By John Carreyrou
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
on May 21, 2018
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 tests 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 $9 billion, putting Holmes's worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn't work.
For years, Holmes had been misleading investors, FDA officials, and her own employees. When Carreyrou, working at The Wall Street Journal, got a tip from a former Theranos employee and started asking questions, both Carreyrou and the Journal were threatened with lawsuits. Undaunted, the newspaper ran the first of dozens of Theranos articles in late 2015. By early 2017, the company's value was zero and Holmes faced potential legal action from the government and her investors. Here is the riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a disturbing cautionary tale set amid the bold promises and gold-rush frenzy of Silicon Valley.
I had been hearing about this book for ages before I finally bought myself a copy, and then it was another long wait until I finally decided to pick it up and give it a read. I was barely familiar with the story of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, so I went into this book not really knowing anything.
This was such a fascinating story, that was equally frustrating for how long Theranos was able to get away with its shady practices, and for the amounts of money that kept getting pumped into the company despite its failures.
Despite the medical and technical jargon that I didn’t always understand, I thought this was a really well-written and easy to follow story, and I couldn’t put it down (particularly when the lengths to which the company went to try and keep this story from being told were revealed).
I wish I’d been able to glean some insight into Elizabeth Holmes but she certainly didn’t make herself available to the author so she remains a mysterious figure despite being at the centre of everything.
Overall though, this was a detailed and engaging read, and with the ongoing trial, a very timely read as well.