Those of you who have read this blog for some time now know that each year I post a list of favorite books recommended by readers of MillersTime. I will call for your best reads in the next few weeks and post the results in early January.
In the meantime, I don’t want to wait to write about the non fiction book I have enjoyed the most in 2011. I finished Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs just yesterday and have no doubt that this biography will stay with me long after 2011 passes.
Near the end of the 571 page book, Isaacson quotes Jobs’ wife Laurene Powell: “Like many great men whose gifts are extraordinary, he’s not extraordinary in every realm.”
That’s an understatement.
Jobs could be a bully, make people feel small, cringe, was petulant, rude, often screamed, and cried, and often took credit for other people’s ideas. He was vicious and even delusional. “Steve (had) a reality distortion field…In his presence, reality was malleable. He (could) convince anyone of practically anything,” said Bud Tribble, one of the software designers in describing Jobs to a new employee.
Reading about his early years is almost enough to make you dislike him. He was arrogant, he didn’t bathe, and he seemed undisciplined in so many ways. He fathered a daughter whom for a long time he ignored, not so different than his own personal history. And when he was older, because he was unwilling to follow medical advice, he put off cancer surgery for nine months with the result that his cancer spread and ultimately took his life at the age of 56.
Isaacson does not spare Jobs. There seem to be as many pages devoted to the dark side of Jobs as there are to his gifts (and the two are often intertwined).
Isaacson had totally free reign in writing the biography. He had access to everyone who ever worked with him, knew him, had contact with him, and was also able to spend significant amounts of time with Jobs and his family. Jobs asked him to write it as he knew he was going to die, and because, he said, he wanted his kids to know who he was. Plus, I suspect, he wanted his story written while he had an opportunity to influence the writing, or at least have his say in the depictions of him and what, why, and how he did what he did.
But there is no whitewash here, no attempt to gloss over or cover up aspects of Jobs’ personality and life, even as Isaacson is captured by Jobs (and by his accomplishments) as were so many folks with whom he worked.
The positive side of Jobs is well known, his launching a company from his parents’ garage (and house) and ultimately building it into the most valuable company in the world. He was not an inventor and often started with other’s ideas and inventions and improved them. Mostly, through his attention to (obsession with) detail, his sense of design, his passion for perfection, and his unique vision, he put together artistry and technology and produced beautiful products people did not know they wanted but have come to love and depend upon.
In his concluding chapter, Isaacson lists many of these:
*The Apple II, “which took Wozniak’s circuit board and turned it into the first personal computer that was not just for hobbyists”
*The Macintosh, “which begat the home computer revolution and popularized graphical use interfaces”
*Toy Story and other Pixar films, “which opened up the miracle of digital imagination” *Apple stores, “which reinvented the role of a store in defining a brand”
*The iPod, “which changed the way we consume music”
*The iTunes Store, “which saved the music industry”
*The iPhone, “which turned mobile phones into music, photography, video, email, and web devices
*The App Store, “which spawned a new content-creation industry”
*The iPad, “which launched tablet computing and offered a platform for digital newspapers, magazines, books, and videos”
*iCloud, “which demoted the computer from its central role in managing our content and let all of our devices sync seamlessly”
*And Apple itself, “which Jobs considered his greatest creation, a place where imagination was nurtured, applied, and executed in ways so creative that it became the most valuable company on earth.”**
The biography is about how Jobs did all of this.
And it is more.
It is a fascinating story about a complex, often mean man who Isaacson says was not smart but was a genius. “His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical…someone whose insights (came) out of the blue and required intuition more than mere mental processing power. Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead,” writes Isaacson.
Isaacson puts the reader in the midst of the story, as all good writers do.
He concludes that Jobs will be remembered with Edison and Ford for making products that were “completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the worlds’ most creative company,” one his biographer believes is “likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.”
Whether Isaacson is correct in that assessment remains to be seen. But if you want to know how Jobs was able to do what he did, if you want to know who Jobs was, and if you want to follow along on his journey, get a copy of the biography and get ready for a terrific read.
(**-Full Disclosure: I have used and owned almost every one of these products and continue to do so today. This website would not be possible without Jobs’ creations.)