Everything you need to host a successful book club meeting on Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou. I suggest book club questions for discussion, a review, and links to articles and videos to add to your discussion. But don’t forget what’s most important – the food you’ll serve at your book club! I’ve also got themed food ideas so no one will go away hungry.
With Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes in the news, a podcast about the scandal, a documentary coming out on HBO, and a movie in the works starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou makes an excellent book club choice. It shows that non-fiction isn’t boring!
After reading Bad Blood, it might be easy to simply write-off Elizabeth Holmes as a possible sociopath, as Carreyrou does (page 299) or to dismiss her as delusional. But when reading non-fiction about a crime like this, it’s interesting to think about why and how it happened. Otherwise, all you’re doing is rubber-necking at an accident as you drive by.
I’ve been doing a lot of research and soul-searching about today’s educational system and how it affects our kids. As I read Bad Blood, and about Elizabeth Holmes’ past and education, I couldn’t help but consider the environment our children are going to school and growing up in. This week’s big headline about the college admissions’ cheating scandal further emphasizes the importance of thinking about our educational climate and how college admission requirements are hurting all our children.
It also made me think about the roll that long hours of work, leading to lack of sleep, that kids become accustomed to during their years of school. What roll did that play in the the environment of a company? Could that have played a part in the ability of Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani being able to intimidate their employees?
In contrast, it’s interesting to think about how two of the major whistle-blowers were young. They were willing to speak up when many older people at the company felt they had no choice but to just leave quietly. What gave them such incredible courage?
I’ve put together some resources and book club questions to help guide a thoughtful and lively discussion at your next book club meeting.
Bad Blood Book Club Questions to Guide your Discussion
1. Do you think Elizabeth Holmes set out to do something impossible? Or just difficult? Do you think she had even a remote chance of developing a successful test?
2. Which professor do you think was right about Elizabeth Holmes, Channing Robertson or Phyllis Gardner? Do you think either of the professors were biased by personal experiences or had ulterior motives?
From Bad Blood: Elizabeth’s chemical engineering professor, Channing Robertson, was “…impressed by her inventiveness… [her ability] to take and synthesize…pieces of science and engineering and technology in ways [he] had never thought of.” p 14
Another professor, Phyllis Gardner told Elizabeth Holmes that “…she didn’t think her concept was remotely feasible…” and said she was “…skeptical that Elizabeth, who…had… a clear tendency not to listen to people who were older and more experienced, had really gone on to develop groundbreaking blood-testing technology.” p 218
3. What do you think drove Elizabeth Holmes?
Was Eliazabeth Holmes simply driven by a greed for money? For fame? Or fear that your life isn’t worth living unless you make transformative change?
How does this compare to what other teenagers hear? Does a similar mindset exist in your school or community? Do you think the college application process plays any role in this? Have you noticed high school students drinking a lot more caffeine than you did at that age? (Elizabeth Holmes “…slept 4 hours a night and popped chocolate covered coffee beans throughout the day to inject herself with caffeine.” page 21) Do you think Richard Fuisz being a family friend shows anything about some influences she may have grown up around?
4. Why do you think Elizabeth Holmes dated Sunny Balwani?
What role do you think he played in the devious path that Theranos took?
If the roles had been reversed, do you think you would be as likely to consider that Elizabeth Holmes had similar influences on Balwani? (In other words, if this book was mainly about a man, do you think we would be considering who he dated when?)
5. Why do you think Theranos was able to raise such a huge amount of capital?
Which of the following do you think we’re the biggest factors:
Elizabeth Holmes’ ability to persuade people that her idea would work or did work
The stature of the early investing venture capitalist
The stature of Theranos’ board members
Theranos’ numerous patents
6. What do you of Richard Fuisz filing patents that he knew Theranos would need in the future?
Were you surprised to find out that you can get a patent on an idea even if you haven’t proven it can work? Did you understand more about the patent process from reading Bad Blood?
7. Why do you think the author included the following scene description about Richard Ruisz?
From Bad Blood “When Underhill cam back with the printed settlement, Richard and Joe read it and signed it. Afterward, Richard Ruisz looked utterly defeated. The proud and pugnacious former CIA agent broke down and sobbed.” Page 204
Do you feel sorry for Richard Ruisz?
Why do you think the author included background about Elizabeth Holmes’ upbringing?
8. If you were a venture capitalist, would you invest in companies with unproven technology? Let’s say they even admit that they don’t have it working yet.
9. Do you think the errors at Theranos are unique to them, or do you think they are common in the startup world?
Do you think what happened at Theranos indicates a larger problem?
Or was this only a problem because Theranos was in a medical area?
Do you think we should be concerned about this?
10. Do you think that Elizabeth Holmes was targeted, or made an example of, because she was a woman?
Do you think that continually referring to Elizabeth Holmes’ voice and blonde hair is fair? Did you know that Margaret Thatcher famously took voice lessons?
11. What do you think that Theranos’, and by extension Elizabeth Holmes’, worst error was?
Misrepresenting the technology capabilities to investors?
Performing patient blood lab test on their own equipment before it was proven reliable?
Performing patient blood lab test on other companies’ equipment?
Threatening employees who want to leave with lawsuits and other intimidation?
Or all they all equal? What are other errors that stood out to you?
12. Employees who left were pressured to sign non-disclosure agreements. Are non-disclosure agreements common in your line of work and what do you think of them? Do start-ups need them to protect their ideas?
13. Do you think Bad Blood was simply a recounting of facts in an impartial manner? Or did the journalists’ bias influence the writing?
Do you think Bad Blood is a more of a case against Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes?
A look at why and how the Theranos scandal happened?
Or a mixture of the two?
14. Who do you think was the hero or heroes in Bad Blood?
Tyler Schultz? Richard Ruisz? Erika Cheung? Rupert Murdoch? John Carreyrou?
Bad Blood Review
Bad Blood is a fascinating, but not riveting, book. I thought the first part was rather slow with numerous characters that were hard to keep straight. As I was reading, descriptions of Elizabeth Holmes’ upbringing seemed to reveal a bias against her. (UPDATE 3/19/2018 – However, further reading has made me realize that the background Carreyou gave on Elizabeth Holemes actually actually made her a more sympathetic character than she is in other coverage about Theranos.) There is a lot of detail, and a lot of repetition, that make sense in light of the fact that it was written to expose and stop Theranos before someone was hurt by faulty medical testing. John Carreyrou was making a case against Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and a convincing one at that.
Bad Blood, and its companion reporting in the Wall Street Journal, highlight the massive part that journalism plays in uncovering fraud and injustice. As such, I think it’s important to remember that this book was written as a result of important investigative journalism, but it’s only the first step in the process. Carreyrou did start that process with going into the background of Elizabeth Holmes, as much as he could. And he remained remarkably balanced in reporting, especially given that the Wallstreet Journal was being threatened by Theranos lawyers and Carreyrou was being followed.
Moving forward, a hard look at how and why this happened – what drove Elizabeth Holmes , how this fraud was able to exist for so long, and what aspects of our society and educational system encourage this – is important to improving the world and environment that our children will live in.
UPDATE 3/19/2019 – If you’re interested in the roll of environment and educational background, the last episode of the podcast The Dropout, “What Now?,” has some really interesting information to consider.
Food ideas for hosting your book club meeting discussing Bad Blood
When I host our book club, I have fun serving food that’s suggested by the book. In Bad Blood, I found several references to food that you can use for inspiration for book club refreshments.
I chose to make and serve a charcuterie board of meats, fruits, nuts, and cheese. (Tutorial on arranging a gorgeous charcuterie board coming soon!) Given their recent popularity in Beverly Hills, I thought it sounded like something Elizabeth Holmes might serve at one of Theranos’ catered parties.
To drink, I served “…green vegetable juices made of cucumber, parsley, kale, spinach, lettuce, and celery” – Bad Blood, page 209 – like Elizabeth Holmes had prepared for her by a personal chef.
But one of the beverage options was kale, orange, and grapefruit juice. It tastes much better than the vegetable-only juice.
Other foods mentioned in Bad Blood include sushi and that Elizabeth Holmes “…popped chocolate covered coffee beans throughout the day to inject herself with caffeine.” – Bad Blood, page 21. Since our book club meets in the evening, I decided to skip the chocolate coffee beans. (But I love them!)
Next Book Club Book Pick
Before you leave your book club meeting, don’t forget to pick out your next book! If you enjoyed Bad Blood, check out the books below.
With all of the comparisons of Elizabeth Holmes to Steve Jobs, a Steve Jobs biography would make a good next book club read. I have reviews and thoughts on the book Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson on my website High School, College, Success! where you can read more, as well as compare it to Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, before you decide.
Shoe Dog, about the founding of Nike, is the current book selection for one of my book clubs; I’m reading it right now! It’s an uplifting read after Bad Blood.
Read more about Bad Blood, Elizabeth Holmes, and Theranos for your book club discussion
Here are some links to articles and stories that might inform and help you guide your book club’s discussion about Bad Blood. (“Some.” Ha! But this isn’t all I read, just the best articles. I tend to get a little obsessed by things I find interesting.)
Scientists are skeptical about the secret blood test that has made Elizabeth Holmes a billionaire – Note that while the title says “skeptical;” the article goes on to explain what might be possible
Videos about about Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos, and Bad Blood