Review: Steve Jobs

Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“This is going to be a warts-and-all biography. I’m going to tell it like it is! No sugarcoating! But the thing is, the person in this biography has no flaws! Let me tell you how the person I wrote about is absolutely perfect, who has only the sorts of flaws that seem to make this person even better.” Yeah. How many times have I read that introduction? How many authors have promised to give all the whole story and then delivered a glossy highlights reel rather than the real thing?

I’m pleased to say that Walter Isaacson did no such thing. He promised us an intimate portrait of a brilliant, driven man who could be cold, could be ruthless, could be manipulative. Isaacson delivered on that promise.

I’m not going to go into the details of Jobs’ life; that’s what this book is for, after all. Instead, I want to tell you about the book itself. And the thing I want to tell you most is that the book is very, very good and you should read it.

I also want to tell you that I read this book on my Microsoft Surface tablet and that I’m about as dedicated a Microsoft fan as they come (ZUNE FOREVER!!!!) I’m not an Apple man. I might be in the future (ALMOST picked up an iPhone this time around, but the high price point eventually drove me off), but when I read this book, it was deep in the throes of my Windows devotion. So that’s the kind of person who is giving this book five stars. The kind of person who Steve Jobs would denigrate, were he among the living. The kind of person who doesn’t buy his products, hasn’t ever watched a product reveal, a person who doesn’t find the term “reality distortion field” as something that’s charming.

And yet. And yet.

I still love this book. I loved reading about Jobs’ life. I love tech, and love him or hate him, Jobs shaped the tech world as we know it today. Most of all, however, I loved Isaacson’s writing style. I loved his approach, the exact perfect balance between fly-on-the-wall, recounting Steve’s own voice while sometimes inserting his own editorial voice to counter some of the claims made by the reality distortion field. It’s the best kind of biography, because it’s not a monument, not a tribute, not an ode or a paean, it’s simply the story of one’s life. That’s a rare treat in and of itself, but it’s made all the more special because of the care Isaacson shows his subject. You can feel the exhaustive level of research that went into every page.

After reading this book, I’m absolutely certain I would never have wanted to work with Jobs (not that I have the technical skill to do so anyway, I won’t flatter myself). I’m not particularly certain I’d ever even like being around him, reality field or no. But I spent the past weekend with him and I am better for it. I’m better for having read his story as the world is better for having his influence through his work and his legacy. I can think of no higher recommendation than that.

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One thought on “Review: Steve Jobs”

  1. I remember listening to this as an audiobook in the weeks following Jobs’ death. Jobs passed shortly after my internship at Apple, and while I never got a chance to see him personally, I did get to see the company that he built from the inside and have been using products that he helped to create throughout my entire life. In a strange way, I feel some sort of kinship, an understanding of him shared through those monuments.

    It’s hard to imagine how this book could be anything but fascinating. Jobs was exactly the sort of character that you would want to write a story about. He was charismatic, eccentric, ruthless, dishonest, visionary, and so many other things in turn. He was hardly a saint, but he still managed to make the world a better place.

    I’ll probably end up working in consumer electronics in the coming years, possibly even at Apple. In a lot of ways, that makes this book even more relevant to me. There are so many lessons to learn from this book. There are behaviors to emulate, mistakes to avoid, and it’s not always clear which are which. Did Jobs succeed because of his ruthlessness or in spite of it? Are the great designs forged under his watch the result of his visionary ability or his ability to recognize and foster genius in others? These are all questions that I mull over from time to time, and I will probably go back to this book in the future with a new perspective in the coming months to prepare for a career where I make these same decisions on a daily basis.

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