Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster, $35.00, 656 pages)
“When Steve Jobs speaks, it is with the enthusiasm of seeing the future and making sure it works.” Fortune magazine in the late 1970s
“I had a very lucky career, a very lucky life. I’ve done all that I can do.” Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson (originally entitled, iSteve: The Book of Jobs) is an engaging biography that’s unique in that it allows us to get to know the man even more than the ultra-legend. This is the amazingly true story of the person who was given up for adoption at birth, and went on to run the most valuable company on the face of the earth. Although his contemporary and life-long rival Bill Gates outgained him in personal wealth, Jobs succeeded in earning the respect of both computer technology experts and the average consumer as the developer and producer of increasingly better, always innovative products.
Jobs and Gates were two of the individuals – along with Steve Wozniak – who were more or less present at the creation of the personal computer (PC) age. Jobs and “Woz” were original members of The Homebrew Computer Club, an informal association in Menlo Park that had a hundred or so members; a club that heard a presentation by a young Gates from the Seattle region. The Whole Earth Catalog was then popular (some of you will need to ask your parents about it), and Jobs was to adopt its motto as one of his guideposts in life, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
As Isaacson illustrates so well in his account, Jobs was never afraid to make mistakes with his early and later Apple Computer products – he was to learn and absorb valuable lessons from each of his mistakes right up to the time of “Antennagate” with the iPhone (“Has Apple’s Self-Destruction Begun?” was one of the headlines critiquing Jobs’ decision-making early this year). If Jobs had been a college football coach, he would likely have been one that rarely called for a punt on fourth down, and would have often elected to go for post-touchdown two-point conversions. When it came to beating his competitors, Jobs wanted to “leave no doubt.”
“The journey is the reward.” Steve Jobs
While this book is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the PC and Silicon Valley, it gives us just enough information to understand where Apple fit in among its hardware, software and search technology alternatives such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Compaq, Google, Oracle, Adobe and others. If you’ve read numerous histories of the era, you will likely be surprised to see how both Larry Ellison and Bill Gates come off as nothing less than gentlemen in this telling. Ellison was especially close to Jobs, even offering to buy-out Apple Computer after Jobs’ ouster. But Isaacson is not afraid to show us that Jobs was a human with flaws. In addition to possessing a temper which he claimed to be unable to control, Jobs “tended to be generally dismissive of philanthropic endeavors.” This was the case even though his wife founded College Track, an organization making efforts to help economically disadvantaged kids get into college. Jobs never visited College Track’s after-school centers in the poor high schools where the program was (and is) located.
Like a hammer that sees everything in sight as a nail, Jobs also tended to view technology as the solution to every one of society’s difficult problems… A very ill Jobs was to personally lecture President Obama on his view that all education should be digital and interactive (physical classrooms, teachers and whiteboards arguably being obsolete); though, in fairness, Bill Gates has made similar comments – some of which are quoted in Steve Jobs.
Isaacson comprehensively makes his case that Jobs belongs up there with Edison and Ford as one of the greatest business leaders in American history. He was a visionary, a big picture guy who could also master the smallest details. He was a technological artist who was to identify with both fuzzy inventor-creators and detail-oriented engineers. And he always understood that a sharp focus is the basic key to leadership, “Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time.”
“…he was a brilliant guy with great design taste and great engineering taste.” Bill Gates
One of Jobs’ ultimate victories was the knowledge that his adopted father had become enormously proud of his successes and achievements. This fine and detailed account, an initial draft of history, well makes the case that Jobs (creator of the most successful ever consumer product launches) was a man of whom the entire world was proud. What he sought as his own less than humble legacy was to come true; he sought “…a legacy that would awe people. A dual legacy, actually: building innovative products and building a lasting company.”
Steve Jobs – the man who saw the future and built it for us. Highly recommended.
This book was purchased by the reviewer as a Nook Book download. It is also available in hardcover form, as a Kindle Edition download, and in abridged and unabridged audiobook versions.
Note: According to this biography, Steve Jobs once met in the late 70s with a class of Stanford University students and showed them a prototype of a laptop computer. He informed them that this was the type of PC that Apple would be building and selling in the 1980s. And Apple did so. Years later, he told a different class at Stanford that they would one day be using PCs “the size of a book.” And now we have 7″, 8.9″, 9.4″, 9.7″ and 10.1″ tablet PCs.