Steve Jobs : Book Review

STEVE JOBS BY WALTER ISAACSON Dear all dignitaries and peers present here, Welcome to this hall, where we are all presented with the rarest opportunity on hearing about various respected and popular members of this world. On given an opportunity, I wondered what should be the theme of my speech. Should I go for the Nobel laureates or the most popular figurines or people who changed this world? Nobel laureates are historic, and popular people as noted are already quite popular. So, let’s hear about a person who changed the way we look at technology now. The way he drove a multibillion dollar company, the way he became a symbol of youth GOD!
Yes, I’m here to talk about the authorised biography, the i-bio of the master, STEVE JOBS by Walter Isaacson. ‘Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography’ was one of the most eagerly awaited books of the year 2011. The book is a journey into the life of a legend who revolutionized the way people saw technology. Walter Issacson brings to life, the innovator, the dreamer and the devil within Steve Jobs. An absolutely must read! In my mind the sole purpose of reading non-fiction is to learn, and if you learn something, by definition you will be changed. So, what did I learn from this book? 1.
I have a better understanding of Apple products and understand why they enjoy premium pricing. 2. Jobs ability to focus on only 2-3 things at once with absolute intensity. I, like many, have too many interests and hobbies and could benefit from a tighter focus on just a few. 3. Jobs was able to get the most from his employees, but sometimes with tactics that I wouldn’t be comfortable using, including intimidation and tearing down of others. 4. His goal was to surround himself with Grade A minds. Surrounding yourself with the best is not a bad motto. 5. Life is short-treat time with your family as if you are aware of your short time on earth.

So, How does the author portray the genius?? Was he unbiased? Well, to the author’s credit, Walter Issacson is a biographer and a writer. He is also the director of Aspen Institute and has been the Managing Editor of TIME. Issacson has previously written the biographies of Henry Kissinger and Albert Einstein. As a biographer of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Isaacson knows how to explicate and celebrate genius: revered, long-dead genius. But he wrote “Steve Jobs” as its subject was mortally ill, and that is a more painful and delicate challenge. He had access to members of the Jobs family at a difficult time.
Mr. Isaacson treats “Steve Jobs” as the biography of record, which means that it is a strange book to read so soon after its subject’s death. Some of it is an essential Silicon Valley chronicle, compiling stories well known to tech aficionados but interesting to a broad audience. Some of it is already quaint. Mr. Jobs’s first job was at Atari, and it involved the game Pong. (“If you’re under 30, ask your parents,” Mr. Isaacson writes. ) Some, like an account of the release of the iPad 2, is so recent that it is hard to appreciate yet, even if Mr. Isaacson says the device comes to life “like the face of a tickled baby.   And some is definitely intended for future generations. “Indeed,” Mr. Isaacson writes, “its success came not just from the beauty of the hardware but from the applications, known as apps, that allowed you to indulge in all sorts of delightful activities. ” One that he mentions, which will be as quaint as Pong some day, features the use of a slingshot to launch angry birds to destroy pigs and their fortresses. So “Steve Jobs,” an account of its subject’s 56 years (he died on Oct. 5), must reach across time in more ways than one. And it does, in a well-ordered, if not streamlined, fashion.
It begins with a portrait of the young Mr. Jobs, rebellious toward the parents who raised him and scornful of the ones who gave him up for adoption. (“They were my sperm and egg bank,” he says. ) Although Mr. Isaacson is not analytical about his subject’s volatile personality (the word “obnoxious” figures in the book frequently), he raises the question of whether feelings of abandonment in childhood made him fanatically controlling and manipulative as an adult. Fortunately, that glib question stays unanswered. As far as the making of the book, that in itself is a wondrous story.
During the summer of 2009, Walter Isaacson got a phone call from Steve Jobs. It so turned out that Jobs wanted Isaacson to write a biography of him. After Steve Jobs anointed Walter Isaacson as his authorized biographer in 2009, he took Mr. Isaacson to see the Mountain View, California, house in which he had lived as a boy. He pointed out its “clean design” and “awesome little features. ” He praised the developer, Joseph Eichler, who built more than 11,000 homes in California subdivisions, for making an affordable product on a mass-market scale. And he showed Mr.
Isaacson the stockade fence built 50 years earlier by his father, Paul Jobs. “He loved doing things right,” Mr. Jobs said. “He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see. ” Mr. Jobs, the brilliant and protean creator whose inventions so utterly transformed the allure of technology, turned those childhood lessons into an all-purpose theory of intelligent design. He gave Mr. Isaacson a chance to play by the same rules. His story calls for a book that is clear, elegant and concise enough to qualify as an iBio. Mr. Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” does its solid best to hit that target.
Mr. Jobs promised not to look over Mr. Isaacson’s shoulder, and not to meddle with anything but the book’s cover. (Boy, does it look great. ) Steve Jobs asked for no right to read it before it was published and had no control over what was being written before it was published. He also encouraged people to speak honestly. In the book Jobs sometimes speaks brutally and candidly about the people he worked along with and also his competitors. And he expressed approval that the book would not be entirely flattering. But his legacy was at stake. And there were awkward questions to be asked.
At the end of the volume, Mr. Jobs answers the question “What drove me? ” by discussing himself in the past tense. His friends, colleagues and foes offer an unparalleled view of the perfectionism, passion, artistry, obsessions, compulsions and devilry that shaped his approach to the innovative products and business that resulted. Within hours of Steve Jobs’s death in October, impromptu shrines began to appear outside Apple Stores – flowers, half-eaten apples and iPhones and iPads with images of flickering candles. The man whose company had always attracted a cult following was fast becoming a saint.
But, no more than a day later, the backlash began. Jobs was not a saint or even a genius, just, in the words of AN Wilson, ‘a clever backroom boy who got lucky’. What Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography reveals is that both the true believers and the cynics got Jobs wrong. In a warts-and-all portrait that continually had this reader recoiling in disgust at the petulant pioneer’s behaviour, he shows that Apple’s co-founder was very far from being a saint. As a teenager, he browbeats his kindly parents into sending him to a college they cannot afford – then drops out after a year. After teaming up with the rilliant but naive engineer Steve Wozniak he cheats him out of his share of a bonus they get for designing a game. ‘Ethics matter to me,’ the always tolerant Wozniak tells the author, ‘but, you know, people are different. ‘ And as a tyrannical leader, he is either screaming at Apple staff about their appalling inadequacies or stealing their ideas and taking the credit for them before an adoring public. Throughout, we see the cranky food habits, the misguided belief that a fruit diet means you only need to shower once a week and an almost wilful disregard for the feelings of others, including those of his family.
But, hey, Henry Ford was not the world’s nicest man and Thomas Edison was apparently a ruthless egomaniac. Those who aspire to change the world are almost always difficult people, and Isaacson, while obeying the instructions of Jobs’s wife not to whitewash his life, presents a compelling case for his genius. Yes, he was a magpie, snatching the idea for the graphical user interface from Xerox Parc, the iPod concept from other MP3 players, the iPad from Microsoft’s tablet computer. But, as he said: ‘Picasso had a saying – “good artists copy, great artists steal” – and we’ve always been shameless about stealing great ideas. It was what he did with those ideas that proved his genius for spotting where technology might head next and shaping it to his will. The perfectionism meant driving his executives to distraction with constant demands for tiny adjustments – a different font, a paler shade of green – before anything could be shipped. Jobs was not a quarter the engineer that Wozniak was or as gifted artistically as Jony Ive, the designer whose close but somewhat tortured relationship with his boss is an interesting subplot in the latter half of the book.
But his creative imagination changed a series of industries – computers, mobile phones, music and, with Pixar, the movie business. His greatest creation, though, was Apple itself, a company that always wanted to be about more than technology. ‘It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,’ he said at the unveiling of the iPad 2. ‘We believe that it’s technology married with the humanities that makes our hearts sing. ‘ Cynics would say that it has been not the humanities or the arts but a ruthless attention to marketing and margins that has enabled Apple to put more than $70bn in the bank.
But the Jobs strategy of management remained pretty constant throughout his career, and it was always centred on product not profit. At its core was complete control over hardware and software and of every stage of the product’s life cycle, from conception through to the retailer. We see that strategy triumph as early Apple products define home computing, then fail as Microsoft’s rival philosophy of licensing its software prevails. Then in 1996, with Apple on the ropes, its co-founder returns.
This amazing book takes you on a rollercoaster ride into the ferociously intense personality of a passionate and creative entrepreneur whose powerful drive and vision revolutionized six industries: music, personal computers, phones, animated movies, digital publishing and tablet computing. Steve Jobs also re-imagined and tried to revamp retail stores, but it did not turn out to be as revolutionary. Instead, he paved the way for an entirely new market for app based digital content. This is a book that’s mainly about innovation.
Steve Jobs stands tall as the sole icon of imagination, sustained innovation and inventiveness. His vision was very clear; if you want to create value in the industry, connect technology with creativity. A company called Apple was built on this vision, which changed the entire face of technology with its imagination blended with remarkable feats of engineering. Often driven by his demons, Jobs could make those around him lurch in despair and fury. His products and personality were interrelated and his life was cautionary and instructive at the same time.
Apple’s rise to that position has been characterised by a management style that is now right out of fashion – the egomaniac CEO, the obsessive secrecy, the total disregard for market research, the suspicion of collaborative ventures. Walter Isaacson has written an enthralling history of the birth of our modern digital world and the company that may have done more than any other to shape it. And, in his obnoxious, smelly, ranting, impatient, intuitive, creative and inspirational Steve Jobs, he has presented us with the greatest business genius of the past 30 years. Mr.
Jobs, who founded Apple with Stephen Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in 1976, began his career as a seemingly contradictory blend of hippie truth seeker and tech-savvy hothead. “His Zen awareness was not accompanied by an excess of calm, peace of mind or interpersonal mellowness,” Mr. Isaacson says. “He could stun an unsuspecting victim with an emotional towel-snap, perfectly aimed,” he also writes. But Mr. Jobs valued simplicity, utility and beauty in ways that would shape his creative imagination. And the book maintains that those goals would not have been achievable in the great parade of Apple creations without that mean streak.
Mr. Isaacson takes his readers back to the time when laptops, desktops and windows were metaphors, not everyday realities. His book ticks off how each of the Apple innovations that we now take for granted first occurred to Mr. Jobs or his creative team. “Steve Jobs” means to be the authoritative book about those achievements, and it also follows Mr. Jobs into the wilderness (and to NeXT and Pixar) after his first stint at Apple, which ended in 1985. With an avid interest in corporate intrigue, it skewers Mr. Jobs’s rivals, like John Sculley, who was recruited in 1983 to be Apple’s chief executive and fell for Mr.
Jobs’s deceptive show of friendship. “They professed their fondness so effusively and often that they sounded like high school sweethearts at a Hallmark card display,” Mr. Isaacson writes. Of course the book also tracks Mr. Jobs’s long and combative rivalry with Bill Gates. The section devoted to Mr. Jobs’s illness, which suggests that his cancer might have been more treatable had he not resisted early surgery, describes the relative tenderness of their last meeting. “Steve Jobs” greatly admires its subject. But its most adulatory passages are not about people. Offering a combination of tech criticism and promotional hype, Mr.
Isaacson describes the arrival of each new product right down to Mr. Jobs’s theatrical introductions and the advertising campaigns. But if the individual bits of hoopla seem excessive, their cumulative effect is staggering. Here is an encyclopedic survey of all that Mr. Jobs accomplished, replete with the passion and excitement that it deserves. Mr. Jobs’s virtual reinvention of the music business with iTunes and the iPod, for instance, is made to seem all the more miraculous (“He’s got a turn-key solution,” the music executive Jimmy Iovine said. ) Mr. Isaacson’s long view basically puts Mr.
Jobs up there with Franklin and Einstein, even if a tiny MP3 player is not quite the theory of relativity. The book emphasizes how deceptively effortless Mr. Jobs’s ideas now seem because of their extreme intuitiveness and foresight. When Mr. Jobs, who personally persuaded musician after musician to accept the iTunes model, approached Wynton Marsalis, Mr. Marsalis was rightly more impressed with Mr. Jobs than with the device he was being shown. Mr. Jobs’s love of music plays a big role in “Steve Jobs,” like his extreme obsession with Bob Dylan. (Like Mr. Dylan, he had a romance with Joan Baez.
Her version of Mr. Dylan’s “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word” was on Mr. Jobs’s own iPod. ) So does his extraordinary way of perceiving ordinary things, like well-made knives and kitchen appliances. That he admired the Cuisinart food processor he saw at Macy’s may sound trivial, but his subsequent idea that a molded plastic covering might work well on a computer does not. Years from now, the research trip to a jelly bean factory to study potential colors for the iMac case will not seem as silly as it might now. Skeptic after skeptic made the mistake of underrating Steve Jobs, and Mr.
Isaacson records the howlers who misjudged an unrivaled career. “Sorry Steve, Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work,” Business Week wrote in a 2001 headline. “The iPod will likely become a niche product,” a Harvard Business School professor said. “High tech could not be designed and sold as a consumer product,” Mr. Sculley said in 1987. Mr. Jobs got the last laugh every time. “Steve Jobs” makes it all the sadder that his last laugh is over. Perhaps the funniest passage in Walter Isaacson’s monumental book about Steve Jobs comes three quarters of the way through.
It is 2009 and Jobs is recovering from a liver transplant and pneumonia. At one point the pulmonologist tries to put a mask over his face when he is deeply sedated. Jobs rips it off and mumbles that he hates the design and refuses to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he orders them to bring five different options for the mask so that he can pick a design he likes. Even in the depths of his hallucinations, Jobs was a control-freak and a rude sod to boot. Imagine what he was like in the pink of health. As it happens, you don’t need to: every discoverable fact about how Jobs, ahem, coaxed excellence from his co-workers is here.
As Isaacson makes clear, Jobs wasn’t a visionary or even a particularly talented electronic engineer. But he was a businessman of astonishing flair and focus, a marketing genius, and – when he was getting it right, which wasn’t always – had an intuitive sense of what the customer would want before the customer had any idea. He was obsessed with the products, rather than with the money: happily, as he discovered, if you get the products right, the money will come. Isaacson’s book is studded with moments that make you go “wow”. There’s the Apple flotation, which made the 25-year-old Jobs $256m in the days when that was a lot of money.
There’s his turnaround of the company after he returned as CEO in 1997: in the previous fiscal year the company lost $1. 04bn, but he returned it to profit in his first quarter. There’s the launch of the iTunes store: expected to sell a million songs in six months, it sold a million songs in six days. When Jobs died, iShrines popped up all over the place, personal tributes filled Facebook and his quotable wisdom – management-consultant banalities, for the most part – was passed from inbox to inbox. Thisbiography – commissioned by Jobs and informed by hours and hours of interviews with him – is designed to serve the cult.
That’s by no means to say that it’s a snow-job: Isaacson is all over Jobs’s personal shortcomings and occasional business bungles, and Jobs sought no copy approval (though, typically, he got worked up over the cover design). But its sheer bulk bespeaks a sort of reverence, and it’s clear from the way it’s put together that there’s not much Jobs did that Isaacson doesn’t regard as vital to the historical record. We get a whole chapter on one cheesy ad (“Think Different”). We get half a page on how Jobs went about choosing a washing machine – itself lifted from an interview Jobs, bizarrely, gave on the subject to Wired.
Want to know the patent number for the box an iPod Nano comes in? It’s right there on page 347. Similarly, the empty vocabulary of corporate PR sometimes seeps into Isaacson’s prose, as exemplified by the recurrence of the word “passion”. There’s a lot of passion in this book. Steve’s “passion for perfection”, “passion for industrial design”, “passion for awesome products” and so on. If I’d been reading this on an iPad, the temptation to search-and-replace “passion” to “turnip” or “erection” would have been overwhelming.
Isaacson writes dutiful, lumbering American news-mag journalese and suffers – as did Jobs himself – from a lack of sense of proportion. Chapter headings evoke Icarus and Prometheus. The one on the Apple II is subtitled “Dawn of a New Age”, the one on Jobs’s return to Apple is called “The Second Coming”, and when writing about the origins of Apple’s graphical user interface (Jobs pinched the idea from Xerox), Isaacson writes with splendid bathos: “There falls a [sic] shadow, as TS Eliot noted, between the conception and the creation. ” But get past all that pomp and there’s much to enjoy.
Did you know that the Apple Macintosh was nearly called the Apple Bicycle? Or that so obsessed was Jobs with designing swanky-looking factories (white walls, brightly coloured machines) that he kept breaking the machines by painting them – for example bright blue? As well as being a sort-of-genius, Jobs was a truly weird man. As a young man, he was once put on the night-shift so co-workers wouldn’t have to endure his BO. Jobs was convinced his vegan diet meant he didn’t need to wear deodorant or shower more than once a week. His on-off veganism was allied to cranky theories about health.
When he rebuked the chairman of Lotus Software for spreading butter on his toast “Have you ever heard of serum cholesterol? “, the man responded: “I’ll make you a deal. You stay away from commenting on my dietary habits, and I will stay away from the subject of your personality. ” That personality. An ex-girlfriend – and one, it should be said, who was very fond of him – told Isaacson that she thought Jobs suffered from narcissistic personality disorder. Jobs’s personal life is sketchily covered, but what details there are don’t charm.
When he got an on/off girlfriend pregnant in his early 20s, he cut her off and aggressively denied paternity – though he later, uncharacteristically, admitted regretting his behaviour and sought to build a relationship with his daughter. Jobs himself was adopted, and seems to have had what Americans call “issues around abandonment”. He cheated his friends out of money. He cut old colleagues out of stock options. He fired people with peremptoriness. He bullied waiters, insulted business contacts and humiliated interviewees for jobs.
He lied his pants off whenever it suited him – “reality distortion field” is Isaacson’s preferred phrase. Like many bullies, he was also a cry-baby. Whenever he was thwarted – not being made “Man of the Year” by Time magazine when he was 27, for instance – he burst into tears. Nowadays we are taught that being nice is the way to get on. Steve Jobs is a fine counter-example. In 2008, when Fortune magazine was on the point of running a damaging article about him, Jobs summoned their managing editor to Cupertino to demand he spike the piece: “He leaned into Serwer’s face and asked, ‘So, you’ve uncovered the fact that I’m bad.
Why is that news? ‘” Well.. that’s the story. Sorry if I had given out a few spoilers on the book.. but they were essential to bring out the nature of an awesome personality! The book is well written and an easy read. To tell the story of Jobs’ complete life, the cast of characters is large. Mr Isaacson identifies the importance of those he included and what influence they had on Jobs. So, in a nut shell, this book, to use a few words from Job’s dictionary, is a ‘Must read! ’

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