MLA Platinum Award Press Release

BookBrowse Reviews Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Bad Blood

Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

by John Carreyrou

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou X
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2018, 352 pages
    Jan 2020, 368 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book



The full story of the rise and then collapse of a multibillion-dollar biotech startup. Voted a BookBrowse 2018 Top 20 Book.

In February 2015, a blogger for a pathology website contacted John Carreyrou, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for the Wall Street Journal. He claimed that his recent post expressing skepticism about a company named Theranos had led to a group of people contacting him with information about the organization. They thought Carreyrou might be interested in following up. He did, and after months of careful research, countless interviews, and threats from Theranos lawyers, he published a series of damning articles about the company and its board. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup is a book-length treatment of Carreyrou's Wall Street Journal exposé as well as further investigations sparked by his work.

Theranos was the brain-child of Elizabeth Holmes who at the age of 19 dropped out of Stanford University to pursue an idea of making blood tests easier and less expensive for consumers. An incredibly charismatic and driven woman, Holmes quickly raised $700 million to develop the technology. Eventually she asserted that the equipment she designed could run over 800 tests on a single drop of blood, that its technology was more accurate than traditional lab testing, and that results were ready in less than 30 minutes. The problem was that not one of those claims was true. Nevertheless, by the time Carreyrou exposed the company as a fraud its equipment was being widely relied on, such as by drug manufacturers to test blood during clinical trials.

Immunoassays are performed over 100 million times a year worldwide, and they're big business – companies that provide immunoassay services (for example, for physicians and pharmaceutical companies) earned an estimated $17 trillion in 2012. Theranos, of course, tried to get a slice of this very lucrative pie. At a very basic level, Theranos's technology failed because in order to run numerous tests simultaneously on a very small amount of blood (Holmes at one point claimed up to 800 tests from a simple finger-stick) the material had to be diluted extensively. With such a tiny sample to run against, the distribution of the specific analyte being measured became skewed, producing wildly varying and frequently inaccurate results.

The first part of Carreyrou's account outlines everything he was able to learn about Theranos, Holmes, and other principals responsible for the company's success, such as Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, its president and COO at the time (and also Holmes' lover.) It's pretty much a non-stop, stomach-turning litany of deception and intimidation (one employee was driven to suicide by the strong-arm tactics employed against anyone who made waves.) By the point in the book where Carreyrou is tipped off, I found myself rooting for someone - anyone - to take these really repulsive people down; I almost cheered out loud at his involvement. The remainder of the book illustrates how he was able to glean enough information about the company to make his case, and the lengths to which Theranos went to keep from being outed.

This highly readable book may be about big business, but it reads like a true crime thriller. The pages flew by as I held my breath, waiting to see what unbelievable act Balwani would perpetrate next, or what incredible claim Holmes would make to secure funding. If the author wasn't such a well-regarded journalist this story would be hard to believe; some of the principals' acts are truly jaw-dropping. A film version of the story starring Jennifer Lawrence is in the works – a testament to the fact that this is truly a riveting tale.

Two areas in Bad Blood left me unsatisfied, however, neither of which can be blamed on the author. First, although Theranos was clearly on the verge of collapse when the book was published in May 2018, the story wasn't over; the company didn't shut its doors until August 2018 and legal action was still pending at of the end of 2018. I wanted the rest of the story and some sense of justice, but certainly that final chapter is years off. Secondly, I badly wanted to know if Holmes was a greedy sociopath or just a narcissist, either deliberately ignoring the potential harm she was causing others or simply living in her own reality. She wouldn't grant interviews, so we only get an outsider's sketch of her character, and good journalists don't speculate where no evidence exists – but I still wanted some clue as to why she felt her actions were reasonable.

Carreyrou's work has won many accolades; his Wall Street Journal articles on Theranos won the George Polk Award for Financial Reporting, and Bad Blood was awarded the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. It also appeared on many "best of" lists for 2018 - including BookBrowse's. My vote can be added; I certainly found it to be one of the finest non-fiction accounts I've read, and I highly recommend it to those interested in cautionary tales about the business world, or great non-fiction reads in general.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in December 2018, and has been updated for the February 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for a year or $39 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Lightness of Hands
    The Lightness of Hands
    by Jeff Garvin
    The stillness that comes right after reading a book that has wrapped itself firmly around your heart...
  • Book Jacket: The Vanishing Half
    The Vanishing Half
    by Brit Bennett
    Brit Bennett's second novel, The Vanishing Half (after The Mothers, her 2016 bestselling debut), ...
  • Book Jacket
    Tropic of Violence
    by Nathacha Appanah
    Marie is a nurse working in Mayotte, a cluster of French territory islands in the Indian Ocean. When...
  • Book Jacket: Death in Mud Lick
    Death in Mud Lick
    by Eric Eyre
    When Eric Eyre, investigative and statehouse reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Daily, began ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Prisoner's Wife
    by Maggie Brookes

    Inspired by the true story of a courageous young woman who enters a Nazi POW camp to be with the man she loves.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Last Flight
by Julie Clark

The story of two women and one agonizing decision that will change the trajectory of both of their lives.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The House on Fripp Island

The House on Fripp Island
by Rebecca Kauffman

A taut, page-turning novel of secrets and strife.



Solve this clue:

M's T W!

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.