Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Book Review - Steve Jobs

I'm not a big reader of non-fiction. While I find the concept of biographies and memoirs interesting, I often have a hard time getting into them. Add to that the fact that the Steve Jobs biography is a hefty ~600 pages and I was a little intimidated by this book. I picked up Isaacson's biography of Einstein a few years back and cracked the cover but never pushed through and finished it out. This time I decided to persevere and read the whole book. And I'm glad I did.

As I thought about reviewing a biography, I realized that there is a fine line in reviewing the book itself versus reviewing the person who is the subject of the book. The form and structure are intrinsically intertwined with the subject of the book in such a way that it's somewhat difficult to separate them in a meaningful way. As a lover of story and narrative, it is more interesting for me personally to review and comment on the content of the writing as opposed to the writing itself. But in doing this, my review would be more of a review of Jobs's life than a review of the book. By the same token, the fact that this book is filled with so many interesting stories, anecdotes, quotes, etc is a testament to the painstaking efforts of the author.

This book is the result of countless hours of research and interviews. In most cases we are given the stories and information from a distanced perspective but there are numerous occasions where the author shares very personal experiences he had interviewing Steve Jobs or some of his friends and family. Isaacson walks meticulously through Steve Jobs's life from birth to death. He gathered information from publicly available materials and then dug deeper by finding the true story behind the details of the magazine articles, press conferences and web blurbs.

Steve Jobs was a fairly public person so I already knew many aspects of his life and nature at least from a high level. What I enjoyed in this book was that we were taken through Steve's life step-by-step in a way that let us see the formation of some of his quirks and mannerisms. We saw how some of his behaviors and attitudes existed way back in his youth and childhood. Even then, I'm sure there is plenty of information the author chose to leave out either due to space constraints (it is at the ~600 page mark already) or lack of complete/solid information, or just needing to keep a good flow. In essence, this book is a series of stories throughout Jobs's life focused on many of the key highlights. There are a few points where I noticed some chronological jumps where a little time was skipped, but I never felt like I was missing anything.

I really enjoyed the fact that Steve Jobs was an active participant in this biography while still being "hands off" enough to not allow it to go through his "reality distortion filter." It was fun to read some of the more heated or interesting stories as told by other sources and then have a paragraph or two of commentary from Jobs giving his recollections of the situation. Sometimes he challenged the way things happened. Often he was willing to laugh at himself and acknowledge that things weren't perfect. I also loved that he and his family/friends shared so many personal photos of Steve. Granted, I would have loved to have seen more, but that's beside the point. What actually would have been interesting (and something Jobs would have liked) would have been to see a "digital" appendix to the book filled with more photos as well as audio and video clips. Something to take the 600+ paper product into a digitally exciting format.

I felt like the chronological format of the book was well structured in that it gave us a logical framework with which to learn more about Steve as he learned more about himself as well. That said, I was glad that each section was also willing to foreshadow (or blatantly comment on) the future that many of us are already very aware of instead of just "keeping it secret" until it happened through natural chronology.

Another thing that I rather enjoyed was the way the Jobs biography became a biography of his companies as well. In many ways, Jobs = Apple and Apple = Jobs. There was a hiatus where Jobs was not part of Apple (and during his absence, the company floundered), but on a whole, Jobs was the personification of Apple and in many ways, Apple was a large scale representation of Jobs. The same was true to a smaller degree with the other companies he ran such as Pixar. That sort of melding of human<-->company makes you a little nervous for the company going forward, but it also makes you appreciate so much more of his passion and talent to create what he did. As an Apple and Pixar consumer, I hope that both companies can continue with the same strength and creativity as they had under his leadership.

The only thing that was a little unsettling to me was the swearing…especially the "f-bomb." I appreciate the need for accuracy but frankly I was a little surprised at how many of Job's quotes included swearing. I know that swearing is part of our culture and that many people swear a lot. Based on the amount of swearing done by Jobs in his quotes in the book, I have to come to the assumption that Jobs swears a lot. Whether or not that's true, I don't know…but that's the perspective I gathered. Based on the swearing, I would certainly caution younger or sensitive readers (though many would be turned off by the length of the book anyway).

As a piece of literature, this is a very well written book that's jam packed with wonderful information and stories that came about through tons of passionate research. As a story, this is an interesting and engaging read that provides great insight not only into the life of a single man, but also into a number of ideals, principles and practices that someone could look at in their own life when trying to find their own passion and goals for life. Looking over Jobs's lifetime and the things he accomplished is inspiring, especially when broken down into its smaller parts as is done in this book. It helps you realize that great things can be done by anyone with the right amount of passion and drive. It will take a lot of hard work, but if you really want something bad enough, you'll be willing and ready to do the work required. Just never give up.

4 out of 5 stars

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Brian Miller said...

nice..i have this on the amazon list and been wondering how it was...i have enjoyed isaacson before though...

Kevin said...

I too thought it was well written and full of insight on the man. I feel like I know who he was a lot better now.