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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 most interesting was how Jobs, who was very religious, and spent time visiting areas of faith seemed to never put into practice what he learned when dealing with people. He did put into practice those same teachings when it came to building and design. Perhaps he was a bit on the autistic spectrum that was never diagnosed. We will never know.
Overall, this would have been a better book, if it had been better edited.
Recommend with the caveats given.
Two words - "Steve" and "Jobs." Ordinary words. But smash the two words together and two things happen: ordinary vanishes and controversy begins. It is common knowledge that Jobs rubbed many people the wrong way during his days at Apple. Isaacson documents numerous stories that confirm this. And while some reviewers resist Isaacson's willingness to share the good, the bad, and the ugly, this biographer truly seeks to present a balanced portrait of Steve Jobs. Isaacson writes with a measured, yet realistic respect. His work is thorough and the research is extensive.
Whatever one thinks about Steve Jobs, it is important to recognize that Apple recently emerged as the most valuable company in America, topping out at $337 billion. There is no question that Jobs' ingenuity, creativity, "out-of-the box thinking," business sense, and vision helped shaped this phenomenal company. Apple would not be Apple without Steve Jobs. Rick Warren rightly tweeted on the day of his death, "Steve Jobs, the Thomas Edison of my generation."
Jobs' Edison-like influence on contemporary culture is widely known. This review is hammered out on a MacBook Pro. Multiple people surround me using Mac devices including iPhones, iPads, and iPods. It is an indisputable fact that Steve Jobs changed the way people look at and use technology.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is a vivid reminder of God's common grace - the grace that gives people an ability to produce great art, inspiring music and useful technology. It is a reminder that all good gifts come from God and God alone. The takeaway is simple: Will we reflect God's glory with the common grace he has extended or will we turn the spotlight on ourselves? "For from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be the glory forever and ever" (Rom. 11:36, ESV).
In fact, I didn't realise the two had worked so closely together over the years.
So yeah, there's fascinating stuff in here, and I enjoyed the history of Apple more than that of Jobs himself, who I think - despite the author's best attempt to avoid portraying him one way or the other - just comes across as a fairly unlikeable man who either had some psychological dysfunction or was just a turd. Still, he was pretty good at making stuff, and it seems that he was really just starting to get to the most interesting part of his life when his illness finally got the better of him. Shame for him, and shame for us, as it did seem (unlike Elvis or Jesus) he might have had his best ideas still to come. We'll never know.
So, yeah, Isaacson's book is going to remain the definitive bio of Jobs for some time, not least because of his privileged access. There's info here you can't get from any other source. And while it is mostly an easy page-turning read, it's frustrating at times because the author simply refuses to engage in any kind of analysis or explanation of Jobs' character, merely chronicling what he did with little comment.
The book isn't a sycophantic as I'd been led to believe, and I think Isaacson should be largely exempt from criticisms about objectivity, but really what I want from a bio is to have the author's interpretation of what drove the subject, why and how they turned out like they did, and why they did what they did. On those criteria, I'd say this book is largely a fail; by the end, I didn't really feel like I "knew" Jobs; I didn't really get a sense of why Jobs was Jobs. What I got was a clear picture of what had actually happened in his lifetime, but a good biography should do more than just chronicle events. It should say something about them, too.
So why 4 stars? First, because it's still a decent read, and second because if you're interested in either Jobs or Apple, then you really will have to read this book for the factual info. Of course, if you don't care about either, you're probably reading reviews for another book anyway...