Top positive review
The Rise and Fall of Theranos
5 November 2018
This book is hard to believe. I don't mean that I don't believe the story - I mean it's just so, so difficult to believe that so many smart people were fooled by a product that simply never worked.
This is the story of the spectacular rise and fall of a silicon valley startup that was going to change the world. Theranos was the brainchild of Elizabeth Holmes a twenty-something wunderkind. Its main product was going to revolutionize blood testing by doing away with nasty big needles and use a tiny drop of blood to perform hundreds of medical tests. It's a great idea - a shame it never got close to working.
With her wide blue eyes and unexpectedly deep voice, she bamboozled everyone. Carreyyou tells the long sordid tale, interviewing scared Theranos workers, doctors trying to use their products, and even distraught patients. But there is very little analysis. At the end of the book we still don't know how board members like George Schulz and Henry Kissinger (both previous US secretarys of state, successful business men and diplomats), and top investor Rupert Murdoch (super smart media mogul), and many other similarly accomplished men all invested literally hundreds of millions of dollars into this enterprise - without ever seeing anything remotely like a properly working machine. Entire boards of huge companies (such as Walgreens and Safeway) totally supported her project, and started the roll-out of defective devices in their stores. On top of all that, many doctors quickly saw that the results of the Theranos tests were wrong. But the caravan continued to roll on... people continued to invest vast amounts of money... business institutions continued to heap praise and awards on Ms Holmes. It is just crazy...It's not enough to just say Holmes had charisma and charm. There must be more to it than that. People really wanted it all to be true.
The book's release is somewhat premature. At the time of publication, Theranos was still a working company, although its workforce has been reduced from a spectacular 800 to a mere couple of dozen, and the law suites and investigations have a long way to go. We still don't know what penalties are going to be handed out to Holmes (and her shady co-conspirator, Sunny Balwani), if any, for their monstrous fraud.
The story is told in competent, if somewhat pedestrian style. The facts are there, but the person at the centre of the book, Elizabeth Holmes, remains a mystery. Was she just an extraordinarily gifted charlatan? Or a psychopath, having no empathy at all with the thousands of people she was harming? Even after her company has collapsed, she seems to show no contrition or even understanding of what she has done. Perhaps it will take another book to explain the psychology behind Holmes and those who fell under her spell.