Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Review of Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs

"You must understand that ordinary efforts do not count; only superefforts count." ~Gurdjieff

His name was Steve Jobs. Just when you thought you knew everything important that there was to know about the passionate founder of Apple, you discover through this incredible biography how little you really knew.

Everyone knows about the garage startup, about Woz, about his tantrums and the challenge of working for him, and maybe even where the Apple name came from. And most of us who were there watching the 1984 Super Bowl remember "the commercial" for MacIntosh, as legendary as John Elway's "the drive" for sports fans.

But how little most of us really knew, till Walter Isaacson assembled his story and shared it with the world in a New York Times bestseller this fall, shortly after Mr. Jobs' passing from cancer.

I myself have been a Mac guy since 1987, when I bought my first, a 512Ke. E meant enhanced. When John Sculley was brought in from Pepsi to be head of Apple in the 1980s, I thought it was a good thing, because I read Odyssey, Sculley's book in which he tells he came in as a white knight and saved the company from certain doom.

When you read Isaacson's book you hear the other side of the story. It's possible Steve Jobs had to be pushed aside for a season, but had the genius of Jobs not been re-inserted many years later, the languishing Apple would almost certainly not have become what it is today.

There were many surprises in the book. Steve Jobs had been born to a family in Wisconsin who put him up for adoption. He was raised by a California couple named Jobs. His birth mother was 23 and when he turned 23 he fathered an out-of-wedlock child whom he himself did not raise, an ironic echo of his own life experience of abandonment. Her name was Lisa, which later became an acronym for one of his products preceding the Mac.

Jobs' drug use is detailed and his religious quest, which included going to India for seven months to study at the feet of a guru, becoming a Buddhist vegan who even when an exec at his fledgling company preferred to go barefoot than wear shoes. Anecdotally, Isaacson notes that Jobs smelled because he did not believe in deodorant or the other American amenities of hygiene. His method of de-stressing at work would be to sometimes stick his feet in the toilet. His employees found this a bit icky.

Steve Jobs was a huge Dylan fan and Beatles fan. In fact, he was so much of a Dylan fan he pursued and maintained a two year romantic relationship with Joan Baez who had herself been romantically entwined with Bob. Jobs gave it up when he came to realize he didn't really love her but loved the idea of being involved with his idol's woman.

When the iPod came out, a brilliant Steve Jobs concept that revolutionized music, Jobs was asked the question that Apple's TV commercials were asking: "What's on your iPod." the interviews then said, if you had to choose between the Beatles and the Stones, who would you keep? Jobs replied that that was easy, The Beatles. "But if you asked me to decide between the Beatles and Bob Dylan, that would be a much harder question."

Isaacson's book is endlessly enlightening as he details Jobs' experiences in bring Pixar to the world and thereby forever changing the way animated films are produced. We see his ongoing rivalry with Bill Gates and how the Apple philosophy was 180 degrees opposite of the Microsoft way. We read of his friendship with Larry Ellison, and how the Oracle founder helped him get re-connected to his life again. We learn about Jobs' friendship with Bill Clinton and the advice that he gave President Obama. And we learn about his tears.

When Woz's father confronted young Steve about splitting the fledgling Apple 50-50 between them, he didn't defend himself. Jobs wept. In story after story we read of crying jags, even in board rooms. It's an unusual portrait of the man who was clearly visionary and profoundly influential. At least one reviewer wrote that this book is the story of a "man who put a dent in the universe."

In an interview on author Walter Isaacson describes Steve Jobs this way. "He was a genius at connecting art to technology, of making leaps based on intuition and imagination. He knew how to make emotional connections with those around him and with his customers." It's a good interview and well worth reading.

This eye-opening page-turner is as exciting as any novel.

Steve Jobs and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle including my first novel, The Red Scorpion.

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