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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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Top customer reviews
The stories about Steve Jobs are great. I loved hearing the interviews from various people who's paths have crossed with Steve over his life. There are definitely some unique perspectives and I definitely have a new perspective on a man that is pretty well known already.
However, I do have to say the writing of the book was not my cup of tea. Too often, the interested stories of Steve Jobs life were overshadowed by Isaacson's haphazard storytelling - at times it felt all over the place. Now I understand a biography doesn't have to be chronological, and often, it makes sense to follow an interesting arc of one's life for some depth. However, too often, i felt lost and confused. One moment we are talking about Steve's fight with cancer. This led to a comment about how Steve thought the stress from the 80's may have in some way caused/encouraged his cancer to develop. All of a sudden, Isaacson transports us back to those days - despite the fact he's already thoroughly described that portion of Steve's life in an earlier chapter.
Another minor annoyance with the audiobook version - there is no signal to change CD's. I would be listening and suddenly I would be transported back 20 years only to realize I had re-listened to the first minute of the CD. This was made even more difficult since, as mentioned above, Isaacson tended to do this (jump around) even in the normal course of the book so i was never sure if this was his writing style or the CD had restarted.
Nevertheless, Steve Jobs will always be remembered as an important business leader at, as Isaacson seemed to reiterate every third paragraph or so, the intersection of technology and humanities.
In a literary world populated with biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs, "Steve Jobs" stands out, for me, as one of the four within this genre that are truly artistic. The other three are "Unbroken", "American Prometheus", and "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl". These three biographies and one autobiography are carefully crafted verbal portraits of individuals who were truly remarkable. In each case, the authors create an ambiance that pulls in readers and compels them to take the journey with the subject as well as with the author. These authors clearly loved and admired their subjects, and that is evident in the care that they took to craft their books.
Of course, it is rare that biographers get to interact with their subjects, and some readers may suspect that the authors become biased either towards or against their subject. The consequences being sugarcoating or exaggerating faults and foibles. Not so with Isaacson. He shows us Jobs as he was--the good and the not-so-good. He remains neutral and presents Jobs as Jobs represented himself, and as his family and colleagues perceived him. In conclusion, "Steve Jobs" flourishes because of this attentive integration of perspectives and analysis of an American icon. "Steve Jobs" the biography deserves a place in the American literary canon as an example of literary art.
Steve Jobs was not a great person. He had a volatile temper, he believed he was smarter than everyone he ever met, and he basically disowned his first born daughter for years. But at the same time, his method of creating goals/products and willing them to existence as an immovable force brought to the forefront a company unlike any other. The book goes into great detail about his perfectionism and his daily arguments with different business colleagues and employees and you wonder how anyone ever managed to work with or for him. And then at the same time there are tons of quotes from those same colleagues and employees who show such respect for the man.
The book is a great read, and gets very much to the core of who Steve Jobs was.