A child of the counterculture standing at the crossroads of technology and liberal arts. This is the legacy of Steve Jobs, captured in the 600+ pages of Walter Isaacson’s biography of him. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say this is how Jobs viewed himself. While this was certainly a piece of the Apple CEO and co-founder, those closest to him remark on a few traits that made him a stark image, contrasting social and business norms in an uphill battle to create what would become the finest company in the world.
If Jobs could be described in a word, it would be passionate. His passion manifested itself in ways both helpful and counterproductive, though in both cases it had a tendency to steamroll all who got in his way. Constantly hurling profane insults at employees and possessing an insufferable personality, Jobs was a difficult man to work with. He often told people that their work was terrible (though he uses more colorful words to communicate that), cried in business meetings when he did not get his way, and screamed obscenities at workers who made the slightest errors. In the technological utopia of Steve Jobs, there was no room for B players.
This passion also drove him to create some of the greatest innovations in the past half-century. Apple is not just a company, but it is a style and art form that Jobs worked so hard to create. Each of its products, from the original Macintosh computer to the new iPhone is infused with his passion for beauty and quality products.
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Isaacson says, “Jangling inside [Jobs] were the contradictions of a counterculture rebel turned business entrepreneur” (pg. 451). These two things at war within the Apple mastermind did not destroy each other, but rather kept one another in perfect tension. Jobs was one of the first (and only) people on the planet to be able to stretch the limits of art and technology and turn it into a thriving business. According to Jobs, “Great art stretches the taste, it doesn’t follow tastes” (pg. 128). This was a core philosophy by which Steve Jobs lived and it is one of the reasons that Apple was so successful. Apple is not just art and it’s not just technology. It is a masterpiece.
One of the great influences in Jobs’ life was the teachings of Zen. Though he never attained a great level of inner peace, he directed some of the philosophies of Zen into his work at Apple. Rather than make a thousand mediocre products, Jobs wanted to simplify and focus on making just a few products and making them great. He did this and did it with great success, success which was unprecedented and unanticipated.
The secrets to Jobs’ success can be attributed to multiple things. He was placed in the right geographical location, with the right natural gifts, at the perfect time. However, these alone were not enough to propel him into the legendary figure he is now. It took cajoling, steamrolling, and finding talent in hidden places coupled with Jobs’ remarkable intuition to create Apple.
I have heard it said that there are three things which must be present in a good biography; a compelling subject, an engaging narrative, and accuracy. All three are fully present and firing on all cylinders in this book. Isaacson did a phenomenal job portraying Jobs in a way that was as unbiased as could be. It laid bare the flaws of Jobs while celebrating his triumphs. In short, this book was fair to Steve Jobs in all regards.
I am the least tech-savvy person that I know, yet I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It did include a fair amount about technology, but it achieved what Jobs had aimed for in his company—simplicity. Even for a computer klutz like myself, I was able to grasp what nearly all the technological terms in the book were referring to. The reason for this is that this book is not about a computer. Nor is it about Apple or Pixar—the two great companies that Jobs built. It is about a single man, a man who saw the future as it should be and took the necessary steps to take the world to it.
As afore-mentioned, a drawback to this book is the language in it. I suspect that had this book been censored for language, it would be reduced to half its length. Well, not quite. However, there was enough language in this book to raise concern for those who may be younger readers or highly sensitive to any and all profanity. Beyond this, there is a small amount of drug reference, as Jobs took LSD when he was in high school and college. And at one point, Jobs walks in on his college friend who is having sex. This scene is not described explicitly, but it could warrant concern.
Steve Jobs, the innovation magnate of the late twentieth century is a man that will live on through the lasting companies that he built. But he was also a misguided man. At one point, Jobs said, “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery” (pg. 15). Jobs rejected church and most religion, excepting Zen, at a young age and never looked back. To the Christian, it is sad to see someone so brilliant waste their lives by not giving themselves over to Christ.
The day after I finished this book, I sent a message to a friend of mine saying, “If you read one biography in your life, make it this one.” There is much to be learned from the master of innovation, Steve Jobs. His character flaws are blatant, his language foul, and his attitude uncaring. Yet he also has managed to create two of the greatest companies in the world—Apple and Pixar. He managed to revolutionize nearly every part of life, not just in America but around the globe. In fact, I would speculate many of you are reading this on a device that came from Jobs; his influence is everywhere in our modern culture.
So now I say it to you. Whether or not you enjoy biographies, appreciate technology, have hopes of being a leader, or have any other natural draw to this book—read it.