Readers with any interest in biography, business, technology or the company of Apple would appreciate Walter Isaacson’s 630-page tome on Steve Jobs.
I found it fascinating. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the great Christmas present.
Isaacson’s biography of the Apple icon is a bit workmanlike, but it successfully illumines the man behind the Apple Macintosh computer and iEverything.
I knew Jobs was a creative genius. This book shows in detail how he contributed to the inventions to which he’s credited, without underplaying the contributions of others like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Apple chief designer Jony Ive. Isaacson interviewed more than 100 family members, friends and adversaries for the book, and his research shows. I was particularly impressed with the volume of comments from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Jobs’s quintessential competitor.
What I didn’t know was what an “asshole” Steve Jobs was (that’s Isaacson’s word). Isaacson’s descriptions of Jobs’s vulgar language, his treatment of anyone he didn’t consider an A player (including hapless waiters) and his arrogance in the face of criticism make him sound like a tyrant. His soft side as a parent is barely perceptible. Isaacson also spends a lot of time describing Jobs’s strange diet (which doesn’t make him an asshole, per se, but is evidence of his sometimes strange perspective). Primarily a vegetarian throughout his life, he sometimes spent weeks drinking only carrot juice or eating only apples. Early on in his career, numerous people complained about Jobs’s body odor because he failed to shower regularly, under the misguided assumption that his fruitarian diet prevented B.O. Reading between the lines, Jobs’ thought his shit didn’t stink.
What a jerk.
Still, I admire his business philosophies and design aesthetics. Isaacson packages the story in such as way as to make me believe the genius would not have been that way without the asshole.
One might wonder if Isaacson really needed so many pages to describe Jobs’ life. I never found him wordy, and I read straight through. I can’t imagine the reams of information he had to comb through. The author repeats some details a bit much (like descriptions of Jobs’ diet and bad language), but that approach actually offers a way for someone who only wants to know about, say, Jobs’ career at Pixar or how the iPod came to life, to dip into only those chapters and still have context.
The “story” is presented more or less chronologically, which may not be literary, but it’s sort of required in a standard biography. Isaacson writes a nice summation at the end though he comes off like a bit of a sycophant (“History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford”; perhaps so, Mr. Isaacson, but history will tell us that so you don’t need to).
The cover is perfect for a biography of a man who found simplicity to be sophisticated. Though Jobs had little to do with the words inside (other than provide 40 interviews with Isaacson), he did influence the cover before he died. It’s only the words “Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson” and a backgroundless image of Jobs gazing out at the reader with his legendary stare. It’s as menacing as it is pure.
Other Minnesota Transplant posts about Steve Jobs: