I devoured this a few weeks ago but am still reeling at just how corrupt Theranos was. Back around 2012-2014 I remember marveling at this new Elizabeth Holmes figure that every media outlet was mythologizing, and thinking how incredible it must be to be so brilliant and wishing I’d been born so talented too. When the truth came out, I was scandalized and shocked alongside everyone else, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I realized just how fraudulent the company really was.
The biggest double take came when I realized that Theranos was straight up toying with real patients’ health. Holmes pitched her mini test cartridges (all with fancy, cool-sounding names, like the Edison and miniLab and 4S, as part of the image) as capable of running hundreds of blood tests on a single drop of blood, more accurately than standard labs could, when in reality, she didn’t even have a working prototype yet. All the tests Theranos ran came back with errors, like producing opposite results even on the same patient. If she had to demo the cartridge for investors, she’d secretly ask her team to send over fake results beforehand, instead of using the real-time analysis. When she found out Joe Biden would be visiting the lab, she literally built an entire separate, fake lab so that he wouldn’t see the real thing, which was in shambles and would show she didn’t have a working product yet. Inside the real lab, scientists would often literally delete data that they didn’t like, i.e. any data that proved the cartridges were malfunctioning. And when investors asked to see financial projections, Holmes would straight up lie and say Theranos expected to earn $100 million that year, when they were actually only on track for $100,000.
And to think she was setting up partnerships with pharmacies and stores – real ones, like Walgreens and Safeway! – to quickly install Theranos testing centers inside their branches. The book gives examples of several people who used the Theranos centers and were summarily fucked over – things like people getting back reports of serious health conditions, prompting them to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket to seek out medical advice and procedures, only to get retested and find out they were perfectly healthy.
This is just some of the absolutely psycho shit Theranos did that I can think of off the top of my head. Carreyrou is excellent about really delving into all the details and interviewing as many people as he could reach, and there’s a LOT more fraud than just the instances I’m recounting here. It’s clear that Holmes is a sociopath. She never once stops to consider that real people would be getting hurt (and did) from her lies, and never seems to feel any semblance of shame for the lives she ruined – especially her employees, one of whom was so miserable and depressed working under her that he committed suicide.
There’s so much sadness and shock in this book. I can’t believe people like this exist out there in the world, and that she’s planning on starting another company, and from the bottom of my heart I hope she gets what she deserves at her trial later this year. Lock this psychopath up.