Released just three weeks after its subject died, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is the definitive book about the man and his career. Isaacson has himself had an impressive career. Amongst his accomplishments are being the CEO of CNN and the Managing Editor of TIME Magazine and he has written respected biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. This pedigree caused Steve Jobs, himself, to select and pursue Isaacson to be his official biographer. Jobs gave more than forty interviews to Isaacson and put no conditions on the book (other than the cover design). Isaacson interviewed more than 100 family members, friends, colleagues, and competitors to put together a complete picture of the man’s life.
Steve Jobs is one of the most candid biographies I can recall reading, of a contemporary figure. While never stepping away from a sense of awe of the man’s accomplishments, it is warts and all. Steve’s short temper, strange diet, and immaturity are not shied away from. Isaacson tries to get at the truth by looking at every party’s view of the events.
The book is set up in a mostly chronological fashion, starting at Job’s adoption as an infant, following him to college where he dropped out to start Apple, through to the Macintosh computer, and Job’s firing by his own company. From there it discusses Job’s attempt to start another computer company and then his role in Pixar until his return at Apple. Once back at Apple, the chapters are divided by project, including the Apple stores, iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. The end of the book follows the progress of his illness, up to about a month before his death. The final chapter is an attempt to pull it all together into the man’s legacy.
As I read the book I felt I became much more knowledgeable about not just Steve Jobs, but about Apple, and their philosophy. I understood why Flash isn’t on the iPhone and why Apple never licensed their design to other vendors, like Microsoft and IBM did.
It’s hard to argue with the statement that Steve Jobs was the most significant executive of the last 100 years. Not only did he build Apple up, twice, but he built up Pixar, which has revolutionized animation and saved Disney. Jobs also went by a philosophy that the consumer didn’t know what they wanted and it was his job to tell them. Jobs did tell them – and they listened. Apple changed the way we think of smartphones and turned the tablet from a dead gimmick to a must have item in every household. With iTunes, Apple changed the way we consumed media. All of this was possible because Jobs approached business from the viewpoint of a creator and not a bean counter. I hope this book becomes a mandatory text in every business school.
If the book has a flaw – it’s that Steve Jobs’ life had too much story to fit in 656 pages. There are portions where I would have like more detail – but I think in most of those cases it was because I was starting to get interested in the stories of the people around Steve – and this book is Steve’s story. I wanted a companion volume about Pixar, a companion volume about Microsoft, and a companion volume about Jony Ive – the chief designer at Apple.
Appropriately, I bought the ebook and read it on my iPad.