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

D4FF632C-4321-43F0-BA48-93A26BFEF576The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, was first brought to my attention when the Bad Blood review was released for the New York Times. I didn’t read the full review, I don’t like to read reviews before I read the book, but the first few lines caught my attention that I immediately added the book to my TBR (to be read) list and couldn’t stop thinking about it. The story sounded so interesting and totally in my wheel-house, a start-up fraud of epic proportions.

If you’ve not heard of Theranos or Bad Blood here is a little background for you.

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 really loved this book. It is a wild story whose veracity baffled me. If it was a movie, it would be written off as too unbelievable, but the fact that it is true makes it utterly consumable. The writing is quick, deliberate, and to the point. John Carreyrou, the author and the journalist who brought the Theranos fraud to light for The Wall Street Journal, does a phenomenal job of presenting the characters without interpretation. He allows Elizabeth Holmes’ behavior to speak for itself. I appreciate Carreyrou trusting that his reader is smart enough to draw their own conclusions.

The thing about this book is that it should be boring. Its a book about medical equipment and lab testing procedures that never worked. Its about science and business and startups, and normally that kind of stuff would bore me, except that the scam was so big and those involved so powerful, the story is fascinating. It is written like a true crime book with riveting characters, threats, intimidation, billionaires, blackmail, and more. You’re immersed in the story of Theranos and I couldn’t put the book down, I needed to know how this all could happen and then how it all fell apart.

There is one strange moment in the book, when the story goes from a third person recounting of the rise of Theranos (the first 2/3 of the book), to introducing Carreyrou himself as a player in the story of Theranos. Its a total revelation and it feels very staged. I don’t know if I have a solution for how Carreyrou could announce himself as a player in the fall of Theranos, but how its pulled off feels a little melodramatic.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy non-fiction. This is top of its class non-fiction. This is an insane story broken down and detailed. There is a commitment to truth telling and it explaining what happened and what went wrong. You leave this book feeling like you understand Theranos so much better, but then again, I have a ton more questions. I plan to follow this story as it continues to develop in the news.

  • Hard Cover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (May 21, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • BuyBad Blood on Amazon

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

The Devils Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea

2912C833-EC19-4E44-A72B-70B58A50E35BA friend gave me her copy of The Devil’s Highway, and told me I had to read it. This was back in February, and I just wasn’t into it. I couldn’t motivate myself to pick it up. However, in the last few weeks with all thats going on with family separation at the US border I felt compelled to finally pick up this book.

Here is a little about this book.

In May 2001, a group of men attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, through the deadliest region of the continent, the “Devil’s Highway.” Three years later, Luis Alberto Urrea wrote about what happened to them. The result was a national bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a “book of the year” in multiple newspapers, and a work proclaimed as a modern American classic.

This book is so well crafted. It is a heartbreaking story, however there is still strength in its telling.  Urrea uses beautiful yet uncomplicated prose to describe the story of the US-Mexico border and all those who are caught navigating it’s terrain.

The Devil’s Highway is the story of one group that is representative of a greater population. Those people who feel that life has gotten too hard where ever they are, that it is better to leave home and try to find something better. Even if that means going through hell.

I think it trivializes the magnitude of this book to say it is “timely”. It does speak to this current political moment, but it was written over 15 years ago, and it spoke to that moment as well. It speaks to any moment where one group of people is trying to keep out another group. It speaks to humanity. It speaks to human nature. That is what makes this book powerful. It is about how we treat one another, when the option is, to be kind or to be cruel.

Urrea makes a point to include the narratives not only of the men walking through the desert, but also that of the coyotes, and the border agents, and the US law enforcement. He includes consulate workers from Mexico, and families of those men who left home. He is inclusive in his work, and yet he is clear in his point of view. Its a challenging balancing act, that Urrea executes perfectly. It is what gives this book credence and authenticity.

This book is graphic, and there are moments where I wanted to turn away from the story, because it was overwhelming and bleak. This book is wonderful. It is powerful. It made me feel things. It allowed me space to think about immigration and compassion. It has allowed me more perspective as I think about what it means to be American, and who has to stay out, so I can stay in.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

7E239298-DBDB-4CD3-80C7-7FDFF44C5003.JPG

I have never read an advice column in my life. It is not something I seek out, or something that I have any interest in. Well, now that I’ve read Tiny Beautiful Things, that has all changed. Now, I love advice columns, but only if Cheryl Strayed is giving the advice.

If you’re not familiar with the Rumpus magazine’s Dear Sugar column here is a little of what you can expect from this book.

This bestselling book from the author of Wild collects the best of The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar advice columns plus never-before-published pieces. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

This books is special. It is full of advice. That at once seems obvious and still unique and is specific and still universal. Strayed does a thorough and compassionate job of answering the letters. She is never condescending and seems to always come from a place of working it out the best you can. Which is often harder than it sounds. She reminds people they know the answer, or she guides them toward what she thinks is right, or she shuts them down, or she builds them up. She seems to know how much of each ingredient her response needs and takes her time to doll it out.

If you don’t know Strayed, which at the time of writing to “Sugar” these people in need of advice didn’t. You assume the woman answering the questions has her whole life together, and always has. But if you do know Strayed, you know thats not true. I won’t spoil her life for you (you can read it all about it in Wild or watch Reese Witherspoon in the movie), but she has lived a big life. Its what makes her advice so precise and potent.

I don’t think I related to a lot of the letters, but some of them might as well have been written by me. I would imagine everyone who reads this book feels that at some point. Some, perhaps the best ones, are questions you’d never think to ask, but you’re so glad someone did because you needed to hear the answer.

I’m grateful to this book, I have suggested it to a lot of people. I have even mentioned it on The Stacks podcast (Ep.9 at the 39:30 mark). Everyone who has read it has enjoyed it, found it interesting at the very least and some have found it life changing. I’m grateful to this book for helping me, and those I love to see life in a new and special way.

I listened to this book, and Strayed reads it. I fell in love with her voice and her cadence and if you’re so inclined this is a fantastic audiobook. I went back a few times to listen to my favorite ones again and again. Hearing Strayed say “sweet pea” is better than I could’ve imagined.

The best news is, I just found out (and I realize this makes me very late to this party) that there is a Dear Sugars podcast, with Cheryl Strayed and the Sugar before her, Steve Almond. So once you’ve read the book go listen to the podcast. More Sugar to go around.

Read this book. Share it with a loved one. Chances are they will take something meaningful away from this book, and thats a tiny beautiful ting indeed.

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/thestacks). We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of The Stacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Othello by William Shakespeare

AF5A379C-606C-48A1-AF83-92754A187CF9I have to admit up front, I am a total Shakespeare nerd. I love his plays and I actually enjoy reading the verse. I also feel that these stories are plays, and should be heard and seen. However, for an upcoming episode of The Stacks, we are discussing New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, which is a retelling of Othello, so I thought I should brush up on the original text.

Here is an introduction to Othello if you’re not familiar with this great tragedy.

In Othello, Shakespeare creates powerful drama from a marriage between the exotic Moor Othello and the Venetian lady Desdemona that begins with elopement and mutual devotion and ends with jealous rage and death. Shakespeare builds many differences into his hero and heroine, including race, age, and cultural background. Yet most readers and audiences believe the couple’s strong love would overcome these differences were it not for Iago, who sets out to destroy Othello. Iago’s false insinuations about Desdemona’s infidelity draw Othello into his schemes, and Desdemona is subjected to Othello’s horrifying verbal and physical assaults.

I find Othello to be one of Shakespeare’s most relatable and easy to read plays. The story is very straight forward, there are not a lot of characters or subplots, even the language is relatively simple (for a Shakespeare play). If you’re a little intimidated by reading Shakespeare, this is a great place to start.

What makes Shakespeare masterful is how he was able to weave together so many themes and ideas into a short play. In Othello we are looking at the themes of, fear of the outsider, entitlement, sexism, love, trust, truth, rage, racism, and jealousy, and thats just to name a few. Shakespeare employs his characters to engage in debate over these issues, weather it be a conversation about jealousy, or a monologue on faithfulness. He uses the words to speak directly to the audience and drive home his points. You’re being asked to think as you read (or watch).

One of the things that stuck out to me upon re-reading Othello, is just how current the story feels. Iago might as well be the “Trump Supporter” we have heard so much about in the last few years. The white man who feels he is owed some standing in the world, and can not handle life not being what he thinks he is entitled to. He is racist, misogynistic, and thinks if he didn’t earn it he can just take it. His reality doesn’t meet his expectations of where he thinks his life should be, so he acts out instead. He throws the whole tragedy in motion, because of his fragile ego.

The last two acts of this play are fantastic. They move at the perfect speed and deliver a gut-wrenching finale. Each scene tops the one before, until you’re left with a feeling of what just happened here, and a pile of dead bodies, a staple of a Shakespearean tragedy.

If you’ve never read this play, I think its worth a read. If you read it years ago, it might be time for a re-read. It is that good. Its short and powerful. It is current. I would love to hear from you, so add your comments below.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group (July 3, 2001)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Othello on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

E6521C99-1A52-4616-B658-92150D28E59B.JPGThis book is a true gift. I am very grateful that Wamariya chose to share her story with the world. I think we, as readers and consumers, can often feel entitled to read great stories. I think we feel we deserve to be educated and entertained. The Girl Who Smiled beads is an ever present reminder, that every book, every story, is the work of someone else. It is their labor of love and struggle, and that they are making a choice to share that with us. We should be humbled to be in the presence of someone else’s journey, and we should be grateful. This book made me grateful.

If you are not familiar with this book, here is more information for you.

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were thunder. In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years migrating through seven African countries, searching for safety—perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive. 
 
In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of “victim” and recognize the power of the imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms.

Clemantine and her sister Claire go on extraordinary journey, except its not extraordinary. It is all too common. It is the story of civil war. It is the story of death and violence. It is the story of becoming a refugee. It is one telling of this story, that too many know too well. Wamariya makes the point of reminding us that it is us, that are inadequate, we can not take in all the unique stories of suffering. So instead, we find ways to make certain ones the special ones. The ones we are willing to see.

The story as told by Wamariya to Weil is fantastic. The poetry in the language is beautiful and it brings so much depth and emotion. Wamariya is willing to get vulnerable. She is willing to be flawed for us. The structure of the book is not linear, we jump from event to event, year to year, we are sorting through Wamariya’s life with her. Looking for clues as to who she is and how she grew into her self. She is angry and bitter, she is distrustful, she is also a caretaker and a witness to so many. She will not let us see her, or her sister, as only victims.

While there are parts of the book I would have loved to hear more about (her relationship to Black Americans, the conflicts in Africa she experiences, her day to day acclimation in Chicago), this book is full. It is rich with thoughtful analysis of ones own journey, which is so hard to do. To be truly examines one self is no easy task.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is in line with other books about children who grow up in war torn African countries and find their way to America. Two that I am particularly fond of, What is the What by Dave Eggers, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. While the other two books are more concerned with historical context and the telling of a cohesive story, I found this book to be more thoughtful, more introspective, and more concerned with the greater narrative of suffering that we inflict upon one another.

While there are parts of this book that are disturbing and emotional, I would suggest you read it. I would suggest you bear witness to Wamariya and her journey.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

 

IMG_5163

When I picked this book to be covered on The Stacks Podcast (episode 4) I didn’t think much of the selection. I hadn’t heard people really talking about the book, but Sarah (my guest) and I agreed it seemed like something we’d both be interested in. I have to say, that honestly, I have never been more pleased with a decision to pick up a book in a long time.

Before I move on, here is a little bit about this book.

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life―to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth―and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

I found Men We Reaped to be one of the most powerful and moving books I’ve read in the last five years. The writing itself is beautiful and fluid. Ward takes her skills in writing poetic prose from her fiction work, and melds that with her life story. It reads almost like fiction, but better. She shares her own story with us chronologically, and then tells the story of each of the men who died, in reverse chronological order. These stories are woven together though the book. It is the only way the Men We Reaped could work, and it works beautifully.

This book is dissecting what is means to be young, black, and poor, in the American South. What is your life worth? Ward comes to some devastating conclusions there. I would argue that what she comes to, is bigger than just Southern life, this book could be set anywhere. It isn’t, because it is Ward’s story, but what she discovers touches on universal themes in the Black American experience. I would put this book alongside James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ward’s Memoir is telling of the greater history of what happens to Black folks in this country. Her message is loud and clear.

I would be remiss not to mention that this book is also about what it means to survive. Ward writes this story, because she can, because she is alive. She is surrounded by the women of her family, and it becomes clear that the history of the Black matriarchy is no accident either. The strength of the women in this story is unparalleled.

This book is a wonderful gift that Jesmyn Ward has shared with us. It is deeply personal, and still finds a way to be universal. It is at once poetic and direct. I feel honored that she chose to share her words with the world.

I have recommended this book to just about everyone I know, and have yet to hear a bad word back (I’m waiting though, you know there are always the haters). If you haven’t read it, you should move it to the top of your list. It is that good. Then give The Stacks Episode 4 a listen. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

  • Paperback : 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (September 16, 2014)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Men We Reaped on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham

F927F164-6B25-4465-B5F2-1327D486C40B

I heard about this book from Subway Book Review on Instagram and I added it to my TBR (to be read) list thinking I would get to it eventually. However, I decided that I would be focusing on reading a little more about immigration this month, and decided why not dive into this book.

If you’re like me and knew nothing about this book before now, here is a little intro to the story

In this urgent chronicle of contemporary immigration, journalist Lauren Markham follows the seventeen-year-old Flores twins as they make their harrowing journey across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of immigration authorities, and from there to their estranged older brother’s custody in Oakland, CA. Soon these unaccompanied minors are navigating a new school in a new language, working to pay down their mounting coyote debt, and facing their day in immigration court, while also encountering the triumphs and pitfalls of life as American teenagers—girls, grades, Facebook—with only each other for support. With intimate access and breathtaking range, Markham offers a coming of age tale that is also a nuanced portrait of Central America’s child exodus, an investigation of U.S. immigration policy, and an unforgettable testament to the migrant experience.

This book is a fascinating look at the current immigration situation in Central America. It is at once both, micro and macro. In the small sense we follow a set of Salvadorian twins as they leave home and move to California. We experience their failures and triumphs, their pain and their joy. We watch them as they navigate life away from home and family in a whole new world, El Norte. Some of the things they go through are harrowing and spirit breaking, and we follow them as they navigate that. As they grow and as they stumble.

Markham doesn’t stop there. She uses this story as a jumping off point to tell a much bigger story. The story of how this crisis started, how it has evolved, and how dangerous it has all become. Both life in these Central American countries, and life upon coming to America. She looks at the economic instability and violence that prompts people to leave home. We look at the choice to leave home, and how in the face of fear for one’s life, that that choice is less of a choice, and more of an ultimatum. Markham also examines how America has been involved in helping to create the instability in Central America, and what responsibility America has to right their wrongs?

I was moved by this book. I felt I learned so much, and understood the immigration situation, especially that of unaccompanied minors much better. I felt connected to the twins and their personal struggles in a way that humanized children that flee their hometowns to find a better life for themselves and their families. It was a reminder that these children are just that, children, and that they deserve a chance to thrive, and not merely survive. No matter where they were born and what mistakes they make along the way.

I would recommend this book to just about anyone. A lot of the themes are universal, and the topic is so current, it is worth reading and thinking about. If you do read it, or you have read it tell me what you thought about it.

  • Audio CD: 11 hours 12 minutes
  • Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
  • Publisher: Random House Audio (September 12, 2017)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy The Far Away Brothers  in print or audio on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

4B442F83-01A5-4238-BBE1-6B5C2C1CCB6D

I was very nervous to read this book. When it came in the mail, it was huge, and that really freaked me out. I should have expected a huge book given the fact that racist ideas in America are almost never ending, but actually seeing this book and holding it in my hands was intimidating. It sat on my shelf for about six months before I actually started it.

More on this book

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Ibram X. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

This is one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read. Kendi is taking on racist ideas in America, and that is no small task. He expertly guides the reader through debates about race taking place at any given time in the US. He presents the different sides, and exposes the thinking that has shaped American culture since its earliest days.. His ambition pays off, not only is this book detailed and expansive, it is clear and direct. Kendi won The National Book Award for Non-Fiction with Stamped from the Beginning, and it is well deserved.

At the risk of sounding cliche, and in all earnestness, this book is eye-opening and life changing. It is an academic exploration of things we’ve come to know anecdotally as residents of the United States, but have never truly grappled with. This book gives background to standardized testing, affirmative action, popular films and so much more. Kendi is relentless in his dissection of racist ideas and the cultural importance they have had. For example he spends time talking about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to illustrate how pivotal these books were in spreading ideas about Black Americans across the country and the world.

Kendi is patient with his reader and explains things in detail. Dissecting key moments in American history, both culturally and legislatively, to develop the progress of racist, assimilationist, and antiracist thoughts over time. From the start of slavery through to the presidency of Barack Obama there is never a dull moment for the reader or for racist ideas. Kendi is there to help the reader make sense of it all and give ideas their proper context and in turn show the extent of their reach.

This book was challenging to read. I struggled and reread many passages to make sure it was all sinking in. That was part of the enjoyment of this book, really being challenged to grapple with the ideas and the text.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone. Especially if you consider yourself an antiracist or an ally in the fight for equity in this country, or if you’re interested in learning more about Blackness and anti-Blackness.

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2017)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Stamped from the Beginning on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here