by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs was simply a name associated with a computer to me. I read a few stories about him and admired his spunk and drive, but didn’t know much about him. I didn’t follow his products in the computer magazines and didn’t read the articles about his business savvy in the journals. He was really just another name.
I did, however, read about his ouster from Apple and thought it was pretty unfair. I celebrated for him (quite low key, since I wasn’t a close follower of Apple affairs) when he returned years later.
My interest in Steve Jobs reached a new level with a book I happened upon on amazon.com, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo (This is a great book, too, and I'll be reviewing it later). That led me to Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the book I am reviewing here.
I look for three things in a biography. It has to be interesting. What sets this man or woman apart from the crowd? What makes their lives worthy of a 571 page treatment? If those questions don’t get answered in a chapter or two, I’ll close the book and move to another one.
Secondly, I look for something practical that I can apply to my life. What did the subject of the biography do to make them successful, and is there anything I can learn and apply to enhance my family or career?
Thirdly, I appreciate great biographical stories that move my spirit. I like a good laugh at the humorous experiences of their life. But I appreciate biographies that plunge the depths of despair a subject may have experienced, too. Finally, a mark of a great biography is if the stories and details of the person’s life occasionally make me pause, put the book down, and just reflect. What would it have been like to have walked in this guy’s shoes? How would I have responded differently had I been in his/her situation? Good biographies do more than entertain: they stir and motivate the reader.
Isaacson’s Steve Jobs met and exceeded all three criteria for me. Steve is a worthy subject of a lengthy biography! His early journey could have filled him with enough bitterness to choke any life or creativity out of him. But he didn’t allow that to happen. Instead of feeling anger toward the biological father that didn’t want him and the mother that gave him up, he embraced his adoptive father and mother with lasting gratitude. In an amazing show of compassion, Steve even comforted his biographical mother on her decision when he met her years later. (I wrote a post about that, Thanks For Not Aborting Me.)
Steve’s drive is especially noteworthy. Some of us think we work hard. Steve did. In the early days of Apple he and other employees of the company would work days on end. They did the same upon his return to Apple. He was dedicated to excellence, and no amount of energy or effort would be deprived the product or project he was working on. His example motivates me to rethink levels of dedication I expend on projects I am working on.
For the third criteria, there is plenty in this book to move my spirit. I laughed uproariously at several stories, especially his elementary school pranks. My spirit was moved with sadness when he lost his company and especially so when he was repeatedly victimized by cancer. I was also moved to reflect numerous times in accounts of his treatment of employees, and even his own family.
Isaacson showed Steve in all of his complex and multi-faceted nature. Sometimes he was kind and understanding; at other times he was as hard as steel, even to close and loyal friends. My attitude toward Steve moved between admiration, dislike, respect and pity. But, in the end, the one attitude that prevailed above the others is admiration. You have to admire a guy that takes an idea, begins working on it in a garage, and develops it into a billion-dollar enterprise.
Reading Steve Jobs did two other things for me, too. It has made me an Apple consumer. I just purchased my first Apple product, an iPod. I actually bought it from my daughter so she could put that money toward an iPhone. Ironically, my kids discussed buying me an iPod for Christmas but I said, “I don’t want one of those things.” Then, I started reading Steve Jobs, a Christmas gift, and decided I wanted “1,000 songs in my pocket.”
If you have any interest in the life and work of Steve Jobs, you won’t be disappointed in this book that bears his name.