong. Unfettered, unregulated capitalism is what allowed Theranos to thrive for nearly a decade, bilking hundreds of millions of dollars from people who somehow had that to spare (and didn’t want to use it for, you know, actual good) and gave them the bandwidth to test on real, unsuspecting people. God the whole thing infuriates me.
On the other hand it does speak to the good that the slow-turning wheels of bureaucracy can do because literally one guy in the DoD with a hunch that this was all a shitshow managed to derail the military from trying to embed Theranos with active troops in the Middle East. When lives are at stake, you can’t trust a middle school science project just because the parents have cool friends.
This is one of the absolute best books I read this year. The level of detail is INSANE in part because it acts as a constant reminder that all of this is real and it actually happened and YES Theranos acted with impunity for almost TEN YEARS before getting busted by, of all places, the frigging Wall Street Journal (the news side. The op-ed side had actually contributed to the rise of Elizabeth Holmes. Go figure.) The book is also written for a bio-chem lay person to have a general understanding of what’s going on.
It’s also astounding to think of the people on the inside, the low to mid level staffers (at its peak, Theranos employed over 500 people) who stuck around. Overall the company did have some INSANELY high turnover (their #2, aka, Holmes’ boyfriend, seemed to get a kick out of firing anyone who even thought about uttering the word “no”) but Carreyrou also touches on the reasons that people might not have seen what was happening right in front of their faces (“We just moved into bigger, nicer offices, something must be going well.” “Look at the people on the board, they’re smart, they must know what they’re doing.” “I left an amazing job for this, I can’t have fucked up that bad.” etc)
This book will fascinate and terrify you. Read it.