1,309 of 1,413 people found the following review helpful
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.
634 of 731 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Steve Jobs wanted to change the world, "put a dent in the universe." And he did. If you are interested in life and want to know how Jobs changed it right before our eyes, you should read this book.
No other book on Jobs has been based on first hand information from the Master himself, his colleagues and his detractors. There is no other way to know the man who changed the way we live and work. The fact that the book is engaging is a big bonus.
First Jobs' personal life, personality and beliefs. Like all fascinating people in history, Jobs was a bundle of contradictions. Born out of wedlock, he was an American icon and yet born of a Syrian Muslim whom he never knew, but had accidentally met. Adopted at birth by working class parents, he became skeptical of the Church as the all-knowing god did not help the starving children in Biafra and alternated between being a believer and a non-believer. He was, at different times, a vegan and a fruitarian (hence the name Apple). Jobs was influenced by the counter cultural ideas of the 60's and the 70's and yet become one of the most revered corporate figures of all time. He was a multi-billionaire who lived on a regular street with no high fenced compound, security or live-in servants; a Zen Buddhist who was obsessed with Zen-like simplicity but did not possess Zen-like tranquility; a son who tried to abandon his child like the way he had thought he was abandoned; a leader who was highly demanding of his colleagues and coworkers; a vastly influential figure in computing who neither built computers not wrote codes himself; a genius who was mean to many people. All these factoids had to have some influence on who he was and who he became and may keep interested psychologists busy for years. Yet, it is not for these tabloid fodder that he is looked upon with awe. To get caught up in the contradictions of a man is to miss the man.
So who is the man then? Isaacson presents Jobs life and work as a play in three acts.
During the first act, two unlikely partners named Steves (Jobs and Woz) create the world's first commercially viable personal computer, Apple II. Jobs then creates the revolutionary but unsuccessful Lisa. Apple goes public, Jobs creates the Mac, which carves itself a distinct niche. He then brings in Pepsi's Scully to manage the company only to find himself ousted from the company he founded. During his exile Jobs creates another revolutionary but not-so-successful computer NeXT. But Jobs other venture, Pixar, an outstanding animation company, is a huge commercial success.
The second act is Jobs' return to Apple. Apple was in decline and it buys the money losing NeXT. Job returns to the company he founded as the interim CEO. Introduces a series of products: peppermint colored iMacs followed b y 21st Century Macs.
The third act is the post-pc revolution, the most dramatic of all: the creation of ipod (almost 10 years ago to the day), paradigm-changing iphone and the category-creating ipad, along with many other things and cloud computing. We can't imagine a world today without ipads, ipods and iphones. The rewards are high. Apple first surpasses Microsoft and becomes the most valuable tech company. Then Apple becomes, for brief periods of time, the most valuable company in the world.
But this is not the story of Apple, but of Job. What was happening in the background while the three act play is being staged - to his family, his health, his odd beliefs that might have cost him his life, and his relationships with other giants of technology - is the focus of this book. The story is told with many interesting anecdotes such as Bill Gates incredulously exclaiming "Do ALL of you live here?" when visiting for the first time Steve Jobs' modest house.
This is an "authorized biography" and I'm wary of "authorized" biographies. Always thought they were full-length PR pieces. This one is different. Jobs gave Isaacson complete freedom to write the book and Jobs didn't demand editorial control. He didn't even want to see the book before it was published. And it shows. You see Jobs as he was. Warts and all. This is Jobs' last gift to those of us who admired his vision of the world, but wondered about the essence of the man behind it all. Now we know.
As you finish reading Job's biography of nearly 600 pages, something strikes you as odd. Steve Jobs' death is not mentioned in the book. Not the date, not the time and not even the fact that he is no more. Strangely fascinating. Like the man himself.
292 of 340 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Apple has always meant more to me than as a computer company, because of my early experiences in the late 1970's and early 1980's from age 8 using the Apple ][, //e, and later the Mac. They represented amazing products that I could understand even as a child, that this was the direction of the future. It was odd to me then, that the world was still embracing the MS-DOS command line interface and the IBM PC/AT machines. When in the late 1990's, Apple neared bankruptcy, with Microsoft Windows dominating the market, it taught me as a young man that companies that try to make the very best can be under appreciated by the masses, just as the adults near me in the 1980's could not see the amazing nature of my Apple //e and Mac back then. Good guys, it seemed, do finish last. It was disheartening.
Since the return of Steve Jobs to Apple, the world now knows of his genius and brilliance.
This biography is utterly amazing. I could not stop reading the entire biography and finished in less than 2 days.
WHAT I LIKED
1. Extraordinarily comprehensive - The book covers an immense number of different "phases" of his life from his famous adoption story to the start of Apple Computer, to NeXt, Pixar, love life, development of his iconic products, to the time before his death (although his death is actually never mentioned).
2. Ruthlessly objective - As a fan of Steve Jobs, I cringed at all the negative descriptions of Jobs's conduct with strangers, his management team, other CEO's, etc. I knew of his candor and lack of sensitivity towards others, but the degree to which this is depicted made me cringe and even wonder if Jobs should not be garnering so much world-wide respect. This sentiment was strong in the beginning of the biography, but by the end of the biography, I had actually become accustomed to Jobs's personality through the biography, almost as if I had personally known the man and adapted to him. The biography actually made me feel like I knew him.
3. Extraordinary historical perspective - Even if this biography were not to mention Steve Jobs, it would be fascinating. There is so much written about the history of Silicon Valley, other famous CEOs, musicians, artists, politicians, etc, that the book is enticing.
4. Extraordinary perspective on other famous leaders - Jobs spoke candidly about his opinions regarding virtually every important person that may have crossed his path. There are comments and stories regarding John Sculley, President Clinton, Obama, Bill Gates, Jeffrey Katzenberg (Disney), Michael Eisner (Disney), Bob Iger (Disney), Bono, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, Steve Wozniak, Larry Ellison (Oracle), Eric Schmidt (Google), Larry Page (Google), Andy Grove (Intel), etc.
5. Extremely detailed descriptions of Jobs's business decision-making processes - This is true throughout the biography, but especially so towards the last third, where there is an extraordinarily detailed account by Jobs of his thought process during development of the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and iCloud. In this latter third of the biography, whatever doubt may have existed of whether or not Jobs should be so revered is laid to rest when we witness his amazing decision-making ability.
6. Unexpectedly funny - Especially in the very beginning of the biography, you can't help but laugh when you read about John Sculley's first day at Apple and seeing Jobs sitting on a desk playing with his bare toes.
7. Jobs's personal life - This has always been an enigma and the most many knew of Jobs's personal life came from his 2005 Stanford commencement speech. We see into his early girlfriends' perspectives of Jobs, his current wife and children's perspective. The fascinating story of his biological parents, biological sister, daughter for whom he initially denied custody, three children and wife. There is much written about his perspective on Zen Buddhism and his trek to India.
8. Extremely detailed - For all the above points, there was an immense amount of detail that I never envisioned would exist in this biography.
9. Easy to read - The author makes reading each sentence effortless.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
1. Not enough photos - The few photos that were included were great, but it left you wanting more.
2. Possibly too much of the negative aspects of Jobs's personality were described - No doubt that the man could belittle others, but there was so much emphasis of this especially in the beginning of the bio, that I wondered if the author didn't try too hard to make this point for fear of being accused of being too soft in his description of Jobs
3. Some very slight repetition in the very beginning of the biography from passages found in the middle and end of the biography.
4. I wished for more of Steve Jobs's perspective - Every now and then, the author would mention what Jobs thought of a certain past event but I wish there were more of those. So much of the biography read more like a history book trying to be objective and accurate, but I really wanted to know what Jobs thought about everything. I wanted his perspective more, even if it would make the book less objective.
This biography is amazing because of the subject matter, but it is also well-written. It seemed to be such an effort at objectiveness, however, that it actually lacked what I wanted to read most, which was Jobs's perspective. I appreciated the author's efforts and painting an accurate historical picture, but I really wanted to know what was on Jobs's mind regarding everything that was written about him. There was not enough of that, which is unfortunate, because it is in my opinion, his perspective that mattered the most.
81 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I finished reading it two short days after it was first available.
My wide eyed teen self loved the original Apple II.
31 years later and a day before his death, in a heaving Apple Store of his design, I walked out with a Macbook. How can this man be gone? How did he do it? Read the book.
Unfortunately I believe the editing may have been rushed. To take one trivial but annoying example the word lapidary is used twice in short succession (describing the skills of both Jobs and Gates). More than one event is re-told to the reader. Overall, I found the writing style dull, it lacked the fireworks of the subject. Luckily Jobs is on every page, making things interesting.
The book at first seems long but not when you subtract the large index, and other supporting pages. This isn't any problem except there are giant holes left for future biographers. An example: AT&T is not even mentioned in the text! There are is nothing written on how Jobs convinced The Phone Company to cede so much control to the iphone. I feel like Jobs revealed a lot of his early life but the last 10 years, the most productive and interesting ones, were mainly and sketchily told through the eyes of others. At one point it is revealed that Apple has 70,000 workers in China and 15,000 engineer managers (a figure not even available to hire in the USA). I'm sure Jobs was all over this, yet there is no further exploration.
In retrospect I found the constant repetition of the Jobs reality distortion zone, and his habit of being cruel, well ... repetitive! By his third cruel action honestly all that can be said about unkind Steve had been said. Subsequent speculations on his personal motivations and so on never added anything new.
One thought on the legacy of Jobs: Isaacson concludes that despite his flaws, he deserves to be alongside greats in the industrialist hall of fame and you'd have to be a mean spirited or jealous person to disagree with that assessment. Yet I wonder if the greats of yesterday would survive their life, and particular personal flaws, examined and documented in such detail. I'm still in awe of what Jobs did with his life, he more than lived up to his own marketing.
PS: It is a shame that the book does not come with links to youtube videos and other supporting information. For many of the key events and people in the book if you search you can find the original material (videos etc) that are so much more than the paragraph that describes them.
I stopped frequently and switched to a browser.
What a shame the e-book about such an amazing (and tech oriented) life, describing the pursuit of perfection, could not include even one link.
856 of 1,056 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2011
This new, highly-anticipated bio is reasonably comprehensive in scope, but written in a plodding, subjectively fawning fashion that undercuts its impact. Mr. Isaacson doesn't hail from the technology world, and it shows; his feel for the real importance of Jobs' accomplishments is largely constrained to social impact (of the fuzzy, gee-whiz sort) rather than crucial areas of interface, functionality and convergence. Why do Apple's products really work? What impact will they have on how we interact with the digital world, tomorrow and after? Isaacson has no idea. All he seems to know is that 'simplicity' is good, and that 'design' is more than skin deep. And that the little things matter. Millions upon millions of people already know that; the opportunity missed here is to go deep on the subject, and unpack it. That doesn't happen here, because the writer is out of his element.
Apart from that, we learn that Jobs was basically an ass, and that he cried a lot when he didn't get his way. It's implied that he carried a narcissistic disorder, but that's never really explored -- to the book's detriment, as psychiatric context is pretty important to understand how a comprehensive tyrant could achieve so much, and improve the productivity and satisfaction of so many.
The book is also overlong -- a remarkable thing given the richness of the subject. It's written almost as a sequential fact-finding report, rather than as a truly insightful look at a man and his work. We come away with the impression that strong-willed CEOs can do what they want, as long as they make money for shareholders and impart a sense of accomplishment (however painfully won) to their underlings. Not exactly a revelation, but it takes more than 600 pages for Isaacson to drive the point home.
I'm glad we have this bio, but I suspect someone will come along and write a much better treatment of Jobs' life. For now, don't expect to learn any larger truths about Jobs and his world; just enjoy the anecdotes, and prepare to make your own conclusions about the book's fascinating subject.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2011
I don't read many biographies. The previous one I had read was "Mark Twain: A Life" by Ron Powers. But when I finished that book, I felt that I knew Sam Clemens as a person. In contrast, when I finished Isaacson's biography, I didn't feel like I knew Steve Jobs much better than when I started.
Isaacson did an admirable job covering the events of Jobs' life and he provided many interesting anecdotes thanks to his access to the people who knew Jobs, but the access was wasted on Isaacson. I hope that someday someone writes a biography insightful enough to capture this complex person, but it's likely that that author won't have the opportunity to conduct as much original research because he or she will not have been anointed as Jobs' official biographer.
This book reads like an extended magazine article. Rather than capture the essence of Steve Jobs, Isaacson stops at describing his abusive behavior, crying, etc. When I finished, I was left hungry for a deeper analysis of both Steve Jobs and the products he created.
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
So how did a guy who was described by one of his closest friends as "reflexively cruel and harmful to some people" and by the mother of his first child as "an enlightened being who was cruel"; who honed a "trick of using stares and silences to master other people"; who threw a "tantrum" when Apple's first president gave him employee badge #2 while Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak got badge #1, then demanded, and got, badge #0; who shouted down strangers at business meetings by yelling "Let's stop this b----s----!" and wooed engineering prospects by telling them "Everything you've ever done in your life is s---, so why don't you come work for me?"; who parked his car in the handicapped spot at the front of his building so frequently that an Apple employee "painted over the handicapped wheelchair symbol with a Mercedes logo"; who was considered by his first boss at that same company to be "not a great engineer"...how, exactly, did Steven P. Jobs become the unstoppable force who, by intelligence, intuition and sheer willpower lead the creation of not one, but two dominate companies of their times, and directly affect the lives of more human beings than any other individual of his generation?
For the answer to that question, read this book. It's a terrific story, and Isaacson tells the story very, very well--mainly by letting other voices do the talking. The book flows quickly and without a hitch, because even though the author spent a great deal of time with Jobs in the waning days of his life, he does not interject himself, except when absolutely necessary to tell the story.
Also, it's not written as a straight chronology: it jumps ahead at times--for example, to explain Jobs' bond with Jony Ive, Apple's chief design guru, before going back to the `aha' moments that led to the iPod, the design of which Ive and Jobs shaped together--and always to good effect.
And Isaacson sugarcoats very little.
Along the way, you'll learn where Jobs got his love of craftsmanship; how the first product Wozniak and Jobs came up with was in fact illegal; why Apple was named "Apple"; how employees manipulated Jobs to (sometimes) reach the conclusion they thought he should reach; why the first iPod was all-white (even the ear-buds); how Jobs' work at NeXT and Pixar informed his return to Apple; how Jobs' exile in Italy after his first Apple career influenced the floors you walk on today in every Apple store; why Jobs wore turtlenecks; what he told the CEO of Corning while successfully persuading him to resurrect a failed Corning glass R&D project into what became the rugged but clear glass screen on your iPhone; and, over and over, how the perfectionist Jobs could obsess over any detail when it came to the design of a product, a hotel room, a business card--even an oxygen mask in the hospital as he lay near death.
Indeed, the word "obsess" appears nine times in this book, the word "tantrum" eight times, and the phrase "Jobs insisted" appears--I am not making this up--28 times in the book.
Still, the word that sticks in the mind after reading all of Steve Jobs is neither. In fact, it is in no way negative. The word is "magical," and it appears 19 times in the book, including three times when it's used by Jobs describing a technology or a product. But the most poignant and powerful use of the word comes from Jobs' wife who, in explaining how he at first avoided coming to terms with his initial cancer diagnosis--in a similar fashion to the way he routinely avoided coming to terms with the limitations of fellow human beings, thereby pushing them into making products that literally changed the world--called it, "his magical thinking."
So read this book. If you're a teenager who "thinks different" and wants to understand how Jobs took that same quality and changed it from a liability to a world-changing asset; if you're a geek who wants to understand how Jobs identified break-through technologies and made them commercial; if you're an investor who wants to understand how a company learns less from great success than from failure; if you're a board member who wants to understand how destructive a creative genius can be, and how to harness that genius without destroying a company; if you're a CEO who wants to discover what makes a product a flop like Microsoft's Zune instead of a hit like the iPod; if you're a design student who doesn't care about business but wants to understand why the iPad feels so comfortable to pick up (hint: rounded edges); if you're an advertiser who wants to understand how two frames can be the difference between a "great" TV commercial and a bad one"; if you don't care about any of that but just want to understand how all these products came to be...read this book.
It's great. Maybe even insanely great.
Author "Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett"
Secrets in Plain Sight: Business & Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett, 2011 Edition (eBooks on Investing Series)
68 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Walter Isaacson is one of my favorite biographers. His books about Einstein, Kissinger, and Benjamin Franklin are fantastic. So last summer when I heard that he would be writing a book titled Steve Jobs, I immediately put it into my Amazon cart.
Little did I realize that Jobs would be gone by the time the book was released. A sad loss for his family, for Apple, and for those of us who love the unique Silicon Valley area and culture. Jobs changed the world with his innovation and passion. He brought together great design and great technology as nobody else has ever done.
I never met Steve Jobs but we had many overlapping areas in our lives. We were close in age, we both grew up in Silicon Valley, and we had a few mutual acquaintances. I remember driving past the Next building every day to and from work in the 1980's. On the day Jobs died it struck me that for my entire life, with the exception of our college years, he and I lived within about 30-miles of each other. Every location mentioned in the biography is familiar to me because of that.
From the book I learned that we had one other significant connection: Steve's father was a frequent wrecking yard scavenger who took Steve to the junkyards on weekends. Good chance that Steve's father and my father met; a more distant chance that Steve and I crossed paths as kids. Either way, I guess I can say we sold products to Jobs before he sold anything to us!
One of the great things about this biography is that it doesn't pull any punches. Steve Jobs was a testy character, hard to work with, and moody. He was definitely from the countercultural world of the 1960's, experimenting with LSD, Eastern religions, and communal farms. That might be forgiven because of his youth and the era, but he was distant from his best friends, harsh to people who loved him, and neglectful of his children. Shoot, he even parked in the handicap space at the Apple headquarters. The book brings all of this up. I often wondered how his behavior was overlooked by those who revered him.
One of the best parts of the book is the first half about Jobs' childhood and youth. It emphasizes his being adopted, and later shares the story of him rediscovering his family. It sets the stage for the person Jobs became. The theme of abandonment and "me against the world" was prevalent throughout.
In the second half the book has a tendency to become a profile of Apple's greatest hits. The decade of the 2000's saw the redesign of the Macintosh computers, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, MobileMe, iCloud, etc etc. Where Isaacson loses me is when he delves into an explanation of all of that. I realize it's relevant to the story of Steve Jobs, but it's recent history that is well documented.
This weakness is forgotten when you read the end of the biography. Isaacson develops the storyline of how Jobs changes in the later part of his life. His losing battle to cancer is described with gracious transparency. An insightful (and somehow sad) part of the book is when we read that Steve's personality changed as he realized his life would be cut short. Excellent writing from Isaacson.
On a more significant note, a strength of the book is the excellent way that Isaacson explains how Jobs lived at the intersection of science and the liberal arts. Or as it is sometimes put, at the place where technology meets the humanities. Jobs himself fully understood this and was proud of it, as could be seen from his famous commencement address at Stanford a few years back.
A wonderful book about a fascinating person. And even with a few slow parts, this may be my favorite book of the year.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2011
Steve JobsThis is a very comprehensive book that details all aspects of Steve Jobs life and work bar one. Details about his formative years are sketchy. Walter Isaacson did not interview the one living person, adopted sister Patty Jobs, who could enlighten him more about interactions in the Jobs household that helped form Steve Jobs. Living relatives of Paul or Clara Jobs, his adoptive parents, were also not interviewed. Isaacson places more emphasis upon his biological parents. It seems that the literary works of Mona Simpson, Jobs biological sister, over influenced Isaacson. Even when there is a strong father figure in a home, mothers do help to form their children's personality. Clara Jobs gets no more than a few lines in a 600+ page book. Patty Jobs is mentioned only once or twice in passing. Research shows that she is still living and works at De Anza College in the payroll department, a position similar to that of her late mother. Hopefully a later biography will delve more thoroughly into Steve Jobs formative years.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2012
I have an interesting perspective on Steve Jobs. When I was growing up in the 90's, I was a completely Mac user and PCs were far from my mind. I loved everything that Apple did and read computer manuals and books like they were sacred writings. My cousin worked for Apple as an engineer, and then in their education department, and he would bring by new gadgets for me to play with (the Apple Quicktake Digital Camera was lent to us LOOOONG before any I knew had ever HEARD of a digital camera).
From there I used to go to the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco and see all the new developments and announcements in the Mac industry. And when Steve Jobs came back to the company...yeah, I was excited. My cousin ended his career at Apple after experiencing Steve Jobs' way of getting things done first hand...and I went on to get a PC and learn Windows and become an IT Support Tech. But Steve Jobs...I can't help but think of him like he was a famous distant family member that I personally knew and loved, despite his mood swings and temper and general craziness. When he died I cried. And when I read this book, I was deeply moved.
A Hippie, a titan of industry, an entrepreneur, a visionary Leader
Steve Jobs had quite a life. He was given up at birth and adopted. He was a brat. He was a prankster. He was the kind of kid that parents lecture "If you keep acting like that you'll never be able to keep a job." And yes, he was a crazy hippie who grew a long beard and didn't bathe or use deodorant because his nutso vegan diet would make him odorless (only in your own mind Steve).
He was in the right place at the right time and met, knew, and got help from all the right people. His buddy was Steve Wozniak, one of the greatest engineers in history. He worked for Atari and the head honcho liked him enough to have him work nights instead of firing his sorry rear. But more than that, Steve Jobs always had a knack for taking advantage of people and pushing them hard (which is what business is all about right?).
He took a trip to India to seek enlightenment. He went to one of the most expensive colleges in the United States and dropped out so he could drop in to Calligraphy classes. He built a phone hacking machine and sold it to people and DIDN'T get prison time for it. And oh yeah, he co-founded Apple Computer.
And that's where the story goes from good to awesome. If you like your Silicon Valley Computer History and want a good book to put next to your video of Triumph of the Nerds (not to be confused with Revenge of the Nerds) you will love all the details that are in this book about the early history of Apple, and how Steve Jobs loved and hated people and they loved and hated him (and often both feelings at the same time and mutually).
Truly, I thought I knew my computer history. But this book makes me feel like I eavesdropped on stuff so crazy you can't make it up (from Steve Jobs' job interview questions to how one person thought he could leave the company by being offensive enough).
Of course, the part that a lot of people will find most interesting is probably how Steve went from ousted from the company he founded to running a bunch of losing propositions (a company that made educational computers no one wanted and another that made rendering software no one could afford) and then using them to take on Disney and Apple and make Pixar and Apple two of the biggest forces in the world of technology worth billions of dollars.
I was around and listening when Steve Jobs came back to Apple and I saw all those announcements of new products to roaring crowds at the MacWorld Expos. That was a huge time in computer history, and just plain entertaining history. It's truly epic to read the story of how Jobs went from no one to a young aspiring business leader to a millionaire that no one cared about to one of the most important, wealthy, and loved/feared, famous CEOs in world history.
The Man Himself
While all that is fine and well for people who like their history, what about the man? Well if you ever had any confusion as to Steve Jobs' character this book will straighten it out for you quick. He was a charismatic, enthusiastic, idealistic, driven, controlling, blunt, demeaning, abusive, delusional, tyrannical, angelic, monstrous, brilliant, NUTBAR son-of-a-gun who changed the world by mending it to his will and inspiring/demeaning the heck out of anybody he crossed paths with.
He was a Narcissist with abandonment issues who dedicated his life to creating what in his mind were great works of art to share with the world, and yet he took his girlfriend miles to a high-end shop to show her a dress that he had described in great detail he felt would be perfect for her...and said "You should buy it." A guy who had such huge self esteem issues and childish thinking that when his own company wouldn't give him the badge with the number 1 instead of the number 2 he cried.
And yet this same man gave life to several computing and entertainment REVOLUTIONS, bringing personal computers to the unwashed masses, and smiles to faces of children in movie theaters. But there lies perhaps the most profound lesson of all.
He became what he hated...and didn't have guts to face it
George Lucas said in his documentary Empire of Dreams that he had become what he hated. HE had become the evil empire/big brother/big corporation. While people like Steve Job and George Lucas may always THINK they are an indie fighting the good fight against big brother...at a certain point of success when their corporations are worth BILLIONS of dollars...they ARE big brother. At least George Lucas realized this. Steve Jobs just didn't ever want to accept the fact that he was an arrogant jerk that his own audience was growing to hate despite all the years of love.
In the years leading up to Steve Jobs death the only thing talked about more than his health was how incredibly controlling/restricting/secretive/arrogant/unfriendly/just-plain-evil? Apple was becoming. As their closed system grew and grew it became obvious that if it were to become universal freedom of speech would disappear on tablets and smart phones and only the rich could afford any digital device. How did this come about? Wasn't Apple supposed to be the affordable friendly alternative for creative types? How did it become a super-expensive status symbol?
I have my own perspective on these questions as I became deeply disillusioned with Apple Computer as it changed its name, changed its designs, and became increasingly snobby and shiny (Apple used to be grassroots, now that's been taken over by Linux). When it stopped being about friendly products and became about snobby ones I actually (shockingly) began to HATE Apple products. After suffering through the horror that was iTunes and the new Mac OS X (that bore almost no resemblance to the Mac OS I had grown to love all my life) I moved on to Windows and other products. And apparently Apple never missed me because the less I liked them and the less products I bought the better the company did.
As for Steve Jobs, I just find it sad how he never realized how much he had alienated people like me who had been so loyal to his company for so long (I even hate the STORES which are pretty much a symbol of everything that I find alienating, cold, aloof, and uncomfortable). I still view him like a relative...just more like one that struck it rich and then forgot I existed.
What does all that have to do with the book? Personally I find the JOURNEY from one end of the spectrum to the other to be an amazing story. It's like a real-life Citizen Kane (a story of idealism corrupted by wealth and power). It's a story well worth reading and contemplating.
The point of all that at the end of the day...is that this book captures all that and more about one of the most important figures of the century (love him or hate him or both). It's well-written. It's entertaining. It covers about as much history corporate and personal as it can without being a thousand pages or more.
You'll find stories about Steve Jobs' entire life from birth to death, and interviews with everyone important in his life. You'll get lots and lots of comments from Jobs himself on just about everything in the book, and when you're done you will understand Steve Jobs...about as well as anyone can understand such a complicated person.
If like me you grew up during the Apple ascendency, decline, and rebirth you may find this, as I did, a fascinating trip down memory lane filled with memories of better times (I'd give anything to take the computer industry back to where it was when Windows 95 and Mac OS were around, great computer games were plentiful, and everything seemed fresh and exciting in the world of computing).
You may even learn a thing or two from some of Jobs insights (I agree with him completely that the design of a company's building is vital, PowerPoint is for people who don't know what they are talking about, and meetings should revolve around usage of the whiteboard).
If you work in an industry that designs ANYTHING you can at the very least learn from his passion for simpler, better design of just about everything (although pushing away a hospital mask because he didn't like the design when he was barely conscious and refusing to eat food because it wasn't good enough when he was dying of malnourishment was pushing things by anyone's measurements).
The only flaw I find with this book is that the author is not impartial. The author repeatedly (especially towards the end of the book) makes assertions that reminded me of physics class in college (when the instructor likened belief in God to the tooth-fairy). Just because you personally think that there is no merit in alternative cancer treatments is no reason to say so in a biography (any more than it would be my place to say that having a cancer operation probably accelerated the cancer and killed Steve Jobs, for example). Overall though, that's a small flaw on such an entertaining and thought-provoking biography.
I love biographies, and yes, this is the best one I have ever read.