I admire Steve Jobs. I’ve been aware of him for most of my life, having grown up near “The Valley” and played with computers from my youngest years. However, I wasn’t particularly interested in Jobs until about when most of society became interested in him. In recent years, I harbored a secret desire to work for him at some point in my career. Obviously, that will remain an unfulfilled wish.
So I came to this book with quite a bit of existing knowledge of Jobs. As many have observed, if you’ve already read a few books on Apple or Jobs, you will heard much of the material in the book. That, coupled with the fact that Isaacson seems to have designed the chapters to stand alone and thus repeated himself a large number of times, led to the general feeling that the book was less about learning about Jobs and more about celebrating his life by reviewing what I and any Jobs fan has heard time and time again.
Still, the new insights (and to be fair, there were many) are worth the price of admission. I also enjoyed the strong editorial voice of Mr. Isaacson, casting Objective-Voice-of-God judgment throughout the book. Maybe it’s because I studied history in college, but I’m comfortable with biographers taking a point of view, especially when they’ve cut their teeth so thoroughly as this one has.
The book ends with an essay by Jobs himself, recounting the lessons of his life. This was a sweet, intimate way to close out the narrative–and I think stands as a testament to the respect Isaacson developed for Jobs.
Ultimately, I think we’re left at the end of the book with ambiguity. Yes, Steve built an amazing company, and certainly if a life is judged by the things one creates and nothing else, Steve’s legacy is tough to beat. But his callous regard for others–including his own family–is heart-breaking. If this is the cost of building attractive widgets, I would hope most would not pay the price. And so it is left to all of us to work out whether we can achieve career greatness at a level of Jobs whilst also investing in and achieving greatness in the areas of life that matter most.
I think that’s how nearly all of us view Steve Jobs: as a stereotype–a template–of career success that is so comically exaggerated that it is not for any of us to attempt to emulate, but rather, for all of us to study and from which to extrapolate small lessons for our own lives, adapted to the contexts of our own situations. His life seems like a fairy tale of the modern age in classic three-act play format, with achievements of such heights as to defy man to best them with imaginary ones, these accompanied by extreme character traits at home alongside the strongest characterizations of great fiction. It’s as if life decide to write the Great American Novel–and succeeded.
For all that, I have enormous affection for Steve as a person. Rest in peace, thanks for the memories, and thanks for the Macs.
(I bought both the audiobook and the hardcover edition of this book. I mostly listened to the book, but I did read some portions. The fact I listened to this may have contributed to my view of the book. I appreciated the introduction from Isaacson, but the narrator–an actor whose name escapes me–would not have been my choice. I also wish they had been able to use Steve’s own recorded voice for the last chapter, but perhaps that was not possible.)
5 thoughts on “Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson”
Nice review. I read the book over the holidays and came away thinking Jobs, while a genius, was an utterly unpleasant human being. It doesn’t matter how original your creative vision is, it doesn’t one give one an excuse to treat people the way he did. That said, I continue to buy Apple products.
I guess that’s the curse of early stardom and success: unpleasant personality traits ossify as you walk around feeling like, “Well, clearly this is working, regardless of how many think otherwise.”
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