Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson


My love affair with Apple started the moment I saw the iPod Touch with a colleague back in 2007. I was impressed by the magic the device could do and it’s beauty that was simply fantastical. I owned the iPhone later and the iPad. And they never let me down. Before I knew it, I was already in awe of this cult called ‘Apple‘. I watched the company’s  CEO Steve Jobs giving the Stanford commencement speech.  It left a deep impact on me, like it did on thousands. It was unostentatious, simple and above all, great!

Standford University commencement speech by Steve Jobs

The news of Steve Jobs’ death came to me with the grief that you’d feel for the death of someone who could have been your personal hero. Since I didn’t know much about him then, I very much wanted to. I got my first iBook, “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. As I read from the Preface to the last page, it unraveled this man who had many facets, great as well as dark. Reading excerpts or news articles on him online, and watching a 60 minute documentary on TV just shows the tip of the iceberg. That’s really not him. If you wish to know this man, you got to know all the complexities that Jobs was, I felt. These words here are not meant to summarize the book; his life will need more words than these to tell the story. Many many more. This is but a trailer to entice you to watch the movie, if you wish to.

Initial reaction?

Honestly, I was slightly disillusioned towards the beginning as I was prepared to get inspired. It shattered my myth of a perfect hero to reveal the real person in real circumstances, and how he was ‘not a role model boss or a human being tidily packaged to be emulated. Driven by demons, he could drive those around him to fury and despair’. He would have his own version of reality which people around him would call “reality distortion field”. To his coworkers, he seemed too idealistic to be realistic. He was a control freak. He was straightforward to the extent of being rude, brutally rude, more often than not. He didn’t mean to be like that, he was just made that way.

Why read the Biography?

So what’s the big deal about Steve Jobs? Why read the biography? Well, there’s much more to him than this. Steve was an artist always striving relentlessly for perfection amidst imperfection. He was an ardent admirer of art and music, and was a great Dylan fan. A visionary with a beautiful vision of the future. An idealist who aimed to be, and to do things, greater than the greatest. He had an unusual ability to focus and make the impossible happen. He had a zen-like austerity, simplicity and a sense of minimalism that is reflected in all his creations. He always wanted to be at the intersection of technology and humanities.

Jobs’ passion was to create products that were great, or “insanely great”, as he would put. He was so detail oriented that he even made sure the inside parts – which the customer would never see-  also be assembled very carefully and beautifully. He didn’t believe in market research or finding out what the customer wanted (Henry Ford is believed to have once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses!”) His philosophy was to think two steps ahead and he gave products customers didn’t know they wanted.

Quick exercise- A world without Steve / Apple?

The concept of home computers would not have started and the great GUI that made easy for one and all to use computers. Without Pixar– which broke open the frontiers of digital imagination and kids, young and old -we’d be deprived of brilliant cinema ( Toy StoryFinding NemoUp and so many more). Without the iTunes store music piracy would become the order of the day for none to contain (and we’d be deprived of the great feeling of legally buying song – not the whole CD-just for 99 cents..’click’). Without the App Store the world would be deprived of the great apps for users and the billion dollar industry that it has become. Without the iPod, iPhone and iPad, the boundaries of engineering and design would not be pushed to unimaginable limits and we would not have the joy of owning and using them (think of a music composition or a movie that most impacted you- what if it was never made?). He really didn’t ‘invent’ anything, but he was a “master at putting together ideas, art and technology in ways that invented the future”.

This is a story of a man who forever changed our world, for the better.

On the Biographer…

Walter Isaacson has more than succeeded in doing justice to the subject as a biographer, is what I believe people who knew Jobs would agree. The book progresses eloquently from Steve as a child to a college dropout to his phases of extreme diets for months, dropping acid, meditations and attempts to find enlightenment. Then are his days of becoming a millionaire in his mid twenties to a series of failures and ousting from Apple. Followed by that is his final comeback to write history and build which is now the most valuable company on earth. With these eventful circumstances one gets to know the complex personality of the man. A lot of instances in the biography, the author gives his own take on people, things and situations, starkly different from how Jobs had seen them based fact finding he did himself. He is said to have had over a hundred interviews with Jobs family, friends, colleagues and competitors and over forty interviews with Jobs himself. He seems to be very transparent and has tried the subject play a second fiddle to nothing; his writing style is simple rather than complicated verbosity.

Young Steve Jobs with his Macintosh

The final words…

Most creative people in the history of human species want to express their appreciation for being able to take advantage of the contributions that came before us, and want to add something significant to the flow. To be able to contribute was the genesis of his intense drive.

Any literature that touches you leaving an impact, my father would say, is great literature! This book too leaves you with a strong sense of inspiration. You also get a sense that, the void you’d have for filling with accomplishment, has risen higher towards greatness.

Haven’t yet made up your mind to read the book? ‘Think different’!

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