Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York: 2011, 571 pages plus photos, a list of sources and an index.

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, titled simply Steve Jobs, is not the first book about Jobs, though it is the first since his death and the only one prepared with his assistance and approval. It’s a daunting volume, researched and compiled from interviews not only with Jobs but also with his family, his friends, his peers and his coworkers. It reads like a really long newspaper article, sometimes with over-abundant details of Apple’s developing product line and sometimes with tastes of Jobs’ personality that make you laugh or cringe.

Everyone has heard the story of Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak building their first computers in Jobs’ parents’ garage, but Isaacson follows the story onward to the iPad which Steve Jobs envisioned at the same time he imagined what the first Macintosh should be. Put this in perspective: in the early eighties when the Apple team was building the mac, I was a small child typing on an orange and white plastic typewriter. Now, not quite thirty years later, I am typing this review on a first generation iPad. This was Jobs’ plan all along.

Jobs always believed in a streamlined, integrated and intuitive experience for the consumer. Between this and his design ideals, added to his personal perfectionism, gave him a well-deserved reputation as a cutthroat jerk. He could charm people, making them believe they could achieve any goal, no matter how impossible, because it was what he wanted them to do.

Jobs convinced Corning to renew its abandoned Gorilla Glass for the iPhone. He attracted five thousand people a week to stores in high rent locations, when Gateway drew 250 customers a week to their stores. Jobs mercilessly killed products (the Newton). He pursued products that everyone told him would fail.

He didn’t believe in market studies or cost estimates. People don’t know what they want until we show them, Jobs would say. And the cost? He didn’t care. When designer Jony Ive put a handle on the bondi blue iMac, it had no function. It increased the ease and cost of production and offered no practical use. Yet, Jobs loved it. It gave the iMac a playful feel, encouraged people to touch it, and therefore would remove people’s anxieties about technology.

Isaacson had a lot to cover between technical products and the personality of a brash but mesmerizing man. If you’re coming to the book for computer history, it’s thorough history, although the iPod and the iPhone get condensed into quick chapters in comparison to how pivotal they are to Apple’s current market stance.

The book also discusses Job’s relationships with his boards, his employees, and his family. It delves into business rivalries like with Adobe, Microsoft, even Disney. The book is often slow paced, but Jobs will haunt you when you finish it.

Who should read it: Apple fans, innovators, computer geeks, and business people.

Star rating: 3 out of 5

Angel Ackerman is a recovering journalist having spent the first 15 years of her career as a reporter and editor. Thanks to her experience in weekly and daily newspapers, she can write about anything from prostate cancer to concrete houses with school board and municipal meetings in the mix. She serves as the president of her local public library’s board of trustees and on the board of Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, where she has twice served as president. She holds a bachelors degree in English and French from Moravian College and will complete a bachelors in International Affairs from Lafayette College in spring 2013. For fun, she writes paranormal fiction set in the Paris high fashion world. Her family includes one sweet and gorgeous little girl, her creative but absent-minded husband, three cats and a tortoise, who also thinks she is a cat. Occasionally she runs away from home to exotic locations like Paris, or Tunis, Tunisia, thanks to a friend with frequent flier miles. Yet, if you’re looking for her, you can probably find her in the local Target café where she’s worked since she got sick [literally] of professional employment.

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