Ultra Vires


CLSA Media Recommendations: Elizabeth Holmes Edition

Our favourite books, shows, and podcasts that detail the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes

If you haven’t read the news recently (or, let’s be real, seen the TikToks), Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos who was dubbed “the next Steve Jobs”, has recently been convicted of three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. At the time of this article, she awaits her sentence. Holmes envisioned a world where a single drop of blood could be used to run hundreds of medical tests on a device with the size and portability of an iPhone. Her company, Theranos, was at one point estimated to be worth more than nine billion dollars, with partners such as Walgreens and board of directors members including powerhouses like former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and venture capitalist Tim Draper. More riveting than the board of directors’ composition, however, is how Holmes was able to convince such powerful investors over and over again that her technology was worth investing in when in reality her technology simply did not work. Whether you are brand new to the story of Theranos or an avid follower itching for more, look no further than the following sources for all things Elizabeth Holmes. 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (book, John Carreyrou)

This book is your ultimate introduction to the world of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Written by the two-time Pulitzer-prize winning journalist of the Washington Post, John Carreyrou, the novel is based on hundreds of interviews with former employees, including individuals who go on to testify at the Holmes trial. Bad Blood details what is known about Holmes’s life prior to Theranos, the experiences of former Theranos employees of all ranks, their impressions of Holmes, and Holmes’s relationship with investors and the aforementioned partners. At certain points, the novel reaches the cadence of a spy-thriller, detailing the lengths to which Theranos and its legal firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP (which was also implicated in hiring a private intelligence company to silence some of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers) went to intimidate former employees of Theranos from speaking out about what they saw. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take the word of Bill Gates, who describes the novel as a “page turner” and the story as “almost…too ridiculous to be real” on his Goodreads

The Dropout (podcast, ABC News)

If you can hardly get through your law school readings and hate the thought of adding more words to that ever-growing pile, this podcast may be the ideal alternative for you. Hosted by ABC News, The Dropout details Elizabeth Holmes’s life, rise, and fall as founder of Theranos, and averages around 45 minutes per episode. The first six episodes follow Bad Blood closely, detailing the experiences of former employees and the lengths to which Holmes went to secure investors prior to the exposure of the Theranos scandal. However, unlike Bad Blood, the podcast goes beyond the reach of the novel to include updates about Holmes’s recent fraud trial. Moreover, most of the new episodes cover the background information available earlier in the podcast, making it the perfect supplement to the novel, or the perfect fit for someone interested in the trial.

Pro tip from a Holmes junkie who has read both the book and tuned in to the podcast: skip the first six episodes and go straight to The Dropout: Elizabeth Holmes on Trial. These episodes guide the listener through week-by-week updates of the defence and prosecutions cases, the testimony given by witnesses, jury selection, and other details of the trial process that anyone interested in litigation could benefit from learning. The podcast includes revelations not expounded prior to trial such as Holmes’s accusation of physical and emotional abuse by Theranos’ Chief Operating Officer and Holmes’s former boyfriend, Sunny Balwani. Fair warning: the podcast is not terribly objective and seems to lean away from believing in Holmes’s version of the facts, so allies of Holmes may find support for their position lacking. 

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (documentary, Alex Gibney)

No time to read and even less time to dedicate endless hours towards a podcast? Not to worry. I’ve got you covered on the television side as well. From Academy Award Winner Alex Gibney, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley is a documentary currently streaming on Crave which will only take two hours of your time. The documentary tells the story of Holmes through interviews with people who were close with her, including former employees of Theranos. Even for avid followers of the case, the documentary brings the story to life, containing shots inside Theranos and interviews with Holmes. Want to see if you could be baited into investing millions by Holmes’s iconic mock-deep voice, black turtleneck, and piercing blue eyes? Give this documentary a try. 

Bad Blood (film, not yet released) 

If, like me, you’ve consumed all the media currently available to you and remain unsatiated, sit tight. Apple Studios has Bad Blood in the works, a movie based on John Carreyrou’s investigative novel. The film is set to be directed by Adam McKay, who has directed brilliant movies such as The Big Short, Vice, and most recently, Don’t Look Up. With Jennifer Lawrence as the enigmatic Elizabeth Holmes and with McKay’s impeccable ability to intertwine witty humour with serious and complicated topics, this film is sure to deliver. 

The Dropout (limited series, on Hulu March 3, 2022) 

Finally, if an indeterminate film release date will not do, Hulu is set to release a limited series based on the podcast The Dropout on March 3, 2022, with the same executive producers from the podcast. This series will star Amanda Seyfried as Holmes and Naveen Andrews as Balwani. A mini-series is the perfect medium to infuse drama to an already drama-filled tale. No better time to cash in on that free Hulu trial! 

This series by the Criminal Law Students’ Association introduces the law student body to the wild, wild world of criminal law and criminal justice. Articles will be published in print in Ultra Vires as well as on the CLSA’s website. To pitch an article to CCC, please contact the Blog Editors, Nicholas Buhite or Anna Zhang at nicholas.buhite@mail.utoronto.ca and as.zhang@mail.utoronto.ca, respectively.

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