Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

Initially, I was hesitant to offer my review of the Walter Isaacson biography on Steve Jobs, titled…..wait for it….. Steve Jobs.

Wouldn’t one of the Yakezie brethren who is an Apple aficionado be a better book reviewer-for this book?

After some thought I came up with several reasons why me,  a non-Apple addict, would be better:

  • I’m unbiased regarding the company, it’s products and founder.
  • I am old enough to have lived through the storyline-with Jobs only a couple of years older than I.
  • I purchased one of the first PC’s, notebooks, and PDA’s available.  I have lived though all the changes in technology described in the book.

First, about the author:  Walter Isaacson is a former CNN chairman and former CEO of Time Inc.  He is Harvard educated, worked in journalism his entire career, and has written biographies of Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger.  The Steve Jobs book was written with Jobs cooperation-indeed, he approached the author himself.  Supposedly, Jobs agreed to no veto or editorial power over the contents.

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.

For purposes of a complete review, I divided the book into general sections:

Jobs early life.

Jobs was an adopted child born in 1955  who grew up in a  lower middle class California household in a community that would subsequently be named Silicon Valley.  Job’s early life would be influenced in part by his adoption, his obvious genetically inherited intelligence,  his adopted Father’s passion for tinkering, and the counter-culture, acid dropping, free love, commune living 60’s revolution.  He was influenced by the music, the drugs, and the Hindu focused spiritualism popular in California youth at the time.

I have to think  a Steve Jobs raised anywhere else but in Silicon Valley wouldn’t have been exposed to the technology hotbed that was already in place, exemplified by Hewlett Packard’s proximity. Other  technology focused in the neighborhood included NASA, Lockhead,  Westinghouse and what became Intel.

His Early Career:

As a college dropout similar to Bill Gates, Jobs, once his commune living days ended, began his business career by joining with another Steve named Wozniak.  Together the built the first Apple in the family garage.

Jobs’ inclination for marketing and his desire for total control of the process from design, to manufacture, to the marketing campaign was evident early in his career.

The other notable characteristics apparent early in his life would be:

  • Selfishness
  • Impatience
  • Bullying
  • A total lack of sensitivity to others

Many of these traits were actually cultivated and practiced by Jobs such as his famous non-blinking stare used during intense negotiations.  He was also famous for rapid flip flops in mood from raging out of control to excitement and enthusiasm-sometimes on the same subject in the same 24 hour period.

The Early Apple Years:

The third phase of his life was exemplified by the growth of Apple and his subsequent departure from the company.  He was basically kicked out of Apple for his boorish behavior and the failure of the first Mac.   During this time, he ignored his own first love child and his relationships with the women in his life would be considered rocky at best.

The Exile From Apple:

The fourth phase was characterized by his growth as a person and as a manager during the development and subsequent failure of NEXT Computing.  On the heels of that failure was the phenomenal financial collaboration with Pixar where he became chairman and chief stock holder.  It is  because of Pixar’s successes that Jobs was able to go back to Apple as it’s Knight in Shining Armor to rescue the company from its serious financial problems in the early 90s.

The Final Years:

The fifth and final phase of the book and Job’s life was the story of Apple’s fantastic growth.  Growth due to phenomenal product development away from computers that began with the iPod music player, and then the blockbusters that followed including the iPhone and iPad. The current iCloud focus was one of Jobs’ last legacies.

How Jobs juggled this portion of his life with his diagnosis and subsequent cancer treatment is truly remarkable.

About Steve Jobs

What I learned about Jobs that I didn’t know:

  • His continued focus on the culture of the 60’s including it’s music, vegan diet, and Zen like minimalism when it came to his home and surroundings.
  • His focus on control of the creative design process and the closed culture that to this day prevents others from legally using Apples operating systems without tight and a very limited control.
  • Going 9 months without cancer surgery after his initial diagnosis-wanting to try holistic remedies-that many experts think may have cost him his only chance at a cancer cure. (speculation of course)
  • The large part he played in the marketing of Apple products having almost total control of advertising and commercial content and look.

Take Home:

How reading the book has changed me (in my mind the sole purpose of reading non-fiction is to learn, and if you learn something, by definition you will be changed…):

  • I have a better understanding of Apple products and understand why they enjoy premium pricing.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  •  His goal was to surround himself with  Grade A minds.  Surrounding yourself with the best is not a bad motto.
  • Life is short-treat time with your family as if you are aware of your short time on earth.

 Reader Questions:

Are you an Apple and Steve Jobs’ fan?  What do you think? Can you be a creative genius without being  eccentric and so uncaring of the feelings of others?