Ben Smithgall

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Software and data at Spotify. Previously with U.S. Digital Service and Code for America.

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Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

By John Carreyrou

Finished reading on January 6, 2019

An incredible book. Carreyrou tells a riveting story, faithfully reconstructed. Having worked in startups, some of what was in the book was familiar, but Theranos ratcheted it up to absurd levels. It’s an amazing story, perfect for the age that we live in today. We owe a collective debt of gratitude to the people who were willing to risk so much out to make the story known. It’s incredible how much information can be repressed by people with access to high-powered lawyers and a lot of money.

Reading this book right after finishing Winners Take All was really additive. Giridharadas spends a lot of time establishing that a certain class of people not only run the world but also have convinced themselves that their rule is fair and benevolent. Holmes here is the perfect embodiment of what Giridharadas calls MarketWorld. In her statements and emails, Holmes repeatedly and consistently talks about how Theranos was doing incredible humanitarian work. She sat on the boards of panels and was a regular in the MarketWorld thought-leadership circuit.

Meanwhile, she was perpetrating continuous and massive fraud and endangering the lives of huge numbers of people. Bureaucracy, often the source of frustration among MarketWorld types, turns out to be critical in stopping Theranos from being used by active duty military and eventually stops them entirely.

Giridharadas is convincing in his book that MarketWorld elites truly do rule the world, and their “protocols” influence the way that many parts of our lives are run. One thing that is revealed by this book is that those elites are total fools, falling for too-good-to-be-true promises, ignorant of obstructions to their worldview, and unwilling to hear about any possible problems, even from members of their own families.

★★★★★