Wow. I'm halfway through this book and, while it's well-written and interesting, I can't get over what a jerk SJ was. Yes, he was brilliant and all that. But he seemed to view other humans as nothing more than ants in his ant farm, sub-biologicals that he could squish whenever he felt like it. And did.
Some might say that his gifts to tech development, or the fact that he changed and invented whole industries, would compensate. Maybe the two things went together, cruelty and brilliance.
But the lesson to be drawn here, future CEOs, isn't that his cruelty fed his brilliance! He was aware of the pain he was causing other people, yet like so many other cruel, overbearing, harsh, thoughtless and petulant overlords, he was very thin-skinned. Also, I don't believe that his often-cited sense of abandonment, from having been put up for adoption, justifies his behaviour.
He was, as the author put it, "bratty." Jobs would fiddle with design changes to the point of driving his team mad. A thousand different variations of white weren't satisfactory. He wanted a new colour to be invented, regardless of the damage done to the roll out of the new object.
As I said, I'm only halfway through the book. Hopefully there'll be some positive info about SJ that will balance out some of the negativity I've spelled out. I'll finish this review when I finish the book.
April, 15 2015: I finished the book. Here are the rest of my thoughts.
Isaacson makes an interesting point when he says Jobs was a genius. He means genius not in terms of a high IQ, but in terms of an ability to see things in surges of intuition, inspiration, and creativity. Because of his genius, I agree that Jobs deserves to be included in the company of Edison, Franklin, et al.
Steve Jobs pushed everybody until they wanted to kill him, but the pushing yielded amazing, brilliant new products. His unique brainpower allowed him to see how things might align, merge, and serve each other, and how utility might be blended with art. That vision led to creations of whole industries.
His obsession with perfection and control led him to flirt with emulating the Big Brother that Apple was created to bring down. One of the fascinating threads of this book was the debate between proponents of closed and open systems. Was it better to manufacture a pristine, inflexible system or the messier free thinking open system? And what were the implications of that belief on Jobs' view of his customers and his world view?
Yet he defined petulance. His food had to be just so. He would send back a glass of orange juice three times until finally satisfied it was fresh. He was vindictive, cruel and even Machiavellian. He wasn't much of a family man, and he ignored his kids to a painful extent. Isaacson mused that Jobs' meanness wasn't a critical part of his success. He was totally aware of its effect on others, yet he indulged.
In spite of my aversion to the man, I actually felt empowered as I came to the end of the book. Steve Jobs had lived by certain precepts, which in the current economy we could all benefit from:
---Know your value
---Have a skill you can sell. Be really, really good at something.
---Things can turn around if you persevere, but don't be afraid to walk away.
Unbending to the end, even the prospect of death didn't soften him up much, but he brought me up short on the last page of the book, because I am obsessed with the same question:
"I like to think that something survives after you die. It's strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, and that maybe your consciousness endures."
This is not an easy book to review, perhaps because it is really two books roughly glued together. The first book tells the story of Steve Jobs and the setting up of Apple and how it came to become one of the iconic brands of our time. The second books tells of the slow death from cancer of someone the author is clearly a close friend of. Unfortunately the first book is much the better of the two, and while the second seeks to maintain its dispassionate, warts and all account of Jobs, the author is clearly far to close to his subject, hanging out with his family and friends, to be objective. He is totally within the famed Jobs reality distortion field.
It is easy enough to see why Jobs chose Isaacson to pen an authorised biography. The man is whip smart, he knows his stuff, this is no mere hack job. There are only a few apple trivia items I would query, the iPod does not connect via Firewire, strictly speaking it is not an MP3 player either and iCloud is far from the triumph that the book paints, in truth it is little better than MobileMe was.
I started the book as a huge Apple and Jobs fan, and the book provides a far more warts and all approach than the upbeat Steven Levy book Insanely Great. However the book really made me dislike Jobs. Although being consistently rude to folk paid a fraction of what you are, does not make you Hitler, it is fairly inexcusable. To borrow the terminology from the Bob Sutton book, Jobs was not just an ‘armhole’ he was the whole jumper. The Apple ethos of minimalism and informality increasingly seemed to be an ostentatious gimmick, while Jobs burned through mountains of cash and burnt out employees on arty minimalist vanity projects.
I would give the first half of the book five stars, the second scrapes two stars. The editor should have split this into two books, there is a decent and important story here, but as it progressed this feels increasingly like a folksy and rushed job, cobbled together from interviews and press releases.
on 25 June 2012
This book was and is a great read about the genius of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. The author takes us on an interesting journey of Jobs life and career from his birth, adoption to his death from cancer in 2011.
Because of Steve Jobs varied career as co-founder of Apple, Pixar and his innovations in the personal computer, computer animation and music worlds.
I felt that Walter Isaacson did a good job of researching the book interviewing Jobs himself many times as well as speaking to former colleagues, family and even the people who Jobs considered rivals or enemies. Because of this the book is very honest and the author allows you the dignity of making your own mind up as to what Jobs was as an innovator and a Human being.
The book is thoroughly engaging from start to finish and will keep you hooked despite the book being 656 pages in length.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well written biographies and a good story. I don't think you need a particular interest in Apple or computers to appreciate the book as the story is a Human one and for this reason is well worth your attention.
on 15 August 2013
After so much hype, I was really expecting a riveting read here but Apple followers will be a bit let down. The first two thirds of the book cover (obviously) identical ground to iCon (the previous comprehensive biography) and really don't add anything to that. The remaining third is really a whizz through the years of triumph without a lot of the juice, especially in the battles with the music companies which I recall were much more fraught and brutal than depicted here, with not too much fly on the wall dialogue. It's a record - but that's it.
on 2 December 2014
I'm not in the tech industry. I don't even know much about the industry to be honest, if you asked me the guys behind Google I would need to search memory for minutes. But I am interested in Steve Jobs as a person. I watched every Apple event in the 2000s, his main interviews, and read some-good-some-bad stories about him. He was a character and as someone who is interested in psychology I was curious to learn more about this man; how he thinks, what might be the reasons behind his actions and decisions..etc The book does a great job giving you all you want to know about Steve. By the half-way with what you learned about him in the first half, you can take some guesses on how Steve will react to the new events in his life.
The best part of the book was it is an honest book. I don't like biographies that show people as a superhero or saint who never ever do any mistakes or don't hurt anybody. Nobody is perfect and I like to learn about the imperfections about someone when I read their biographies. This book does this incredibly well. There is Steve Jobs in the book, with his very talented side, his weaknesses, his mistakes, his maturing as a person over the years, his quirky side.
The only warning I think I should give is there are a lot of full names in the book. Which is actually great for those interested in the tech industry, it's informative and can be used as a reference book. For those like me who are not that interested it gets a little hard to remember all the names and what their job was. Not that I'm complaining.
on 26 October 2011
As an avid tech news fan, and Steve admirer, I couldn't wait for the release and quickly finished the book in two days. Steve, not Isaacson, is the shining star and his life makes for a fascinating story regardless of who is telling it. Steve's accomplishments, boldness, twists and turns, wisdom, intelligence, abrasiveness and intuition all contribute to intriguing reading. However, how good a job did Isaacson do?
Isaacson's job was "fair" for a couple of reasons. On the plus side, Isaacson appeared mainly objective in describing Steve, which is an important and difficult task, giving the controversial nature of someone like Steve. Isaacson, reveals both Steve's brilliant and ugly sides (I was a bit skeptical Steve would insist on a biography only painting him in a positive light). It was great to see his human side and get an understanding of Steve's polarized personality.
However, it was a little frustrating how much Isaacson re-told of which was already out there. I knew much of what he wrote about Steve - elements of his business strategy, dealings and philosophies and the Apple products he helped create and market. Most of the book's contents I was aware of through watching his keynotes, AllThingsD interviews, Stanford address and reading the articles about him on Wired, Time and other tech news sites. In fact, Isaacson often used such sources which I found slightly disappointing - like getting second hand info. On the bright side, I have not noticed any contradiction in these sources with Isaacson's version of Steve - it's accurate.
Having said this, Isaacson does give a fair amount of novel insight into Steve's family life, relationships and younger years which is not readily available through other sources. There is also a fair amount of detail about his Pixar years which I'm sure many are unaware of. Otherwise, light is shed on his relationship with colleagues and much about his personality, health and lifestyle are revealed. I think those unfamiliar with Steve and Apple might find this biography particularly enlightening about this talented, eccentric individual.
Finally, I do have a sense of Isaacson rushing this biography. The early and mid years were well covered, however later years were lacking on fresh insight and thoroughness. Chunks of story seemed glossed over or un-researched such as his relationship with Cook, Mark Papermaster's ousting, the reaction to Steve's passing, the future of Apple and perhaps more about his final days.
Something worth mentioning, is that the book did reinforce lessons I had learnt from Steve, the ones which stand out I will summarise:
* Life is short, make the most of it.
* We stand on the shoulders of giants, and it's our job to extend their work further.
* Focus on a few things you do well.
* Conflict can be very helpful in driving things forward.
* Love what you do and don't do it for money. Money is helpful in that it is there to improve the product/service.
* Keep re-inventing yourself.
Overall I find the biography easy to read, fairly thorough, provides some novel insight and balanced commentary and contains some profound words from Steve too. Reading a book about a man with this amount of intuition, energy, perfectionism, persuasiveness and determination can only enrich your life.
on 15 January 2015
This book was like a history of modern computing for me. I grew up in the UK seeing the devices Steve Jobs created coming to market. I could afford none of them at the time but I was aware of the stories which surrounded the circus that Steve orchestrated. There are some real seminal moments in the book, none of which I'll spoil for you... just read it, it's amazing.
Those who are just in it for the biography may find it a little tiresome as it's a long book, but if you are a 1's and zero's geek, you will be likely to be glued to this one. Also, it pulls no punches with the portrayal of this, IMO, great man. Once in a generation do we get someone with such a rare combination of engineering nous, creative insight and global CEO strategic brilliance.
Totally recommend this one for long lazy reads and factoids to share with fellow geeks!
on 20 April 2014
I waited a long time to read this, having bought it not long after it came out. I wanted the space to come to my own conclusions and wanted to read the book on my own terms.
First of all, I think Walter Isaacson did a great job putting this together. I covers all the major aspects of Steve's life and as much as I can tell, it's a fairly objective presentation of the man as he really was. I am a big fan of Apple and have been since the mid nineties. That said, one of my great frustrations is when people in business talk about the need to be "more like Apple", as if it's a tangible choice. It's like saying to win the 100 metres at the Olympics, you just need to run like Usain Bolt - it's not untrue but it's not especially helpful. In my view the book gave some insight into what made Steve Jobs and Apple successful and it also illustrated some of the behaviors that nearly destroyed Apple, many of them manifested personally by Steve Jobs. I find myself asking if you can reach the highest heights in business without burning bridges as you go. It always takes me back to Bernard Shaw..."The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man." To be the "unreasonable man" (and Steve Jobs could clearly be unreasonable), is an easy enough strategy to take. However, success depends on so much more than choosing to be unreasonable by itself and for many of us perhaps it's a sure fire strategy to achieving less.
So if you have an interest in Apple, Steve Jobs, innovation or building business, this book will definitely have something in it for you!
on 21 November 2011
Although 650 pages long, this book proved to be an easy read. The author employs a straightforward writing style and, with each chapter being pretty much self-contained, the book can be read out of sequence if desired (as I did when I first got it before plunging into the text properly).
The story of Jobs' business career and the companies he founded are already pretty well known to anyone who cares to find out. Wisely, Issacson doesn't doesn't go into oodles of detail recounting what's already been documented elsewhere. Where he does score is in exploring his subject's perceptions, beliefs and motivations to the (usually) tumultuous events which were often of his own making. For example, whilst Job's "reality distortion field" is an established part of the mythos, I never knew the full extent to which he utilised it throughout his career to get what he wanted and motivate the people around him (on a couple of occasions I was left wondering if Jobs really could warp time, in line with his spiritual beliefs). Issacson has been criticised by some for being too deferential to Jobs and, whilst there is some truth in this, I found him to be nowhere near as sycophantic as early reviews of the book had led me to believe. A dry ironic wit is weaved into the narrative and I got the feeling that there were times when recounting his subject's petulant nature the author was left less than impressed.
Another eye-opener for me were the final chapters. Many reviewers have stated that Issacson rushes this section of the book, simply checking off Jobs's later achievements. But clearly Jobs was much more aware of the seriousness of his medical condition than he let on and this is the first in-depth account I've read of how he faced up to his own humanity in his final years.
In closing I would say that if you want an in-depth account of what to happened to Apple, Pixar, Steve Jobs and the people around them, there are better books available (iCon by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon immediately springs to mind). If, however, you already know the story and want a deeper understanding into Steve Job's version of why it all turned out the way it did, this book is a pretty decent way to find out.
on 11 August 2012
After reading this book, I can only describe it as a bit like upgrading your television from black & white to colour, but for your mind. It really added colour to my understanding of the technology industry, and of course to Steve, but also in some ways to me as a person too. Before, despite being a Computer Science student, I knew pretty much nothing about the roots of Steve Jobs and Apple. I'd only used a Mac on the odd occasion when I had to.
Since reading the book, it has changed me in a whole bunch of ways; initially so much so that when I first started reading about Steve's younger years, I suddenly wanted to be the same and do the same things that he did at my age. My thought was that if I copy, I might turn out like him... arguably the most influential person in technology the world has ever seen. Though after my initial rush of excitement, I realised the world doesn't quite work like that. As Steve said himself: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."
This book has however shown me a deep insight into the mind of a technology genius, and from that I have learned a great deal. My life prospects have radically changed from 'I'll get a job, work my way up the ladder' to making sure I 'make my dent in the universe' by following my passion for technology, whichever ladders that may take me up and down. And for that I am more than grateful. Thank you, Steve.