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Steve Jobs Hardcover – October 24, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: It is difficult to read the opening pages of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs without feeling melancholic. Jobs retired at the end of August and died about six weeks later. Now, just weeks after his death, you can open the book that bears his name and read about his youth, his promise, and his relentless press to succeed. But the initial sadness in starting the book is soon replaced by something else, which is the intensity of the read--mirroring the intensity of Jobs’s focus and vision for his products. Few in history have transformed their time like Steve Jobs, and one could argue that he stands with the Fords, Edisons, and Gutenbergs of the world. This is a timely and complete portrait that pulls no punches and gives insight into a man whose contradictions were in many ways his greatest strength. --Chris Schluep
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Walter Isaacson
Q: It's becoming well known that Jobs was able to create his Reality Distortion Field when it served him. Was it difficult for you to cut through the RDF and get beneath the narrative that he created? How did you do it?
Isaacson: Andy Hertzfeld, who worked with Steve on the original Macintosh team, said that even if you were aware of his Reality Distortion Field, you still got caught up in it. But that is why Steve was so successful: He willfully bent reality so that you became convinced you could do the impossible, so you did. I never felt he was intentionally misleading me, but I did try to check every story. I did more than a hundred interviews. And he urged me not just to hear his version, but to interview as many people as possible. It was one of his many odd contradictions: He could distort reality, yet he was also brutally honest most of the time. He impressed upon me the value of honesty, rather than trying to whitewash things.
Q: How were the interviews with Jobs conducted? Did you ask lots of questions, or did he just talk?
Isaacson: I asked very few questions. We would take long walks or drives, or sit in his garden, and I would raise a topic and let him expound on it. Even during the more formal sessions in his living room, I would just sit quietly and listen. He loved to tell stories, and he would get very emotional, especially when talking about people in his life whom he admired or disdained.
Q: He was a powerful man who could hold a grudge. Was it easy to get others to talk about Jobs willingly? Were they afraid to talk?
Isaacson: Everyone was eager to talk about Steve. They all had stories to tell, and they loved to tell them. Even those who told me about his rough manner put it in the context of how inspiring he could be.
Q: Jobs embraced the counterculture and Buddhism. Yet he was a billionaire businessman with his own jet. In what way did Jobs' contradictions contribute to his success?
Isaacson: Steve was filled with contradictions. He was a counterculture rebel who became a billionaire. He eschewed material objects yet made objects of desire. He talked, at times, about how he wrestled with these contradictions. His counterculture background combined with his love of electronics and business was key to the products he created. They combined artistry and technology.
Q: Jobs could be notoriously difficult. Did you wind up liking him in the end?
Isaacson: Yes, I liked him and was inspired by him. But I knew he could be unkind and rough. These things can go together. When my book first came out, some people skimmed it quickly and cherry-picked the examples of his being rude to people. But that was only half the story. Fortunately, as people read the whole book, they saw the theme of the narrative: He could be petulant and rough, but this was driven by his passion and pursuit of perfection. He liked people to stand up to him, and he said that brutal honesty was required to be part of his team. And the teams he built became extremely loyal and inspired.
Q: Do you believe he was a genius?
Isaacson: He was a genius at connecting art to technology, of making leaps based on intuition and imagination. He knew how to make emotional connections with those around him and with his customers.
Q: Did he have regrets?
Isaacson: He had some regrets, which he expressed in his interviews. For example, he said that he did not handle well the pregnancy of his first girlfriend. But he was deeply satisfied by the creativity he ingrained at Apple and the loyalty of both his close colleagues and his family.
Q: What do you think is his legacy?
Isaacson: His legacy is transforming seven industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, digital publishing, and retail stores. His legacy is creating what became the most valuable company on earth, one that stood at the intersection of the humanities and technology, and is the company most likely still to be doing that a generation from now. His legacy, as he said in his "Think Different" ad, was reminding us that the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
Photo credit: Patrice Gilbert Photography
About the Author
Walter Isaacson, University Professor of History at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chairman of CNN, and editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Facebook: Walter Isaacson, Twitter: @WalterIsaacson
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What I found out about the early years and the development of the personal computer was fascinating. I do remember a lot of the news articles from those years - I was living in San Francisco at the time and a good friend of mine worked for Apple - but I would not consider myself previously knowledgeable about Apple in any comprehensive way. I learned so much of the nuts and bolts of Apple Computer, Inc., from this book. The chapters about the creation of the iPod, iPhone and iPad were very interesting to someone who has used these products for years and years and feels she has some proficiency using what they offer me.
But the insight I gained from the book on Steve Jobs the man left me very sad. While I consider him to have been a true genius with an almost other-worldly imagination, I can't imagine that I would have liked him very much or respected him outside of his professional arena. As the founder and developer of Apple Computer, he was spectacular. He had an intense imagination, vision, and belief in things that had yet to be discovered. He was fortunate enough to find those people who had the same precise work ethic that he did. To find those people and to hone the abilities of the ones who stayed, he had no reservations about crushing their substandard efforts or their feelings. The ones who lasted were the ones who believed in his vision and their Jobs-given opportunity to indulge and demonstrate their own creativity. The ones who lasted were the best and brightest the tech and artistic world had to offer. The ones who lasted were the ones who took his ideas and made them into our reality. I am profoundly grateful to them and to him for the advances they made in technology and artistry. And I guess the one cannot exist without the other. Without his exact personality would the tech world have been turned on its ear and eventually controlled by Apple? I don't know. Actually I doubt it.
In terms of his family, it seemed as if his attention to them was given only when it was not required or demanded elsewhere. His children were discussed very little; the same is true about Laurene Powell, his wife. But it is clear that in his wife he found the one person who was his equal in intelligence and commitment. Their marriage is portrayed as strong but him as absent.
The sections on his cancer and eventual death were moving but not enough to make me feel for him as a person. I am sorry he died but my sorrow has to do with the loss of him professionally and what he might have accomplished and achieved had he lived but not with the loss of him as a man. And yet I can recognize his genius and I'm glad I read the book.
I saw this film in theaters, I loved it and I own it now. I guess you have to judge for yourself.
Jobs was a force of nature, a never-to-be-seen again phenomenon. Thank you, Michael Fassbender, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin, for memorializing his white-hot intensity to succeed and overcome.
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