Apple CEO Steve Jobs' biography offers fresh insights into how he helped birth devices like the iPad, but precious little into his personality.
Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" is set to become the definitive biography of the
recently departed Apple CEO, if only because he was granted unprecedented
access to not only Jobs, but also a wide variety of friends and rivals and
colleagues. For that reason alone, in terms of delving into the psychology and
motivations of its subject, the book is certainly more comprehensive than any
other Jobs biography.
For all that
comprehensiveness, however, Jobs-by-Isaacson remains an enigmatic character,
bristling with unexplained contradictions and powered by vague motivations. He
offers opinions on everyone and everything from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg
to Microsoft and Google, but so much about his own thought process remains a
said, Jobs' personality remains largely consistent throughout the book. In his
early twenties, as he helps transform Apple from a small computer-building
project in his parents' garage to an increasingly massive concern, Jobs is
described as "temperamental and bratty," more than willing to launch verbal
broadsides at subordinates whose work didn't live up to his exacting standards.
His vision involved offering an end-to-end product: "My vision was to create
the first fully packaged computer," he told Isaacson. "There were a thousand
people who would want the machine to be ready to run." He had unconventional
ideas about diet. And most of all, he wanted to create his own company.
Steve Jobs 30
years later comes off as much the same. He shreds those who displease him. "I
don't think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people
to their face," he says near the end of the book. "I know what I'm talking
about, and I usually turn out to be right. That's the culture I tried to create."
His vision still involves end-to-end products, not only in terms of hardware
and software but also the cloud. His dietary quirks persist, to the point where
his pickiness interferes with his ability to handle the ravages of cancer. And
most of all, he wants his company to continue creating great products, even as
his own end appears more and more inevitable.
But those who
want insight into what makes Jobs tick-the Apple core of his genius, as it
were-could walk away from the book disappointed. You learn about Jobs' music
collection (big on Dylan, one of his inspirations, and the Beatles) and his
decision making process in the meetings that resulted in the iPod and iPad, but
little about his actual thinking process. You learn early on that "he grew up
not only with a sense of having once been abandoned, but also with a sense that
he was special," but less about the source of his famous temper. "I was hard on
people sometimes, probably harder than I need to be," he says. "But somebody's
got to do it."
quotes a number of figures throughout the book who discuss their relationship
with Jobs-Jonathan Ive and his slightly spurned take on Jobs' fame is
particularly fascinating-but few offer startling insight beyond what you'd find
(usually credited to "unnamed sources") in a magazine or newspaper article.
By the very
end of the book, Isaacson cedes the biographical format to long paragraphs of
Jobs talking about his positions, which offers some insights but also deprives
the reader of balance. "What drove me?" he asks. "I think most creative people
want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work
that's been done by others before us." Isaacson, despite having talked to Jobs'
peers and family, and delved into his history, doesn't offer any sort of
counterpoint or descriptive framework, and this section of the book floats in
space-giving the impression that the work as a whole, as with so many things
related to Jobs, remained unfinished upon his death.
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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.