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Gripping but amazingly incomplete
on October 27, 2011
This is a gripping journey into the life of an amazing individual. Despite its girth of nearly 600 pages, the book zips along at a torrid pace.
The interviews with Jobs are fascinating and revealing. We get a real sense for what it must have been like to be Steve, or to work with him. That earns the book five stars despite its flaws, in that it's definitely a must-read if you have any interest at all in the subject.
But there are places in the book where I have to say, "Huh?"
The book is written essentially as a series of stories about Steve. The book continuously held my interest, but some of the dramas of his life seem muted. For instance, he came close to going bust when both Next and Pixar were flailing. There was only the slightest hint that anything dramatic happened in those years. In one paragraph, Pixar is shown as nearly running him out of money. A few brief paragraphs later, Toy Story gets released and Jobs' finances are saved for good.
We hear a lot about Tony Fadell's role in the development of iPhone. Tony led the iPod group and was clearly a major source for the book. You may know from a recent Businessweek article that Tony was basically driven out of the company shortly after the final introduction of iPhone, due to personality conflicts between him and Scott Forestall, the person now in charge of iOS development. But the book doesn't say a word about it. Tony simply disappears from the rest of the book with no explanation, and Forestall is barely mentioned.
Another strange incident was the Jackling house, the house he spent a large part of his life in. A case could be made that the house is historic simply because Steve spent many of his formative years living in it. Preservationists were battling with him to save the house. Only a couple of months before his death, when he must have known he was not going to actually build a house to replace it, he had the house torn down. I would have loved to learn this story. Why did he buy it? Why did he destroy it through neglect? Why did he acquire such a blind loathing for it that he worked hard to get it torn down?
And why did Jobs keep almost all the Pixar options to himself? He doesn't seem to have needed the money, or even really wanted it that much. He could have cut his friends John Lasseter et al into their own huge fortunes. Lasseter only got about $25 million from Pixar, which seems like a shockingly low amount in view of his contributions. Now, it's not like they will starve or anything, and I think John can buy pretty much anything he wants, but it still seems surprising Jobs is so ungenerous.
There were a lot of things like this, incidents casually tossed away in a brief paragraph that should have merited an entire chapter.
I think this will always be the best account of the emotional aspects of Steve's life, which are fully covered. The chapters about his illness moved me to tears. But as an account of what really happened at Apple and how Steve fixed the company, it's insufficient. I guess that will have to await more distance from the subject.
Of course what's truly remarkable about Jobs is that he lived a life so full of incident that perhaps no biography has the space to cover the broad sweep of his life. He accomplished as much as 10 ordinarily famous men. Maybe the upshot is that you just can't fit a man like this in a book, even if that book's nearly 600 pages.