Book Review – Steve Jobs

I borrowed this book from a friend in Perth back around Christmas-time last year, lugged it back to Melbourne, and I’ve been reading it on and off since then. I guess this shows it isn’t “un-put-down-able” but it was definitely compelling enough that I came back to it again and again, wanting to finish it. For example, I blogged about one of the many parts I found interesting previously. Having finished it now, I can say it was definitely worth it.

Steve Jobs

Insightful biography, leadership text and history of computing

I read the actual, physical hard-cover form of the book, which in retrospect was ironic since Steve Jobs made available the means to easily read the e-book form of his book on the iPad 2 that I own. The book – at 1125g – weighs-in at about twice that of the iPad 2, and hence I couldn’t easily read it during my usual work commute. This would normally be a severe impediment to reading, but the book was fascinating, insightful and a surprisingly easy read. However, I would recommend the e-book edition for those that have appropriate devices.

I’ve read a few biographies, and this stands-out as the one that I’ve come away from with the greatest sense of understanding the subject. Isaacson is a good researcher and writer and has produced a book that seems to effortlessly roll together a biography, a business leadership text and a history of the computing revolution that came out of Silicon Valley. On the one hand, it was eye-opening how badly Steve Jobs treated people – colleagues, employees, family – but there were many things that I took out as lessons for how technology products evolve and why they succeed.

Yet there is a problem in extracting such lessons from the life of Jobs. As Isaacson has commented elsewhere, Jobs’ “personality was integral to his way of doing business”. There is a similar problem in divorcing the value of his products from his own value system. Either one can accept that his success and his faults are inseparable, Apple Inc could never have been achieved by anyone else, and hence the delightful products are the result of bad treatment of amazing people. Or one can extract out the key lessons of his life, another person could achieve similar greatness in following them without treating others as roughly, similarly inspiring products could be created through other means, and hence Jobs’ treatment of people is inexcusable.

The book also touches on the lives of John Lasseter and Jonathan Ive, who are potentially the prime creative forces at Pixar and Apple, respectively, although somewhat overshadowed by Jobs in their day. Both are creative visionaries and leaders, yet neither seem to possess Jobs’ inter-personal flaws. This suggests that the latter view above is more likely. However, I eagerly await a similarly in-depth biography of Lasseter or Ive.

Rating by andrew: 4.5 stars

3 thoughts on “Book Review – Steve Jobs”

  1. I would agree with the review; it was a great read, but not something you felt like you had to read in one go.

    Reading it gave lots of good insight into how Apple works, and how the company will survive after Jobs – I am, however, worried about the long-term possibilities of the company to keep up the excellence without Jobs. I don’t, for example, know what the interaction with Ive and COok is, and whether Cook “gets” design the way Jobs did. I suspect not, which might be bad news for the company in the longer term.

    I did buy the e-book version which was also pretty good; out of respect, I even got it on iBooks rather than Kindle, even though it was marginally more expensive there ;)

    1. I share your worry. Clearly Jobs set out to try to protect the culture at Apple so that it would continue even without him, but Cook is a very different person, and I’ve noticed that culture flows from the CEO. One “faint signal” perhaps of change is that the new iPad was thicker and heavier than the last, something that Jobs reinforced in the book that he would never do. On the other hand, anything Jobs said needed to be taken with a grain of salt. :)

  2. I’ve seen Jobs(Steve Jobs ) movie, so many technical details of his work, but what caught my entire being is his philosophy and optimism towards every little thing. The attention to detail is marvelous, a great visionary. You can imagine how impossible things are transformed into a possible usable things that we even use today, iphone,ipod,ipad and so many more.

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