Review of 'Steve Jobs'

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

steve_jobs.jpg Steve Jobs was an extraordinary man and this book discusses both his achievements but also his troubled personal life. From his adoption as a child we follow his strong character through his life and his tragic death.

Apple started in Jobs' parents garage along with the technically minded Steve Wozniak (“Woz”) then took off when Jobs was able to sell the original “Apple” computer to a local electronics store. Right from the very beginning he took pride in what he made to the point that the circuit boards had to be aesthetically pleasing. This demand for quality and design followed him in whatever he did. His strong personality drove his life including his original departure from Apple to start up the “NeXT” computer which was a half-hearted attempt to provide a high-end computer for use by academics. Re-joining Apple then incorporating the “NeXT” computer technology back into the MacIntosh, Apple really took off introducing the iPod, iPhone, iPad and, finally, the iCloud with ever increasing profits to become the massive company it is now. Along the way he was able to express some of his creativity at Pixar animation studio which he co-founded.

Jobs was terribly demanding of himself and others with a black and white personality: Either it was good or completely awful (using the charming four letter word to describe this). He suggests this was to force people who were not up to scratch to give the best of themselves and it appears to have largely worked with the exception of the personal alienation of many. His tirades were the stuff of legends at Apple. His frantic mind never suffered fools gladly as he surrounded himself with the best that he could find.

Early in life he made a trip to India to find himself as a bit of a hippy and this sentiment he never really left behind with his odd eating habits (notably a “fruitarian” for much of his life) and his extremely space, simple household furniture, or, what furniture he had as he was forever looking for the perfect piece for his home including a search for a sofa that lasted many months. He never really desired any of the traditional trappings of wealth though was not afraid to use it when he needed to. Here he says that money was never his objective - He always just wanted to be true to himself and deliver a perfect product.

The biggest criticism that was ever aimed at what Jobs accomplished at Apple was that the platform he helped develop was not “open” like the IBM/Microsoft platform, that is, where anyone could make hardware and software to work on it. Jobs always wanted a “closed” environment so that he could completely control the quality and functionality. To deliver a product that was beautiful and functional. He felt that users did not really know what they wanted until it was put in front of them and looking at Apple's sales over the last decade shows that this appears to have been a good business strategy. In later parts of the book even Bill Gates acknowledges that this approach was not entirely without merits. Jobs always suggested that Microsoft had taken what Apple had done and copied it…and not even very well. Even Jobs admits that they all stole their ideas originally from the user interface designers at Xerox Parc who were simply never able to capitalize on their research.

His personal life always seemed to come second though later in life he grew to regret this. From the daughter he long denied having fathered to his neglected wife and children. As he grew up he realized the mistakes of his youth, struggling to make amends particularly with his estranged daughter, Lisa.

This book includes information that Isaacson obtained from interviews with Jobs and many others over the course of the final two years of Jobs' life as well as pictures from Jobs' personal archive. Generally Issacson tries to stay away from being judgemental but simply reports the information he has gathered, leaving his sources to speak for themselves.

A really interesting read. Yes, it is quite a long read but it kept me turning the pages as Jobs' life unfolded before me. Being in the IT field it was particularly of interest but even so Jobs was an amazing and fascinating man. I really admire him and his work which this book really brings to the fore. Easy to read yet full of the detail that really bring the story to life. The massive amount of footnotes and the index at the back of the book show that this is meant as a comprehensive overview of the life of one of the greatest men of our time: Steve Jobs. He will be missed.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2016-02-10

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Little, Brown

Publication Date: 2011

ISBN: 9781408703748