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.
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.
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 evolve...to 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 cheering...how 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wanted so badly to like Steve Jobs the man, while reading this book, but found little redeeming about his character. His arrogance and excuses for his bad behavior did not help in aid my desire. I nonetheless remain respectful and appreciative of what his vision has contributed to the world of computing and technology. I hope it is enough for his family.
Good book, excellent read.