mini-review · stuff I read

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end, despite pressure from its charismatic CEO and threats by her lawyers.

In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

A riveting story of the biggest corporate fraud since Enron, a tale of ambition and hubris set amid the bold promises of Silicon Valley.

I remember reading the initial WSJ story with my jaw on the floor and I read Carreyrou’s book-length expansion in almost the same position.

Bad Blood makes my scientist blood boil (I mean, I was drawing “angry epidemiologist face” in the margins – it’s on IG). This is why we need better whistleblower protection. Elizabeth Homes deserves to be in jail and/or living in a box under a bridge. The only reason she and Theranos didn’t kill patients is that some scientists and doctors stood firm against major legal and personal threats. They managed to find a journalist who could keep confidential sources confidential to air the science that proved Theranos was making vaporware and then lying about it to the very agencies tasked with keeping us safe. Carreyrou has written a compelling and compulsively readable account of Theranos and it’s clear this mess isn’t over yet.

(Generous read: ok, so maybe in the beginning Holmes actually invented a device that really could have helped people and actually started her company in good faith. But somewhere between that first funding round and over a billion dollars down the drain she went really off the rails and I’m not going to be generous about that.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book and proceeded to mark the shit up out of it.

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mini-review · stuff I read

The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman

36447149Summary from Goodreads:
The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots.

Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines.

In The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder.

I think, if you didn’t know anything about medieval or renaissance medicine, etc., then I think The Royal Art of Poison would be really entertaining for you. Herman has a great flair for pop history writing (I’ve really enjoyed her Sex with Kings and Sex with the Queen books). But for ME, while it was an enjoyable read I didn’t get much new information out of the book (an epidemiology degree and several history of medicine courses will take the shine right off the topic). However, the most fascinating section was a selection of mini-bios of historical figures who famously were or were not poisoned and whether a modern forensic examination could make that determination. (It appears that some people WERE NOT poisoned, except probably by the raft of Royal Physicians who liked to dose people with heavy metals…which would kill you anyway. With a lot of pain and agony.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

34964868Summary from Goodreads:
Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife. . . But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his living room. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.

Sarah Krasnostein has watched the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to these, the living and the dead—and the book she has written is equally extraordinary. Not just the compelling story of a fascinating life among lives of desperation, but an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

I first heard about The Trauma Cleaner from Liberty on the All the Books podcast in a round-up of anticipated 2018 releases. Lib has never steered me wrong, so I pulled up the galley on Edelweiss and devoured it.

The Trauma Cleaner is an absolutely fascinating book that twines three stories into one: the surface-level business of trauma cleaning (the cleaning done after a person has died or is in a hoarding situation, etc), the heart-rending biography of the woman who owns the business and how she has managed to survive with such compassion for others still intact, and the thread of the author’s own story with her own history of trauma. The story of Sandra Pankhurst is also the story of the struggle of LGBT+ persons in Australia against discrimination and for trans-men and -women to live as men and women with the same legal rights as everyone else. This is a rough, rough book to read though.  Pankhurst endured a lot of physical abuse from her parents and sexual assault as an adult. All the trigger warnings. Be prepared to step back and take a breath.

As one of Sandra Pankhurst’s doctors said, it is astounding to think how much she has accomplished given that she is physically ailing and how much more she could accomplish given better health or opportunities earlier in life.

The Trauma Cleaner is out today in the US.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

35180979Summary from Goodreads:
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark —the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a completely absorbing and terrifying (especially in the first third or so) work of true crime reporting/memoir/Google sleuthing about the search for the Golden State Killer (who was not named that until McNamara gave it to him, which was a thing I did not know). The writing is compelling, kudos to McNamara’s research assistant and team who organized and completed the book after her death. They were very careful to note which parts of the book were finished by McNamara herself and which were finished by her team. Although, there’s a weird Epilogue addressed to the killer placed AFTER Patton Oswalt wrote a lovely Afterword to his wife and the timing is just NO. That Epilogue should have come before the Afterword.

I do have to warn you that you absolutely do NOT want to read or listen to this book at night.  Alone.  By yourself.  Unless you want to wind up getting absolutely no sleep and finding out that the cat managed to open the door to the garage in the middle of the night so you spend an hour checking in all the closets of the house to make sure no psychos are lying in wait for you.

Dear FTC: I listened to an audiobook recording that I borrowed from the library.

mini-review · stuff I read

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry

33413878Summary from Goodreads:
A fierce memoir of a mother’s murder, a daughter’s coming-of-age in the wake of immense loss, and her mission to know the woman who gave her life.

When Sarah Perry was twelve, she saw a partial eclipse of the sun, an event she took as a sign of good fortune for her and her mother, Crystal. But that brief moment of darkness ultimately foreshadowed a much larger one: two days later, Crystal was murdered in their home in rural Maine, just a few feet from Sarah’s bedroom.

The killer escaped unseen; it would take the police twelve years to find him, time in which Sarah grew into adulthood, struggling with abandonment, police interrogations, and the effort of rebuilding her life when so much had been lost. Through it all she would dream of the eventual trial, a conviction—all her questions finally answered. But after the trial, Sarah’s questions only grew. She wanted to understand her mother’s life, not just her final hours, and so she began a personal investigation, one that drew her back to Maine, taking her deep into the abiding darkness of a small American town.

Told in searing prose, After the Eclipse is a luminous memoir of uncomfortable truth and terrible beauty, an exquisite memorial for a mother stolen from her daughter, and a blazingly successful attempt to cast light on her life once more.

I had the digital galley on my radar, but wasn’t sure I was going to get to it until I heard Liberty absolutely raving about this book. So then I had to read it.

After the Eclipse is an extremely compelling book of memoir and crime writing. Sarah Perry confronts a lot in this book – institutionalized sexism and misogyny, family violence, domestic abuse, gender roles, trauma – and has created a complete work that brings her mother’s life and her own life into parallel and contrasting narratives. At the same time, there is no sensationalism. Although the catalyst for the work was the trial of her mother’s murderer, Perry uses the information she has gathered to better understand the parent she was denied the opportunity of knowing in life. A definite recommend.

Trigger warning for violence against women and descriptions of rape.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.