Book reveals complex nature of Steve Jobs’ success

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).

steve jobs coverThe 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:


3 responses to “Book reveals complex nature of Steve Jobs’ success

  1. My long-ago former boss Mike actually helped Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Mike Markulla develop the “Apple Values” by which they created the corporate culture. He was one of the first people outside the inner circle to see the original prototype of the precursor to the first Mac. He and Steve became friends, and Steve would call the office (where I worked) to talk with Mike. Apparently Mike was one of the A Players that Steve actually liked, because he was nothing but kind and charming with him. In fact, I’ve often thought that the entire “think different” campaign came from a lecture that Mike gave to Apple shortly after Steve took charge again, because it was so similar to Mike’s speaking material at the time. I actually tried to contact Mr. Isaacson when I heard he was working on the book, because I thought he’d want to know about Mike (and Mike had some great stories about that time). Sadly, no connection made. 🙂 I always felt that Mike was hugely instrumental in the development of Apple’s culture, but largely unknown to anyone other than the original Apple founders.

    Anyway, just a bit of trivia, but Mike always talked about Steve in a way that made him seem like a true creative genius (no one can argue that) AND a really great person. I guess perspective is everything.

    • I think you offer good perspective. AFTER I wrote my review, I went out the Amazon to check out other people’s reviews. Most of the 1-star reviews take issue with Isaacson’s harsh treatment of Jobs — they thought it was unwarranted. At least one accused Isaacson of swinging the pendulum too far in an effort NOT to look like an authorized biography.

      Time is a great soother, and Steve Jobs — dying in the middle of his life — didn’t get the benefit of a long lens when the people he pissed off had forgotten why they were pissed off.

  2. Pingback: “Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” | My Mind Bursts

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