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Book and other reviews – 2023

Every year I tend to read a good amount of books and listen to some audiobooks. I’ve always wanted to retain better memory of content I consume (including movies or shows) and these blog posts have been a great way to reinforce what I’ve gone through. These posts offer brief reviews, some thoughts or notable things from the works, and general impressions of the material. Beyond the memory benefits which come from writing these I think it is good to stop periodically after consuming new information and spend some time to think critically and assess the information or story.

I’ll update this post throughout the year as I finish books and things. I’d also love to get recommendations from anyone reading this or to hear your thoughts on any of the books listed. Please feel free to comment! Here are links for past book posts; last year I managed 35 (missing my target of ~50) and am hoping to increase that amount this year!

New entries will show up on the bottom of this page. PROBABLY SPOILERS BELOW!

January

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
John Carreyrou | Biography / Investigative Journalism | 2018

WOW. This was a great book to start off the year! My brother-in-law recommended this for our book club and I am so glad he did. The book tells the story of Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes. It is a wild story of ambitious goals, missed targets, hidden shortcomings, terrible management, a descent into bald-faced lying and dishonesty, and ultimately of collapse and failure.

There were several things that were most surprising to me:

  • Early on it was clear (at least from the written account) that Sunny (basically the cofounder) was a horrible influence on Elizabeth and, apparently, an atrocious manager. His poor influence can be masked by the relationship he and Elizabeth had but it reads as if he was gradually coaxing her to make increasingly more unethical decisions and, likely, justifying those actions as not unethical or par-for-the-course in the business world. The fact that he lasted until the end was surprising.
  • Secondly, I’m shocked at the resilience the organization had to employee disgruntlement. The legal threats and hardcore siloing of the company led to much more post-employment compliance than I would have thought. There were several very well intentioned people who had no recourse to expose the issues they saw.
  • Third, I’m shocked that such an absolute lack of real technologies to back the claims made it through the scrutiny of so many people including the board, huge corporate partners, and even the FDA’s attempts to verify information.

Overall, this book was great. There is a clear journalistic bias/intent to show how bad things were but it seems fully warranted given what we know now (at the time of writing, criminal charges with substantial prison sentences were leveraged against both Sunny and Elizabeth). Great read, fascinating story, and a nearly unbelievable set of circumstances which led a huge company valuation almost evaporating overnight when the house of cards started to fall.

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