Review: Steve Jobs

The official biography, by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs

I am not a Mac Fanboy. Sure, I have an iPhone, and an iPad, and I’m writing this review on a MacBook Pro. I bought them because the hardware is fast, good looking, and will last for many years. The software, while adequate, isn’t as user friendly as it appears on the surface. Come to think of it, this all describes Steve Jobs himself as presented in Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Apple founder and CEO.

In Steve Jobs, Isaacson provides a chronological look at the life of one of the key technologists of our era. Born into a humble middle class family, Jobs quickly demonstrated his clear yet confrontational genius. A man of vision, he also drove others to near-nervous breakdowns with his in-your-face “you suck” mannerisms. In nearly every chapter, Jobs comes across as a sanctimonious, vicious, hard-hearted jerk.

And yet, he’s not. Like Apple’s software, there is a veneer of beauty and elegance that comes from the core, despite the usability issues for those needing to deal in a more direct manner with the product or the man. Like Apple’s devices, Jobs’ appearance is a marvel in design. It’s not necessarily from a natural appeal; cell phones were originally bricks of plastic with bulky components; Steve Jobs was originally a barefoot vegan with a wild mop of hair that shocked common sensibilities. But through careful design and continual improvements, Jobs and his products evolved into something that we all wanted.

Steve Jobs is a little different from other biographies I’ve read. Other than Edmund Morris in Dutch—the pseudo-first-person account of a life with Ronald Reagan—biographers whose books I’ve consumed tend to be omniscient yet distant commentators. But Isaacson is all over this work; he interjects himself into the story regularly. At first it disturbed me. But then I realized that Jobs did the same thing to me. I was content with my Windows desktop and my Motorola flip phone. But Steve wouldn’t have it. “Tim Patrick uses an iPhone,” he said, and somehow earned the right to enter my storyline.

A tremendous personality like Steve Jobs deserves a tremendous biography. Isaacson’s work on Jobs is very good. Not tremendous, perhaps, but very good in its detailed coverage of a man who preferred not to be covered in detail. The book dares to remove the custom screws holding down the cover on the Steve Jobs image. Periodically, some aspect of that inner spark in Jobs’ life twinkles through the pages, especially in the closing two or three chapters. By the end, you get a clear vision of a man with clear vision.

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