Book Review: Steve Jobs

I started this blog because of Steve Jobs.

I know this has nothing to do with Apple.  I know it contains about 1% of 1% of 1% of the imagination and vision that’s supplied there on a daily basis.  I know it sounds silly to even mention one of the world’s most influential people in the same sentence as a blogger in his third week of a little WordPress blog that still needs to undergo a design overhaul.  But soon after beginning to read Steve Jobs, the former Apple CEO’s extraordinary autobiography written by Walter Isaacson, I felt inspired to just do something, or more accurately, multiple somethings.  We’re talking about someone who, in Isaacson’s opinion, changed the face of six industries – personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.  We’re talking about someone who was simultaneously the CEO of Apple and Pixar.  He did it all up to and during his years battling an ultimately fatal form pancreatic cancer.  And sometimes I complain about not having enough free time to write a five-paragraph blog post during the day.

If you can read this book and not draw any inspiration from it, then I can’t understand your way of thinking.  Not to generalize, but – well, yes to generalize.  This is an incredible piece of writing, with Jobs’ every major, middling, and minor move captured in stark detail by Isaacson, the man also behind the biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.  Those two books have certainly been placed on my to-read list – but even so, I’m not sure either (yes, even Einstein) could be considered a more fascinating person than Jobs.  He didn’t create the computer, or the music player, or the tablet, or the computer-animated movie – but he defined them all, and more, with a larger-than-life personality.

I realize I’ve written two paragraphs (three, if you count the one sentence at the beginning of this post) while only heaping mounds of praise upon Jobs.  And that’s not entirely fair.  The man was, to put it mildly, a huge jerk – and lest you think I’m judging without having met, read the biography.  Everybody who was anybody in Jobs’ life is interviewed, no stone is unturned, and a heap of negative qualities shine through.  This biography does not proposition Jobs as a candidate for sainthood.  Rather, it exposes and devotes page after page to his volatile, abrasive, unforgiving style of leadership.  Jobs would fire people on a whim, ignore those he thought unworthy of his time, classify work as either “s**t” or “the best thing ever” – and you can probably guess what his response was 97% of the time.  He was not a nice man, consistent only in his arrogance and inconsistent temper.  These are facts which are illustrated in as detailed of a fashion as possible in Isaacson’s book.  This point cannot be disputed.

But…he was an absolute, total, revolutionary genius.  I doubt I will ever meet anyone who is smarter than Steve Jobs seemed to be.  It doesn’t excuse the other side of his behavior, nor does it make up for it, but it certainly dwarfs it.  Jobs simply refused to believe things couldn’t be done.  A machine that couldn’t even be built in five days?  Build it in four.  A shape that wouldn’t fit into a certain design?  Make it fit.  Jobs had a “reality distortion field,” as his colleagues called it, where he simply wouldn’t accept that something couldn’t be done.  If Jobs believed it could, no matter what the reality was, his reality would take over.  But here’s the incredible part – most of the things he wanted did get done.  People stretched themselves thin and reached the very limits of their imagination, fueled by Jobs’ wild viewpoints.

Jobs is a fascinating character, one whose young adulthood was filled with spiritual enlightenment, trips to India, and LSD use.  His visions of grandeur and wild mood swings make the possibility of writing a bad biography almost irrelevant.  It seems, in a sense, too easy to write a biography of Jobs.  But Isaacson never takes the path of least resistance here.  His attention to detail is so astonishing that you feel like you know what Jobs ordered at every meal, what thoughts were running through his head in every conversation, what shirt he was wearing at all times.  Jobs personally selected Isaacson as his biographer, telling the writer he admired his ability to get people to talk.  And talk they do.  From family to co-workers, to friends and rivals, to those were a combination of the two (such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates), everybody who was anybody in Jobs’ life is prominently featured, and given a chance to tell his or her side of the story.  And Isaacson’s most impressive feat is the pace at which he keeps the narrative moving.  It’s a nearly 600-page nonfiction book, yet not for a single second does it feel like a chore to get through.

Nonfiction has always seemed like more of a chore to me than fiction – and it generally is.  But this is a biography that feels larger than life and reads that way.  This is not a book that is kind to Jobs – not at all.  He wanted no influence over the content of the book, and he doesn’t get any.  But in the same way, it’s flattering to one of the greatest minds of our generation.  It’s as detailed and precise a biography as I’ve ever read.  And Isaacson doesn’t need to resort to any tricks here – it’s a straightforward, chronological recap of the man’s life, nothing more and nothing less, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what he’ll do next.

I’m not much for outside inspiration.  I let a great movie or book permeate for a few days, then it’s on to something else.  I can’t recall the best advice I’ve ever been given.  I don’t know that I’ve ever read something and immediately been moved to change the world.  But this biography is sticking with me.  I don’t know how long that feeling will last, but I’m in no rush for it to leave.  I feel motivated after Steve Jobs to not be stagnant, to be always moving, trying to stretch the depths of my mind.  And that’s why I started this blog.  It’s a truly simple concept.  It likely won’t advance the quality of my life.  But it’s a stimulating thing, trying to amuse and/or inform in writing five days a week.  It’s one more thing than I had been doing.  This blog’s already in its third week, which doesn’t seem like much – but I never would have been able to do something like this as little as a few months ago.  There are reasons outside of this biography for that, but its mark has already been made.  I won’t invite the next generation of music players.  I’m not going to engineer a personal computer.  And just the same, I can’t help but wish I had met Jobs and told him that he’s already begun to inspire me.  Whether it’s a little blog or not, I don’t know how anyone can read this book or not and not want to do something substantial with their life.  Jobs clearly has disdain for people who live a daily existence of monotony with no ambition to make a mark on anyone else.  I can’t blame him.  Read this biography.  Really, stop whatever book you’re in the middle of and bring this to the front of your list.  In a small way or a big one – it might change your life.  And how much more can I say than that?

Grade: A+

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