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Discussion Guide

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

By John Carreyrou

The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of Theranos, the one-time multibillion-dollar biotech startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end.

 

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 testing 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 more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

 

A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.


This discussion guide was written by Gabriel Sessions, Bookclubz Content Editor.

Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

What was it about Elizabeth Holmes that allowed her to convince experienced, savvy men that she was, in her engineering professor Channing Robertson’s words, “another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs”? Carreyrou mentions her staring at them a lot—the engineering prof’s full quote is “you start to realize you are looking in the eyes of another Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs.” Does the book get into this question of why and how Theranos happened enough?
Sunny Balwani fired, or “disappeared,” people like a dictator; teams at Theranos were forbidden to talk to each other; men in SUVs stalked whistleblowers like Erika Cheung. Does this Silicon Valley world remind you of any dystopian fiction you’ve read or real-life authoritarian regimes? Are you surprised this level of intimidation could exist?
Do Theranos’ funding numbers make you angry? What about Elizabeth Holmes’ personal wealth? If so, what if Elizabeth Holmes had turned out to actually make functioning technology? Would they still make you angry?

“A great and at times almost unbelievable story. . . . Theranos may be the biggest case of corporate fraud since Enron.” —New York

 

“Chilling. . . . Reads like a thriller. . . . Carreyrou tells [the Theranos story] virtually to perfection.” —The New York Times Book Review

 

“Gripping. . . .  Riveting. . . .  [Told] with a momentum worthy of a crime novel.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

 

“Riveting. . . . For all its boomtime feel, there are timeless aspects to Theranos’ story. Venality is age-old, but so is courage, and that of the ex-employees who blew the whistle on its deceptions is restorative. . . . And more than an honorable mention should go to Carreyrou, a dogged old-school reporter uncowed by Theranos’ legal hardball.” —San Francisco Chronicle

 

“Engrossing. . . . Hard to put down. . . . Boasts movie-scene detail. . . . Theranos employees are the story’s heroes, with the force of journalism not far behind.” —Science