Steve Jobs: A Biography by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I think the main feature of this book that I would emphasize is that it is, in fact, a biography about a flawed man, and not so much a history of his technical achievements. As a computer geek and long-time MacAddict, I found that a little disappointing; I didn’t care as much about every anecdote of his emotional instability, I cared about how he did what he did at various companies. There was barely anything on his time at NeXT, and even the major changes at Apple in the last 15 years pretty much got a single chapter each. I was also surprised to find a couple of spelling mistakes, although I suppose since I read an electronic version that could get patched later.
Overall I would echo John Siracusa’s Hypercritical podcast episode in which he reviews the book as having been writing by “the wrong guy”, making the point that Isaacson is someone who was generally incurious about technical matters. I think my rating of this book would be higher if he had delved into that side of Steve more.
That all said, it is probably the best collected summary of what he was like, mostly due to the access Isaacson had. I learned a lot of trivia, and there were a lot of interesting quotes that I marked in iBooks. I knew very little about his early life, or his family life. I just would have liked more of a study of what made his technical and design successes. There were some good stories from, among others, Bill Gates, Jony Ive, and Steve Wozniak.
I think it’s a reasonable first look at The Steve, but I would definitely read other history books first, or generally familiarize yourself with the history of Apple, NeXT, and Pixar. For the latter, the documentary that appears on the WALL-E DVD, The Pixar Story, is excellent.
I think my favorite quote from Steve featured in the book was this one, which is more philosophical than technical: “The job of art is to chase ugliness away.”. As in my initial reaction to his death, I think Steve clearly achieved that.