From Silicon Valley to France: Books read

BAD BLOOD: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the company she founded that was going to revolutionize health care by making it possible to carry out simple blood tests with a small portable unit, and with a finger-prick instead of a conventional syringe (Holmes is a needle-phobe). While Carreyrou thinks Holmes started out with sincere goals, those goals were way more technically challenging than she realized (the book does a very good job explaining why). Her solution when they proved impossible was to increase the hype about what her technology could do and to back up the hype by falsifying test results, lying to investors, lying to regulators and to patients who thought the tests were reliable. As Carreyrou points out, bullshit about Awesome New Technology is common in Silicon Valley, but people’s health isn’t usually on the line.

This is a very good book, showing how easily Holmes managed to cheat or charm her way around the obstacles that should have stopped her: firing anyone who questioned her and threatening the Wall Street Journal (Carreyrou’s employer) with lawsuits. Holmes herself remains an enigma but I’d prefer that to the author just guessing about what was going on in her head.

AMERICAN CUISINE and How It Got This Way by Paul Freedman answers the question “is there an American cuisine?” with a “Yes!” — but rather than the regional cuisines some food historians focus on, he believes it’s in the mass-market canned goods, cereals and fast foods that dominated our food universe from the post-Civil War years through the 1970s. This isn’t a jeremiad about what’s wrong with American cooking; Freedman points out that while McDonalds drove many mom-and-pop roadside eateries out of business, that’s partly because you could rely on the chain to be clean and consistent rather than a crapshoot that might end up with food poisoning. Freedman also looks at regional food (though he points out that a lot of authentic regional dishes are now confined to history), ethnic cuisine, farm-to-table and the impact of the Food Network. He also touches on gender (men who cook complicated dishes are creative, women are finicky) and race, such as the reluctance to admit Southern food was black food (a standard explanation was that while black women were the hands, the mistress of the house was the brains). A good job.

While I wouldn’t bet against Bernard Cornwell writing another Sharpe book some day, SHARPE’S ASSASSIN feels very much like the farewell to his signature character. Set immediately after Sharpe’s Waterloo, it has Wellington assign Sharpe and Harper to a)capture an impregnable fortress that hasn’t accepted France has lost; b)rescue one of the prisoners from the dungeon; c) work with him to stop a fraternity of French officers plotting to assassinate Wellington and the newly restored French monarch in revenge for Napoleon’s defeat.

This isn’t the best of the series but it is good, and given authors returning years later to their popular early stuff (it’s been fifteen years since the last novel, Sharpe’s Trafalgar) that’s more than enough. And it is a good finalé for Sharpe’s military career as he and Harper accept that they’re ready to embrace their Happy Ever After (I would have been worried Cornwell would kill off either Sharpe or Harper but then I remembered this is a retcon and they’re alive in 1820 for Sharpe’s Devil).

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “From Silicon Valley to France: Books read

  1. Pingback: Books for our time | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Unsafe in any station | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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