Let’s just start by saying that Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson is, quite simply, a great read.
The biography of the late Jobs is insightful, fascinating, funny and, at times, cringe-worthy. It portrays a brilliant but intensely flawed human being – as well as the company, Apple, that would be a mirror of Jobs.
For Steve Jobs, Isaacson had unprecedented access to the Apple CEO (over 40 interviews) and those around him. Virtually everyone ever associated with Jobs who was still alive was interviewed by the author.
Issacson, who has written biographies on Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger, handles the task of writing about such a recent American icon with simplicity and, thankfully, directness. He does not sugarcoat Jobs’ testy personality (Jobs’ lifelong ability to humiliate others in public is well documented by Isaacson), or gloss over Jobs’ failures and shortfalls. In fact, it is the not so wonderful side of Jobs that many are going to talk about. His lack of humility. His brusque and callous manner. His less than stellar track record as a father. These are all fascinating elements. But those who focus on Jobs’ personal issues will miss out on the great elements of Jobs’ life – in particular, his path to building Apple into the most valued company in the world.
Steve Jobs is great when it dives into understanding how Jobs and his team at Apple (the book tries hard to portray Apple as a team of people, not just puppets of Jobs) move from creating one great product after another (with many failures and sidesteps in between). In the book, Jobs takes great pains to stress that Apple was never about making money – but instead about making great products.
You can go into the details of what is in Steve Jobs, but it is this obsession of Jobs’ – on crafting something great – that leaves a lasting impression. Often times it is when there is the meshing of art with technology that makes the ‘greatness’ emerge – such as with Pixar or one of countless Apple products. It is the fact that those involved were not creating something to make money – but were in it to make something great that ultimately allowed them to succeed. It is a simple, yet elusive, lesson for any person.
There are many reviews of Steve Jobs, most of them focusing on juicy tidbits. But it is, to Isaacson’s credit, that the story of Steve Jobs isn’t just that he was a supreme jerk (which he was by all accounts). But that he could lead the development of not just one revolutionary product – but four (the original Apple, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad). At times, he did these amazing thing in spite of himself, but more than not by trusting his instincts to make great products. Products that are immersed in simplicity and elegance.
Steve Jobs is worth reading on many levels. It’s a classic story of a middle class kid rising to greatness. It’s a juicy ‘insider’ story with plenty of ‘oh my god’ moments. It’s a self help book for CEOs (and aspiring CEOs). But mostly, it’s a tale of embracing simplicity and your own heart’s desires – and never letting go.