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Thicker than Water
by Tyler Shultz
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Audible original in the voice of a Theranos whistleblower (and not accidentally, grandson of George Schultz). Really powerful illustration of how even someone raised to value truth and public service, with economic security and cultural privilege, can be intimidated to the point of near-breakdown by legal threats—even those from a fraudster. He speaks affectingly about how he felt betrayed by his beloved grandfather and about how the pressure of the threat of a lawsuit against him, and the associated surveillance, made him so distressed that the reason that he didn’t buy a gun was that he was too worried he might use it on himself. ( )
There's so much to unpack here!!
As a member of the clinical laboratory field, there was always much interest in knowing more about Theranos and how it all got shown for the farce it was. It may sound like Monday morning quarterbacking, but most of us in the field never believed that the Edison device could do what Elizabeth Holmes said it could do. And that's despite knowing full well that our field had not enjoyed the same advancements technologically that we've seen in the last half-century. It seemed that our field was ripe for a technological revolution but we didn't believe this was it.
After listening to Thicker Than Water, I came away feeling (more) distressed about those who we propel into national leadership roles. Well regarded individuals such as George Shultz and Henry Kissinger didn't do their due diligence on this company before putting their names and reputations on the line??? They were so quick to try to make some easy money that they never even looked into the validity of what Theranos was doing. Very disturbing to think these are the people to whom we've entrusted our government.
It was disheartening to see how George Shultz put no stock into what his own grandson was telling him. He stood by Holmes and disregarded his own family. Tyler really painted a perverted image of his grandfather's obsession with Holmes. Though I thought Tyler was something of a goofball, it was depressing to see Holmes placed above him by his grandfather, even inviting here to holiday gatherings despite the issues between Theranos and Tyler.
In the end, I thought the story contained more about Tyler at the expense of focusing on the Theranos lie. However, I then watched the documentary, Out for Blood, and found that it really didn't offer anything more than Thicker Than Water.
I'm glad that Tyler had the courage to come forward with what he knew. It's a worthwhile listen for those who want an insider perspective of what was going on at Theranos.
Tyler Schultz is the grandson of former Secretary of State George Schultz, and it was largely due to that connection that he landed an internship at Theranos, a startup claiming to have a new technology that would allow blood testing for a wide range of conditions, in little clinics in Walmart and similar locations, with just one drop of blood, and of course, far more cheaply. Stated baldly like that, it looks pretty transparent, but the CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, was apparently very charismatic, and charmed and persuaded a number of prominent, influential people--including George Schultz, but also Henry Kissinger, James Mattis, and Betsy DeVos, among others.
Initially, Tyler Schultz believed the hype. He eagerly accepted an internship at Theranos, and while his experience wasn't perfect, he remained a true believer in the project. When he finished college, he sought and received a fulltime job at Theranos.
And gradually, he started to notice things that just weren't right. Initially, just listening to Holmes talk enthusiastically and convincingly about what they were going to achieve would reliably quash his doubt and restore his confidence. Yet, as time passed and problems mounted, her ability to bury his concerns faded. The big breaking point was discovering that false data was being reported to the FDA, and negative results were simply being omitted.
He made a detailed report of the problems to Holmes, still trusting that she could set things right.
Not long after, he was out of a job.
Talking to his grandfather achieved nothing; George Schultz still completely believed in Holmes.
Tyler got another job, and tried to put it behind him, but he was still worried that real harm was being done. Eventually he talked to an investigative reporter.
This is Tyler Schultz's personal story, not the big picture, but his personal and sometimes terrifying experiences, as the truth slowly came out, the investigative reporter talked to other sources, and Thereanos fought back, including having Tyler and all his friends followed.
It's a fascinating and moving story. Tyler Schultz didn't set out to be a whistleblower or a hero, and initially was trying to help Holmes pursue what he thought was her real plan for Theranos--the one she talked about.
I bought this audiobook.
This is the tale of Theranos as told by Tyler Schultz, a junior employee who became a whistleblower (and who is the grandson of George Schultz, a prominent politician/statesman who was on the Theranos board).
First-hand information about basically a kid facing litigation for violating his NDA in speaking with the independent journalist (John Carreyrou) who broke the story, his family and psychological troubles, and some of the dirty tricks used by Theranos. Also, just how incompetent "famous" or "respected" people can be outside of their field -- a bunch of political people on the board of a biotech company, chosen for their political connections, and unable to face scientific facts.
Most of the factual details here are better explained in Carreyrou's book, although some of the day to day specifics of the fraud here were really interesting.
Series Info/Source: This is a stand alone book. I borrowed this audiobook through Audible Plus.
Story (3/5): This is Shultz’s story of how his family got involved with Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, his internship there, his work there and what followed. Prior to reading this I didn’t know a lot about the Theranos scandal. It was interesting to learn about that, but this seemed a bit long. Things play out kind of how you would expect and of course Holmes is still awaiting trial.
Characters (3/5): Tyler does a decent job telling this but comes off as kind of immature throughout (of course he was young when he went through all of this). He does stick to his morals (kind of) and seems to try to do the right thing. He definitely comes from a background of privilege and acknowledges this. However, a lot of people wouldn’t have had the luxury and resources he had to follow this type of fight to the end game.
Setting (3/5): Most of this story takes place in California at Theranos and at Tyler’s house.
Writing Style (3/5): Tyler wrote and narrated this himself. It’s decent, there’s no huge technical errors. Things jump around some and at points there were some inconsistencies but it was fine.
My Summary (3/5): Overall this was okay and if you want to learn more about the Theranos debacle this is an approachable way to do that. Just keep in mind this is from the point of view of a privileged person who was an intern there and then a young co-worker. So, while his insights are interesting you are only getting a very small part of the picture and it doesn’t go into a lot of depth.
From the hero whistleblower of the infamous Theranos scam, Thicker than Water is a look at never-before-revealed details behind closed doors at the company, revealing a cautionary tale of corporate bullying, gaslighting, ego, and wealth running amok in Silicon Valley. Tyler Shultz had been in the workforce for less than a year when he emailed Elizabeth Holmes, his employer and the CEO and founder of Theranos, with concerns that the company's lab practices were faulty, ignored quality control, and were potentially dangerous to patients. The COO fired back with a dismissive and insulting email, to which Tyler replied: "Consider this my two weeks' notice." From there, his life spun out of control at the hand of Elizabeth, her team of high-powered lawyers, and the patriarch of Tyler's own family George Shultz - one of America's most prominent statesmen - who sat among the top of the Theranos board of directors. And yet, Tyler forged on. To protect his own conscience, the honor and reputation of his grandfather, and the health of patients worldwide. Thicker than Water is Tyler's as-told-to story - a harrowing and heartbreaking roller coaster of biomedical drama, family intrigue, and redemption - that will ultimately make you feel as though you are at a dinner party, seated next to a brilliant friend with one hell of a story. Selected audio clips are courtesy of Bloomberg.
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