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Steve Jobs Paperback – September 15, 2015
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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--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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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Well written, this book takes you behind board meetings, Steve's inner demons, his vulnerabilities and the personality traits that made his so successful. It takes you behind the scenes as he struggles to balance his work life, his family, his personalities and lastly his battle with cancer.
It was interesting to learn about Jobs' eating habits, his distaste for certain foods and even the way he viewed products that would seem good in other's eyes. But his unrelenting desire for the perfect product is what drove him to creating some of the best products around...even if you prefer the Google, Microsoft, Android, etc. you cannot deny that Steve was a visionary in which everyone can learn something.
I also enjoyed the story about Pixar's partnership with Disney and the early years of Apple and how it was on the brine of collapse.
Intriguing and highly recommended.
When reading a book like this the attempt is to take something from it and apply it to your personal life:
Something taken away is to constantly strive for your customer and to continually improve both in process and design and never be complacent with the status quo.
As with many figureheads of our world he has complexity and the struggle for a human side he lacked many times vs. getting his vision correctly defined in his products and designs.
The book does a great job conveying this and leaves it up to your own interpretation as to how to take him and his lasting legacy.
An intriguing sub-plot is the competition between 2 men - Jobs and Gates - who each created a great company, but had very different philosophies. Jobs, with his passion for great design, wanted complete control of every aspect of his products, leading Apple down the path of a more closed architecture. Gates had a much more utilitarian viewpoint - e.g. a PC is a tool to solve a problem, not a work of art. "You want it black? I'll give you a can of spray paint" was Gates' quip. For a while, Microsoft was dominant and Gates philosophy seemed to be working better. But now Apple is resurgent. So maybe in the long run Jobs vision is the better one? Time will tell...
Isaacson paints an enigmatic portrait of a man who appears to me as being the Willy Wonka of digital technology. At times it's difficult to like Jobs as he is portrayed, but at no time can you question his devotion, nor his passion for doing what he was so good at.
Isaacson is able to bring all of Jobs' achievements together as well as dealing with his battle against cancer with a respectful pragmatism.
If you ever wonder how our technology got to be what it is today, this book will help you to understand.