Bad Blood is a true-crime story, a corporate history, and an ethnographic report on a bizarre, feminist misreading of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. It is Detroit meets Losing the Signal meets Hacks, and — for what its worth — it provides a nifty travel guide to the Silicon Valley Area.
But first: the crime. Elizabeth Holmes and her longtime boyfriend, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, operated a racket that primarily prayed on tech investors, secondly on patients, and thirdly on the status and relationships of high profile champions they found (such as former Secretary of State George Schultz and future Secretary of Defense James Mattis). Their operation, “Theranos,” claimed to be developing either a Machine Learning driven blood test system, or blood test that requires much less blood, or portable blood testing devices, or some combination of these. Theranos was run in a secretive and functional structure, similar to Apple, and the standard practice for individuals who found out it was a scam was to force them to quit, sign an NDA, and threaten them with lawsuits if they talked.
Now, the corporate history. Criminality aside, Theranos acted as if it were a start-up located around buildings now or previously controlled by Facebook. From a 10,000ft perspective, investors were gambling that Theranos could disrupt the blood testing industry — provide a slightly lower quality product at a much lower cost — and that Theranos innovative scientific processes would allow it to quickly increase the quality over time in way incumbent businesses could not. Corporate executives at least claimed their services were widely used — including by the military — when they were not, making the possibility of Theranos boot-strapping quality over an extended period of “dark mode” — at least possible.
Especially in its late stage, as Theranos began courting media celebrity (and, inadvertently, scrutiny) resembled both gamergate and the 2016 Presidential election in its lazy weaponization of feminism. While parts of Theranos CEO Elizabeth Warren’s performance were arguably transgender (mimicking Steve Jobs’ dressing style and adopting a fake, baritone voice), she identified as a woman as was able to convince middle age men to treat her as a daughter. This reached its most ridiculous extent in (SECSTATE George Schultz effectively disowning his grandson to spend more family events with Elizabeth). She also adopted a victimized stance, accusing author John Carreyrou of misogyny, complaining that she was scrutinized more closely because she was a woman, and generally weaponizing a protected status.
Bad Blood contains hilarious moments, such as Theranos’ feuding with a separate patent scam that targeted them. At one point George Schultz is slowly walking up the stairs while his wife tells his grandson to call the family lawyer before he’s able to. Elizabeth Holmes may have destroyed lives, money, and people’s health, but her scam made a great story and was worth a few chuckles.
I read Bad Blood in the Audible edition.