Steve Jobs

by Walter Isaacson

Hardcover, 2011




New York : Simon & Schuster, c2011.


Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years, as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues, the author has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering. Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted. Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple's hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values. -- From publisher.… (more)

Media reviews

Steve Jobs dreamed of a legacy that awed people. He wanted to be in the pantheon of great product innovators, indeed surpassing Edwin Land and even his early icons William Hewitt and David Packard. But, Jobs created more than great products. Just as significant was his ability to create great companies with valuable brands. And, he created two of the best of his era: Apple and Pixar.
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Isaacson’s book is long, dull, often flat-footed, and humorless. It hammers on one nail, incessantly: that Steve Jobs was an awful man, but awful in the service of products people really liked (and eventually bought lots of) and so in the end his awfulness was probably OK. It is not Isaacson’s fault that Jobs from early on had a “admixture of sensitivity and insensitivity, bristliness and detachment,” as Isaacson describes it, or that Jobs abandoned friends, thought almost everyone else was a shithead, showed little interest in his daughters, and made life generally miserable for anyone who had to provide a good or service to him. But it is Isaacson’s fault that the biography is so narrowly focused on one moral theme. The reader is left to judge, with plenty of evidence both ways—and a clear idea of where Isaacson’s sympathies lie—whether Jobs deserves the Artist’s Exemption.
As Walter Isaacson says in this incisive biography, Jobs behaved like a Nietzschean superman, using his will – transmitted through an unblinking stare – as a remote-control device that compelled others to do his bidding.
While Jobs was a vigorous competitor, he also came to view himself as an elder statesman with a responsibility for giving advice to Google’s Page, Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other emerging technology executives, according to “Steve Jobs,” an authorized biography by Walter Isaacson and published by CBS Corp. (CBS)’s Simon & Schuster. It goes on sale Oct. 24.
Mr. Isaacson treats “Steve Jobs” as the biography of record, which means that it is a strange book to read so soon after its subject’s death. Some of it is an essential Silicon Valley chronicle, compiling stories well known to tech aficionados but interesting to a broad audience. Some of it is already quaint. Mr. Jobs’s first job was at Atari, and it involved the game Pong. (“If you’re under 30, ask your parents,” Mr. Isaacson writes.) Some, like an account of the release of the iPad 2, is so recent that it is hard to appreciate yet, even if Mr. Isaacson says the device comes to life “like the face of a tickled baby.”

User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
The book follow's Steve Job's personal life, which is to say it talks about his beloved company, Apple throughout, since Jobs' modus operandi at Apple has been part of Steve's DNA from the moment his adoptive father showed him that design excellence means getting even the details that nobody sees well crafted. The first half of the book talks about his biological parents and how he came to be adopted. Then about his adoptive parents and his early childhood and propensity for getting into trouble at school, mostly because he was so clever that he was easily bored. Then comes the friendship with Steve Wozniak with who Jobs created the first Apple computer. Wozniak was another genius, and passionate about engineering. Things get very technical to explain their early experimentation with electronics, as we're taken through the process of how the first Apple computer came to be, then the Apple II, then the Lisa, and finally the Macintosh, all created when Jobs was still in his early 20s. To show just how integral Apple was to his life and what a complex personality Jobs was, he named the Lisa after a daughter he had more or less abandoned in his early 20s. His personal life was messy. He studied Zen Buddhism from his late teens, adopted all kinds of extreme vegan diets, experimented a lot with LSD, did the whole India thing, and all these experiences somehow became connected to the products he created. How and why he was ousted from Apple in the 80s is discussed at length and in great detail, with countless quotes and bits of dialogue from many of the players involved, which to me ended up sounding more than anything like office politics being discussed around the water cooler. I've never been a water cooler kind of person, so found that part very irritating. Eventually in the second half, we get to Steve returning to Apple after several failures and the timeline continues to cover both his personal life and the inventions and products he created with the iPod, iTunes, the iTunes store, the Apple stores (which were thought by some analysts to fail miserably after one year), then the creation of the iPhone and finally, the iPad and the iCloud. Of course the last chapters examine his cancer and treatments, and how he eventually came to succumb to the illness.

If you, like me, are interested to learn about the thinking behind these revolutionary products, this book is just the ticket for you. If you want a book with plenty of quotes and comments from people who knew and worked with Steve Jobs, along with plenty of comments from the horse's mouth, again, this is the book to go to. I found the evolution of the thinking behind each product and how it came to be designed and produced to be fascinating. But.

For the first half of the book, I kept wondering why I was even bothering with it. Jobs comes off as one of the most unlikeable people imaginable. It may be that he was as unpleasant as portrayed, but I found it strange that he didn't seem to have a single redeeming quality, save for his focus on perfection. His personal charm was mentioned casually as just another tool in his arsenal, another means to an end, when the bullying had run it's course.

I wish I'd kept track of amount of times the term Reality Distortion Field was mentioned. As says on wikipedia: "RDF was said to distort an audience's sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and made them believe that the task at hand was possible. While RDF has been criticized as anti-reality, those close to Jobs have also illustrated numerous instances in which creating the sense that the seemingly impossible was possible led to the impossible being accomplished." I got the point the first and tenth and fiftieth time.

I suppose that Isaacson wanted to be true to Steve Jobs' manner of expression, so the entire book was filled wall to wall with expletives. Although I'm a big fan of Apple products, I don't have a particular bias towards Job; but what grated on me was that his brand of genius as a visionary with faultless design sense and a brilliant marketer didn't seem to carry much weight. Imagine someone writing about Picasso and focusing most of all on what a horrid man he was to others with offhanded mentions of what a brilliant artist he was. Comparing Jobs to Picasso might not be entirely appropriate, but it's undeniable that both men left a legacy that did, and will outlive them both. Yet, Jobs, ever the control freak, repeatedly told Isaacson he would not ask to see the manuscript and would not read the book when it was published, saying he knew there was a lot of it he wouldn't like, but trusting the author would write an accurate portrayal of him. To me, that speaks of a man who accepts himself with all his foibles, and that alone is a quality worthy of admiration.
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
19. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011, 656 pages, read Jan 25 – Apr 27)

What was I thinking to read this and what was I thinking to read it the way I did? Anyway it all worked out. Steve Jobs was terribly arrogant, carelessly ruthless (sometimes intentionally so), and amazingly impressive all at the same time and in the same life. Walter Isaacson, editor of Time Magazine, is a master of the modern popular biography. What am I trying to say anyway? I had some kind of love/hate relationship with both the author and the subject, which just makes this hard to respond to.

Ok, first of all Jobs. You probably know the basics, the Apple II, Steve Wozniak's world-changing creation from his free time, and the company that came out of Steve Job's garage. Maybe you recall Pong, or the original Macintosh and the original GUI screens. Perhaps you know the story of Job's luring John Sully away from Pepsi, although you may not know Sully later kicked Jobs out of Apple. Maybe you know of Job's roll behind Pixar and surely you know his roll in reviving Apple and leading the way to the iPod, iPhone & iPad, and actually changing the world. And it might cross you mind, if your about my age, or maybe one or two decades older, on how much of this is actually THE story of our time - the creation of the personal computer through to the iPad...all this from a guy who couldn't code.

What Isaacson brings across all this is the striking mixture of traits that made Jobs Jobs. He was spoiled, selfish, pouty, brutal, motivating, inspiring, manipulative, cruel, conniving and two-faced, sharp. A showman and master salesman, a man who could lead and make his people make things, just with his words. His ups and downs are fascinating, and it all came together so perfectly when he returned to apple, it's really a tragedy he isn't still around to see it make it evolve. But still, I just can't help thinking to myself of the time when Jobs was presented as retuning to Apple, and there was much many of those people cheering were Apple employees, and how many were aware that they were cheering their own layoff?

As for the writing, Isaacson allowed me to read this book in four months without losing anything. You can pick it up, read for 20 minutes, and put it down with a story in your head, complete, and then you can pick it up again two weeks later without even noticing the lapse. He is an artist. I don't know why I kept trying to find something wrong with Isaacson, something I didn't like. Maybe it was the Time Magazine thing, or maybe it was the forward where he felt the need to mention the number of interviews he did for this book (which left me wanting to believe he was in some way insecure about the interviews he didn't do.) I don't know. Isaacson was pretty thorough and tells a great story. I think I just wanted him pining for depth. Surely it's there, but he just doesn't really seem to put any of that pining part in the final text. An artist of sorts, one of our time.

What to conclude on all that? This review is more of mixed rant. It's a great book and great story, even if part of me apparently didn't want it be.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Walter Isaacson has written a perfectly timed, highly readable but incurious Maureen Dowdesque biography of Steve Jobs. To understand Isaacson's approach to biography and journalism, it is helpful to note that Isaacson's leadership drove not one but two venerable US media properties into the ground (TIME magazine and CNN). He now directs the Aspen Institute, the Davos for non-thinkers. His approach is characterized by a relentless quest for the shallow, a perpetual "we'll have to leave it there" when faced with real questions, and an inveterate urge to brown-nose the rich and powerful. He can be quite critical about out-of-power and dead persons (Jobs is the chief victim of that), but acting CEOs and celebrities are treated like demigods.

Often mentioned in reviews, Isaacson hones in - in pure Maureen Dowd mode - multiple times on the younger Steve Jobs' crazy theory that his vegetarianism made showering unnecessary, a theory quickly disproved by reality and its unpleasantness heavily signaled to Jobs by his environment. Isaacson never confronted Jobs about the issue to discuss and reveal why Jobs persisted in a behavior obviously olfactory hurtful to the people exposed to him. At the core, Jobs remained a petulant, egoistic and often cruel child that never grew up, Peter Pan's evil stepbrother.

Another non- to half-discussed issue is Jobs' Indian influence. How can one square the idea of karma with Jobs' relentless bullying and being a jerk? He notoriously parked on handicapped parking spaces and refused to equip his cars with number plates. Such antisocial behavior is only possible in the Unequal States of America. In a nation of laws, he would have been required to personally demonstrate the application of his plates on his car to the authorities. If he continued driving without plates, he would have been stripped off his driving license. If he then continued driving, he would have been met with the escalating full strength of the government.

Isaacson also excuses Jobs' bullying of countless waiters and receptionists who had to endure Jobs' princess-and-the-pea behavior, sending back products time and again. Jobs' cruelty extended to his own employees whom he cheated out of options and which he tried to deprive of fourteen days severance pay. Social Darwinism not an Indian social contract guided Jobs' philosophy.

Jobs' childlike being was also his source of his strength: Like any child, he was unwilling to accept a no, asking again and again for favors, crying, whining, but especially schmoozing with unblinking eyes and using a child's gift of offering another person its concentrated, full attention. In these moments, Jobs seemed to live with, through and for the other person who became intoxicated with Jobs' flattering them. Jobs trained and perfected his gift for cajoling and flattering audiences first on socially awkward nerds who, in exchange for Jobs' attention, handed him control of their inventions.

Jobs was not an inventor or innovator, he was a prosumer. He was his own client number one. He tested and adapted other people's ideas and products to his own personal needs as a finicky customer. Jobs' products won when the technology leaders failed to do their job. IBM or Xerox should have built the Apple II/Mac, Disney Pixar, Sony the iPod, the telecoms the iPhone and media companies the iPad. When an industry is roused out of its complacency, Apple is typically squeezed out of the market. Jobs' strength was to entice and bully the dinosaurs' ignorant CEOs. Isaacson again fails to deliver the juicy details about these negotiations.

While Apple's genial marketing positioned it as a rebel, about being different, it and Jobs were conservative even reactionary in its views. His love for Big Brother can be best seen in his vision for the new Apple HQ which is in the form of a transparent circle. In architecture, the circle is used for defense and for prisons. The circle offers cheap total surveillance from the center, especially given Jobs' penchant for glass which obliterates personal defensive space. The contrast between the humane Pixar HQ which benefited from other people's ideas and Apple HQ couldn't be starker. The removal of the Mac arrow keys, the inability to exchange iPod or iPhone batteries and the draconic restrictions of the Apple software store are examples of Jobs' predilection for taking away customer control. The masses must be provided with locked-in and closed-off products. In the end, Winston Smith learned not to think different and he loved it.

The products from Cupertino changed how humans interact with technology. Given that Jobs' profited from other people's inventions and ideas, it is highly likely that they would have seen the light of day at some other company under a less controlling CEO sooner or later. Ultimately, the worship and deference shown to Jobs is only partially merited. This biography does not offer a full assessment of Steve Jobs. His standard biography has yet to be written.
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LibraryThing member Hectigo
Steve Jobs was a remarkable person, truly the corporate leader of the century - but maybe also the hardest person to work with in the whole industry. The book pulls no punches to criticize his person and uses superlatives lavishly while describing his work, which is as should be. Personal computing has transformed our lives in a fundamental way, and no-one else has had a stronger influence to that revolution as Steve. Thus the book is also more than the story of his life: it's a story of the Silicon Valley, told from a very good vantage point. It has sound insights into running a small or large company, how to market technology products and how to make a dent in the universe while doing so.

There are a few faults in the pacing, that might have been improved by editing, and the book might have provided more insight into Apple if it had waited until the last products Steve worked on would be on store shelves. But while it might be a bit rushed, it's still based on thorough research, and is a must read for anyone planning to do business related to technology. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member Pennydart
I’m not a big fan of Apple products. I appreciate the sleek physical design of their computers, but for me computer technology is more about function than form, and while there was a time when Apple machines just plain worked better than PCs, those days are long gone. Like most people today, probably 80% of what I do on a computer involves using Microsoft tools—Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook—and they just don’t work as well on Macs as they do on PCs. This may not be Apple’s fault, but it’s the reality. My iPod is fine, but I’ve never owned an iPhone: I’m a Verizon customer and until recently iPhones weren’t available for Verizon, and so I’ve purchased Windows Mobile and Android devices, which have met my needs. And as for iPads: well, I had one, which I very seldom used, and I eventually gave it to my grown daughter.

All this surprises, and sometimes irks, the many of my colleagues in the IT world who are huge Apple fans. Just as Apple attracts almost zealous support from its customer, so did Apple’s founder Steve Jobs. I was in Palo Alto a few days after his death this past fall, and the local Apple Store had become a shrine, its entire plate-glass windows covered with sticky notes eulogizing him, and the sidewalk out front covered with bouquets and Teddy Bears. But if Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs is even half accurate, Jobs was not an easy man to like. Admire, yes, in some ways, but not like. While Isaacson lauds Jobs for being a genius who had a remarkable string of achievements that dramatically changed at least five industries, he pulls no punches in his portrayal of Jobs as a seriously flawed human being: someone who was arrogant, petulant, bullying, disloyal, and flat-out mean. It’s almost stunning that Jobs, with his keen interest in Zen, didn’t worry about the bad karma he exuded making its way into the products about whose designs he cared so deeply.

Some of Jobs’ personal characteristics were already well-known, notably including his extreme need for control. His ability to see the world as he wanted it to be and not how it really is—what Jobs’ friends referred to as his “reality distortion field”—is also fairly widely known: it’s what enabled him time and again to make the seemingly impossible happen, and to convince those around him to help in his quests to do so. But it may also have played a direct role in his death, as he put off surgery for his newly detected cancer for nearly 9 months, possibly partly because he simply chose to believe that the cancer’s threat wasn’t real.

Jobs asked Isaacson to write his biography, and although Isaacson originally declined, Jobs pressed the issue when it became clear that he was dying. In complete contrast to his usual control-freak nature, he gave free reign to the biographer, except for one detail: he chose the cover art, a black and white photo in which Jobs stares straight on at the reader, his thumb posed at his chin, looking, well, visionary . Jobs tells Isaacson that he knows that much of what’s written in the biography will make him angry, and says he won’t read it until a year after it’s been published, although he also knows that the likelihood of him living that long is extremely slim. And indeed, Jobs did die, several weeks in advance of the publication. It’s hard to say what Jobs would have thought of the book: whether he’d have taken pride in its recognition of the tremendous impact he had on the world, or whether he’d have been embarrassed by its bald description of the bad behavior he exhibited towards so many people around him. Almost certainly he would have appreciated Isaacson’s clear, straightforward, and brutally honest writing.
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LibraryThing member DanStratton
I think I killed Steve Jobs. I’m sorry everyone. I didn’t mean to, but I think it was me.

You see, I have been a Windows kind of guy for my whole career in computers. I bought an IBM XT clone for my first computer back in 1987. I knew about Apple computers, but I was a Microsoft guy, through and through. I left a mainframe computer programmer job to work on PCs. I wrote code on a beta version of Windows 95.

I listened to my artistic friends go on and on about how wonderful their Macs were and basically ignored them. When my son and daughter got into video editing, I broke down and bought them an iMac. I tried to use it, but I couldn’t figure it out. I guess I was too engrained in the Windows way of the world. I did have an iPod. In fact, I have had three over the years. I even bought an iPhone early last year because I was tired of trying to find a smartphone that was a good phone.

But back to my confession. I really think I killed Steve Jobs. I bought a MacBook Air on October 4, 2011. He died the next day, unable to withstand the shock of my conversion.

You would think after my conversion, I would have lined up first to read Isaacson’s biography of the man who sucked me in. I didn’t. I resisted for a long time, just like I did with my computer. I knew I would eventually give in. I listened to my friends comment about the book. Much of what they said, confirmed what I thought of Steve Jobs. A couple of weeks ago, though, I finally decided it was time to find out the story behind the man everyone has been heralding as a modern prophet of innovation.

A few years ago, Steve Jobs requested Walter Isaacson, a report he knew, to write his biography. Isaacson resisted for a long time. He didn’t know about Jobs’ cancer and thought it was a project for “some day”. Every time Jobs saw him at press events for the next few years, he would insist he do it. When Isaacson learned of Jobs’ cancer, he realized he needed to get started. I am glad he did, too. The result was a uncensored view one of the most influential men of the century.

Jobs promised to not try to influence who he spoke with or what he wrote and he held to that promise. The more I read about Jobs’ career, I can see that must have been the most restraint he had ever exercised. Jobs was a controlling pursuant of perfection in every aspect of his life. He domineered everyone he came in contact with. He would inject his standards on every aspect of everyone around him.

The stories Isaacson tells confirmed all the rumors I had heard over the years about Steve Jobs. A tyrant to work for, he would scream and yell at anyone who didn’t measure up, regardless of their position or abilities. His employees knew that if they ever produced anything with a flaw, or sometimes even when it was perfect, there was always a chance Jobs would go off like a rocket, swearing, belittling and heaping on the the verbally abuse. He would even do it to other CEOs without regard. Even casual acquaintances or US presidents were not exempt: both Rupert Murdoch and Barrack Obama received unsolicited advice on their shortcomings.

He wasn’t any better with his family, either. His daughters were largely ignored. The family always took second seat to his first love: Apple. He did spend time with his son and even prayed that he would survive his cancer long enough to see his son graduate, but his three daughters did not enjoy that level of interest.

Isaacson offers a uninhibited view of why we forgive this poor excuse of a human being. In short, his brilliance in designing user friendly products is unparalleled. His drive for perfection created some of the most widely accepted products the world has known. His string of successes in quite amazing. The Apple II, Macintosh, iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air, iPod, iPhone and the iPad. Don’t forget Pixar. Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, The Incredibles and many others form an unbroken string of blockbusters. On the way, he built a dominant company, was kicked out, came back, rescued it and built it into the most valuable company on planet Earth, all in 56 years.

While I don’t admire the man for how he lived his life, I do admire the success he had in spite of all his personal weaknesses. I don’t hold him up as the titan others may do, but my hat is off to what he accomplished in his short life. I am glad he left extensive notes for Apple’s future and built a group of achievers just as committed to his dreams as he. I believe he did exactly what he wanted: build a long-lasting company and give the world amazing tools to express themselves. He made a convert out of me.
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LibraryThing member dtn620
Wow, Steve Jobs was a genius but he was also kind of a dick. Luckily for us Isaacson was freely able to tell the story of the real Steve Jobs. There were a few areas of Apple's history I'd like to have heard more about (for example: how/why AT&T was chosen for the iPhone first) but perhaps those things had less to do with Steve Jobs than it had to do with the company of Apple.

A number of reviewers rated this book based on their personal feelings of Jobs rather than the quality of Isaacson's book. Isaacson does an admirable job and nails the pacing as I never felt the book dragged. Rarely have I felt sad when nearing the end of a 600 page biography. This time I did, and I think that says a lot about Steve Jobs and even more about Walter Isaacson.
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LibraryThing member eireannach
This is a workmanlike biography although, one feels, not one that would have satisfied the subject's passion for excellence. The ending felt rushed, with the last few chapters appearing to have been cobbled together without a coherent narrative. A bigger failing, however, is the author's inability to understand and explain Jobs' personality. True, he informs us - ad nauseum - that Jobs was an emotional character, often driven literally to tears, while also being bi-polar, or at least probably missing a sense of empathy and having narcissistic tendencies, but clearly there was more to Jobs than that, as evidenced by the depth of some of his friendships. Isaacson, though, fails to get there. Overall, he does a reasonable job of describing the evolution of Apple, and for anyone with an interest in technology, or anyone with an interest in understanding what makes a company excellent, this book is a worthwhile read.… (more)
LibraryThing member JA_Paul
I loved this book. I learned more than I ever imagine I would when I started it. The man behind Apple/Next/Pixar was a fascinating individual who covered an extreme range of intellect, emotion and behavior. If you are a Macintosh, Apple, Pixar, iPod, iPhone or iPad fan I think you will find this biography as interesting as I did.
The book not only highlights Jobs but many, if not most of the Silicon Valley tech guru's as these people floated in and out of his life.
It also covers all aspects of his life from early childhood to his last days with cancer. How he did and did not interact with his own family to his forcibly direct and brutal honesty while touching on his sometimes vain and delicate emotions.
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LibraryThing member nmele
Isaacson doesn't just tell you who Jobs was and what he did, he explains why he was who was and why he did what he did. Great book, great character study.
LibraryThing member rivkat
Steve Jobs loved design, and built a massively valuable company on that love (also Pixar, a large success on its own). People, he had more problems with—as recent revelations about the human impact of that love of design have shown, with workers suffering massively to make beautiful things at acceptably low prices for Apple. Isaacson doesn’t cover that, though he does discuss how Apple demanded price concessions and sited production in China in order to keep costs down—its beautiful products were already expensive, after all. Jobs seems like he was a nightmare to work with, from insisting that keeping to weird diets meant that he didn’t need to bathe to taking credit for any idea he didn’t conclude was “shit” to deliberately saying the cruelest things he could think of to people who’d disappointed him. Also, though Isaacson doesn’t come out and say it in so many words, he favored his son over his daughters (not just the daughter it took him years to acknowledge, but the younger ones—he took his son to business meetings and on a trip of his son’s choice, but reneged on the same promise to his next youngest daughter a few years later). Random thought—it’s hard to imagine a huge biography about a major female figure that acknowledges in passing that she had an eating disorder (even using that term) that contributed to her early death, and doesn’t spend any time psychoanalyzing the source of same. Actually, it’s hard to imagine a woman getting away with half of the crap Jobs pulled. One might be left with the question “was it worth it?” but I’d also want to ask “is that really the tradeoff?” Now I want a biography of Bill Gates, who is increasingly rising in my estimation simply by contrast—he shows up here mostly to get pounded on and occasionally to snap back about design v. openness.… (more)
LibraryThing member petterw
An excellent biography of one of the greatest and most influential geniuses of our time, but at the same time a flawed individual who knew he was just that. The book reads like a thriller, and for me who have been a follower of Apple since the first Macintosh to today's iPad. I have learnt more from this biography than from the total collection of business books I have read the last couple of years, how to focus on product before profit, how to focus, how to empathise with your customers - and not the least to impute value in your products. Walter Isaacson has written a biography with a lot of respect, while at the same time avoiding adolation. The result is a naked portrait of a whole individual, one who has influenced my generation more than most.… (more)
LibraryThing member ElectricRay
You're either an Apple Fan boy or you're not (I'm not, as a rule). I suspect many of the reviews of this book are, therefore, proxy votes not on Walter Isaacson's talent, but Steve Jobs'.

Isaacson has, as the heart of his book, the Steve Jobs business philosophy. It is this, as much as jobs' unnatural flair for design, which separates him from his peers: most of the rest of the founding fathers and prophets of the tech revolution - Hewlett, Packard, Grove, Gates, Brin and Page, Fanning, Lessig, Zitrain - even Apple's own Wozniak - are united by the same insight: that modular components which put the decision in the hands of the user make for a tremendously powerful thing. This is the genuinely revolutionary, anarchic disposition which has shocked the political, corporate and social order over the last 20 years. It's a revolution of which Steve Jobs, and his beloved Apple, wanted no part.

It is difficult to conceive of how different the world now is - hard to remember how rigid and immovable was the social architecture which the internet blew away (but which, if Zitrain is to be believed are regrouping forces). Flying in the face of the Web 2.0 dogma, Steve Jobs, virtually alone, believed in closed, tightly integrated, designed, controlled products. This remains a profoundly old-fashioned outlook for a tech company to adopt.

Isaacson does an excellent job of highlighting a colossal *conceptual* chasm between Apple and the rest that most users simply won't credit. An iPhone is, philosophically a very different thing to an android smartphone. An iMac is a profoundly different thing to a PC. Your preference between them still comes down to an instinct: as between closed and open; tight and loose; predictable and flexible; probable and possible; centrally planned and laissez faire; design and fiat and even, melodramatically, God and evolution. These days most folks seem to prefer centrally planned, at any rate inasmuch as they buy Apple's articulation of it.

Apple's articulation of it, of course, has been incredible. Even Bill Gates acknowledges that Apple has made some really cool stuff. (I'm hacking this review out on a dented Blackberry Curve, but coveting the iPad on the lap next to me. It irks me, but I really want one). And Steve Jobs accomplished this in a way that illustrates the validity of his model, however awkward that might be for the political orthodoxy. And he was a beastly bit of work while he was at it.

Walter Isaacson gives the most sullen Googlista reason to respect Steve Jobs' achievement, and the most fawning mac apologist reason to abhor him. Jobs was a difficult individual with little of the grace and style of his products. He was prone to angry tirades, and was often instantly dismissive of what turned out to be excellent suggestions. He was similar with his family. Those who stayed close enough, personally or professionally, to understand how he ticked (notably Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, wife Laurene Powell, chief Apple designer Jony Ive and Isaacson himself) learned to accommodate his foibles remarkably effectively, ignored the histrionics and did what they felt was the right thing anyway. Which, as Isaacson makes clear, is what Jobs expected anyway.

This is a well told story about the singular vision of a remarkable man.

Olly Buxton
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LibraryThing member invisiblelizard
You sort of have to get through the introductory hippy-dippy parts (first 4-5 chapters) before you get into the good stuff. Sure, Jobs was a free thinking, drug taking, world traveling, non-bathing, weird dieting person back then (which I guess sort of explains his idiosyncrasies later in life) but personally I would have summed that up in one good chapter and moved on. Once you get into his Apple days, the story really takes off. His life reads like fiction, like you couldn't possibly believe this character didn't get invented in the mind of some strange and twisted writer, but it's all true. The first tenure at Apple is interesting enough. Once he's ousted, the story slows for several chapters while you read about his next projects (pardon the pun) and more of his personal life. Then the pace really picks back up when he's brought back into Apple. I've been an Apple fan since my parents got me an Apple 2 back in the early 80's, so I was already familiar with a lot of the products Jobs ultimately worked to develop. Reading this book added a nice back-story to all of the toys I've loved over the years. Reading about his struggles with cancer was a bit depressing, but I knew going into this biography that the Titanic sinks at the end. I think the thrill (for me) is seeing how his legacy extends. He's been gone 6 months now, and I'm still amazed at how his influence set the pace and tone there at Apple to product great devices.

Personal takeaway from this book: I now have more walking meetings. Whenever possible I get out of the office and have meetings walking around this little pond at the back of our building.
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LibraryThing member bragan
I have to hand it to Walter Isaacson. He was commissioned by Jobs to write a warts-and-all biography, and he absolutely followed through. The portrait of Jobs he paints here is that of a man who somehow managed to combine some of the worst traits of capitalist and hippie, a man who was, frankly, a colossal ass. Although, admittedly, a colossal ass with with a real eye for design and a certain amount of vision. (And I can't deny it, I do love my iPod.)

As I was reading this, especially the earlier chapters, in which the focus was more on Jobs's personality than his not-yet-fully-realized technology empire, I kept thinking that I was going to end up rating this book lower than I actually have, just because I found spending time with its subject, however vicariously, to be simply too unpleasant. But in the end, I couldn't do it. Isaacson's skills as a biographer are so good, and the details of Jobs's career are so interesting, that it turned out to be an entirely worthwhile read, after all.
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LibraryThing member dirac
I did not like Steve Jobs. I do not like Apple products as I fall on the side of an open digital planet but this book is phenomenal. Since I am not a member of the cult of Apple, I am not sure how they will feel about this book but the honesty in it was refreshing. I did not want a posthumous 'let us praise Steve' book. Instead we see the slightly troubled, strong willed but amazingly insightful book of Steve.

It is annoying when people say he 'invented' anything. He did no such thing but he had vision. He knew what people would like in the future. His record was not a 100% but he certainly learned from his failures.

I did not like him and I still do not think he was a person I would like or want to meet. But I respect him. He was not an inventor but, and it pains me to say this, was a visionary.

The book does not hold back but does lean slightly towards a pro-Jobs view but if I interviewed someone for a couple of years and watch him die, I too would probably form a positive view of him.

Read this book.
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LibraryThing member realbigcat
I recently attended a lecture by Walter Isaacson and I found him to be a fascinating speaker and so well informed. He spoke often of Jobs and you could tell the tremndous impact Jobs had on Isaacson. I found the book to be so fasinating with Jobs being a creative genius and a quirky individual who in his own words could be an asshole. The book is very long but well worth the read as it covers Jobs entire life and the history of Apple. Jobs really was behind creating things that changed the world we live in. He was so complex and had such drive and ambition but yet like most creative people he could be completely lost on the simpliest things. There are so many other reviews with more details but if you want a great biography this is it.… (more)
LibraryThing member dasam
Jobs was an amazingly creative business leader, but I fear some folks will get the wrong message from his life. He was not creative and effective because he was a jerk. He may have been a jerk sometimes because he was passionate and perfectionistic, but his folks joined him in his endeavors because he had passion, vision and creativity and despite his being a bully.… (more)
LibraryThing member msaucier818
A fascinating read about the life of Steve Jobs. This is the first biography I have read about someone who was alive during most of my life. Reading about the evolution of the computer industry is following the timeline of my 33 years of life. I own/owned most of the technologies discussed in this book, so to read about the process of their development and marketing is really fun. Finding out about the design and engineering decisions is something that anyone who enjoys technology would appreciate.

On the other side of that coin, it turns out that Steve Jobs was a major league asshole. His drive and perfectionism inspired some truly amazing products, but his treatment of people, including employees, politicians, and even his own family, was simply horrible most of the time. I give the author credit for not sugar-coating any of his personality flaws, but it made it hard to root for Jobs when you could never really warm up to him as a person. I know I could never have worked for him.

Recommended for anyone of my generation who wants to read about an iconic figure and the development of the computer age.
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LibraryThing member santhony
This biography of Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was written by Walter Isaacson, whose previous works include biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Isaacson mentions (only partially in jest) that in persuading him to write his biography, Jobs felt himself a logical successor to the other two subjects.

After reading Isaacson’s work, I can say that Steve Jobs is one of the most original, fascinating figures of the last 200 years. It goes without saying that he is one of the most influential; a visionary, a revolutionary and a trailblazer almost without peer. Jobs has quite simply changed the landscape in personal computing, animated movies, music, tablet computing and communications. He deserves a spot alongside Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo DaVinci among the brilliant minds of western civilization.

That is not to say that Jobs is without his warts, and Isaacson catalogs many of them in this biography. As you might imagine, he was a free spirit as a teenager, dabbling in psychedelic drugs, marijuana, Zen Buddhism along with other counter culture pursuits of his contemporaries. He spent time in India, seeking the meaning of life, and fathered and abandoned a child in his early twenties. He was at times cruel, rude, inconsiderate and impatient with those not as brilliant as himself (which means virtually everyone). He could be generous at times, while at others, amazingly petty and vindictive. It has been advanced that Jobs suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the inability to display empathy for others. He also exhibited Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in his seemingly endless quest for absolute perfection in design of both his products and manufacturing processes. He was likely bi-polar, but his genius cannot be denied.

For years, we’ve taught our businessmen to “give the customer what he wants.” Jobs has turned that theory on its head, creating new and original products, then convincing the consuming public why they NEEDED it, because it is not enough to say that he was a visionary; he is perhaps an even better marketer and salesman than a developer of products.

This is one of the best biographies I’ve read, partially due to the fascination that Jobs evokes, but even more due to the fact that Isaacson paints a complete picture of this complex individual, warts and all. It has the added benefit of chronicling the advent of the technology movement, its key figures and companies from the 70s through the present, a spellbinding treat in itself.
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LibraryThing member robertmorrow
Let me first disclose that I have been a Mac user for all my adult life. My first computer was a Mac and I have owned several since. I currently own a MacBook Pro and an iMac as well as an iPhone and an iPad.

When I work on something made by Apple, I feel delight. When I have to work on an ugly piece of junk running the incredibly tedious Windows operating system, I feel depressed.

Steve Jobs is the person primarily responsible for creating that delight. His greatest achievement is to insist on high artistic standards in a world used to settling for mediocrity. That attitude led to defeat in the PC wars but also to a stunning turnaround and numerous victories after his return to Apple in the late 1990′s.

Image via Wikipedia
Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs clearly illustrates this fundamental genius, this obsession with doing things right rather than “good enough.” However, Isaacson is equally graphic about the man’s flaws: his habit of publicly humiliating others, his occasional deviousness, his strange dietary habits. The result is a balanced view of a person who had a tremendous impact on people all over the world, but also a person with defects like any other human being. Both his achievements and his defects were of the extreme variety, for the essential core of Steve Jobs was an endlessly burning intensity, and Isaacson certainly captures that all-consuming drive.

Unfortunately, it takes him a while to get there and find his literary rhythm. The first few chapters read like a biography rushed to publication too soon in order to capitalize on someone’s fame. The formula of anecdote/quote from Jobs becomes old very fast and I came very close to closing the book and moving on to something more interesting. What kept me going was I wanted to read the story of how Jobs saved Apple from destruction and as the story progresses, Isaacson’s writing becomes less formulaic and more compelling.

It is difficult to comprehend how low Apple had fallen in 1996. I had a PowerMac 7500 at the time running System 7.5.2 and I can’t tell you how many times each day the familiar exploding bomb would appear on the screen and I’d have to restart. They produced a laptop that kept catching fire. They were led by old, tired men in suits. Market share vanished, the stock bottomed out. The end game was near; Apple would either go belly-up or be carved up like the turkey it was.

Fast forward to 2011. For a couple of days, Apple was the richest company in the world. Apple stores have redefined the retail experience and are nearly always full of customers playing with various devices. iTunes and iPods created a new normal in music distribution. The iPhone and iPad redefined the mobile communications and entertainment experience.

How did Steve Jobs pull this off? This is where Isaacson’s story shines. The narrative is both exciting and educational, as it describes not only a marketer on top of his game but also the clear-headed strategist and the visionary synthesizing new opportunities that were on no one’s horizon. But while the story of Apple’s turnaround confirms this book’s value, the early years before, during and after Apple provide the paths that led to later success.

I want to make two small points. Bill Gates actually emerges as a respectable character, something that may offend some of the hardline Apple fanatics; he and Jobs simply saw the world differently, and both views had their value. Second, I have greater confidence in Apple’s future because Jobs simply didn’t create great products, he restructured the company’s DNA to ensure that his focus on artistic excellence would outlive him. It also doesn’t hurt that Jonathan Ives, Jobs’ equal in design, is still with Apple.

The general consensus is that this is a 4-star biography, and I would agree with that assessment. Weak opening aside, this is an educational book from a business perspective, a cautionary tale about self-balance and narcissism, and a story of how, in too rare circumstances, artistic vision can work to change the world.
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LibraryThing member richard.thurman
This book is positioned at the rare nexus of a brilliant biographer and an amazing subject. I've read several of Isaacson's biographies (Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein), and they never disappoint. He has that rare gift that I have always appreciated in a history teacher of being able to recount the past as an enthralling, engaging story. But with Steve Jobs he completely outdoes himself. The book moves along at a torrid pace. It is not told completely chronologically; but rather as a series of stories about different events. He tells the story of the iPod, then he tells the story of Pixar being sold to Disney, then he tells the story of the early failures of Jobs' health. All three stories overlap in time, but are incredible narratives in their own right.

I loved reading about why the Beatles did not permit the sale of their music on iTunes, how Jobs' took the idea of a GUI from Xerox (and Xerox management didn't even mind), the ideological battle over an integrated but closed architecture versus an open but inelegant design, how Job's set aside the creation of the iPad in order to focus on the iPhone.

I also enjoyed getting to know what made Jobs tick. He is portrayed with all his flaws; and they are many. This man who changed so much about our world was neither a good boss nor a good husband/father. And yet his employees and his family loved him.

I heartily recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member jcopenha
A great recounting of an unfortunately short life. Steve Jobs doesn't sound like he was a nice person to be around most of the time, but he sure did have an amazing vision and the ability to make it reality. It was great to read all of stories I had heard piecemeal over the years in one setting and in much better context.
LibraryThing member dazzyj
Straightforwardly and engagingly told story of Jobs' life that helps one see how and why this profoundly unusual man mattered so much to the way we live now.
LibraryThing member Doondeck
A spectacular account of a maniacal and brilliant man whose products I love. Isaacson provides both a business and personal story of this unique individual.



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