How does one write a book about icon (or, if you will, iCon) such as Steve Jobs? It seems like an insurmountable task, yet somehow Walter Isaacson did it, and did it well, in his biography Steve Jobs (so originally titled!). This biography covers a massive span of time, from his birth (and even provides some background on his parents’ births, both adoptive and biological) until just before his death (the book was released just weeks after Jobs passed away in October 2011). At times it reads like a Steve Jobs companion, at times it reads like a brief primer on the history of Apple. And at all times it’s engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.
Isaacson conducted extensive interviews with Jobs himself, Jobs’ wife, friends, former friends, others in the computer industry, people in marketing who Jobs worked with, his former flames, children, and used existing articles from magazines and newspapers, not to mention memos and emails from Jobs himself, as the primary research for this book. And Jobs was the one who told Isaacson not to hold back. As a result, Steve Jobs comes across as what he was: a brilliant a-hole. What I find utterly fascinating about him is this: he didn’t really create anything of Apple’s products, per se. Sure, he had visions of how he wanted things to look and what he wanted them to do, but he relied very heavily on his engineers, like Woz, to actually create the things that Apples sells, such as the original Mac, the iPhone, and the iPad. His genius was in being a visionary and pushing others to do the actual work. Bill Gates actually said of Steve Jobs that “‘He never really knew much about technology, but he had an amazing instinct for what works.’” He was an ideas man, not a doer man, and it made him famous.
He was also a gigantic jerk to others around him. He constantly told people their ideas were shitty, the competitor’s product was shitty, that this was shitty and that was shitty, and then (more often than not) when he realized it wasn’t actually shitty, he took credit for the idea, and in return a huge number of people working for or under him bailed ship. (I felt like this book should have been a drinking game. Jobs tells someone a product is shitty? Take a shot. He then takes credit for that “shitty” idea when he realizes it’s actually a good one? Three shots. Someone quits because Jobs was a douche canoe to him/her? Chug an AMF.) YET PEOPLE STILL LOVED HIM. My mind is boggled by this dichotomy.
Something else I learned about Jobs while I was reading this biography is not only what a jerk he was, but what a really weird person he was. He had some freaky dietary habits, like only eating things in certain colors or specific kinds of food, and he tried to get others to do the same. He had a lot of little quirks and was prone to bouts of crying when he didn’t get his way, which is annoying for anyone but especially annoying for an adult.
If you have ever been interested in Jobs, this is a fantastic book to read. It really represents Jobs for who he was – the good and the bad all mixed together.