I know I said I’d be reviewing “Lionheart,” and that could still happen in a week or two. But once I saw the new Steve Jobs biography come in, I had to start reading it. I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to shiny new books – I’m almost as bad in front of a stack of books as I am in front of a rack of shoes. I.Just.Can’t.Say.No. But as vices go, I don’t think it’s a particularly bad one to have.
This was a fascinating biography of a fascinating, very complex man. I have long been a fan of Apple products, mostly thanks to my programmer brother. But I didn’t know much about the man behind them. Walter Isaacson treated his subject with compassion but unremitting honesty, often calling Jobs on his foibles and follies. Jobs grew up among engineers in Silicon Valley in the 1960’s. He was fascinated with electronics and computers ever since he was little, and it was clear early on that he was a brilliant kid. He eventually befriended a young man, Stephen Wozniak, and together they created Apple, which shook up the computer industry. Of course, Jobs was later ousted from that company and went on to do amazing things at Pixar, ensuring its place in animation history with such hits as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo.” He started another company, called NeXT, which didn’t do particularly well, and then returned to Apple, after it had foundered for several years without him.
Say what you will about Jobs. He was harsh, even cruel, to his employees. He had different standards when it came to personal hygiene. He was a narcissistic perfectionist who persisted in living in a “reality distortion field.” He was also the genius who believed that “A players like to work with A players,” and he very successfully cultivated an environment where people regularly did what was considered to be impossible. If Jobs wanted it done, it was done. He had amazing foresight when it came to anticipating where the newest technological trends were going to go – for instance, he knew that Apple had to catch up in the area of digital music, which led to the development of the iPod. The iPhone was created when Jobs had the foresight to realize mobile technology was the wave of the future.
This book may not make Jobs come across as particularly likable, but it does show his remarkable achievements in a relatively short lifetime. And there’s something fascinating about geniuses. Can you be brilliant without being a little crazy, a little eccentric, a little unforgiving of people who are less brilliant than you? Reading this book made me want to be a fly on the wall for just one of Jobs’ infamous brainstorming sessions. Jobs may not have personally engineered all of the masterpieces to come out of Apple in the last decade, but his passion, foresight, and absolute obsession for perfection created a culture where those products could be envisioned and engineered and then embraced by a very large portion of the free world.