So I set myself a target of reading at least one book every month. Happy to announce that I’m ending January a little late by finishing two fantastic books: Bad Blood and Permanent Record.
John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood is the story of a 22 year old Standford dropout who was supposed to change the face of the healthcare industry – with her real-time blood-testing device ran an array of tests using only a few drops of blood from a finger-prick – but instead faked her way to a $9 billion valuation, till the house of cards came crashing down. This book is Carreyrou’s baby, born from his investigative pieces for the Wall Street Journal that exposed Theranos for the sham that it was, and it can be seen from his writing, at times meandering but mostly detailed and powerful.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with Silicon Valley’s toxic startup culture but this book makes you question the very model on which such unicorns stand: investors throwing enough money at remotely promising companies in infancy with no proven sales to ensure that they scale and capture market share quickly, and then cashing out before an IPO. I guess this was easy in an era of cheap liquidity and bullish markets propped up by government investments and central banks. But not anymore! This SoftBank-esque approach to business is looking more and more stupid, with Uber’s shaky market debut and the WeWork debacle. Elizabeth Holmes, the founder/ CEO of Theranos now faces criminal charges, and the company has ceased to exist.
The second book that I finished was Permanent Record – partly Edward Snowden’s biography and partly his manifesto. I have to admit at this point that I approached this book with skepticism on account of my innate dislike for self-help and autobiographies. The only self-help book I’ve read is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I still suck at winning friends and influencing people.
It starts with Snowden talking about his banal childhood, interspersed with forced references to who he would become later in life. A lot of what he writes comes across as honest, at times forced and at times as a restrospective justification of what he did in lucid but powerful prose that convinces the reader that the end justified the means.
It left me thinking about the hypocrisy with which the Five Eyes lecture the world on democracy. When a government spies on its own people, it has no right to preach others on human rights. Snowden’s actions are morally questionable but then again, history is littered with examples of people who stood up for what was right and rebeled against the established order to pave a new way for mankind. Unless such people exist – and they always will – institutions will stop evolving.