I decided the best way to sum up my thoughts on the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson are by pointing you to things that others have said that I agree with.
John Siracusa in his podcast Hypercritical, co-hosted by the always affable Dan Benjamin, gives Walter Isaacson a thorough and well argued dress down for his work. I have never heard something so completely laid to waste as Mr. Siracusa did in episodes 42 & 43. Of the many points that he enumerated, the one that I found most egregious while reading were the factual errors and uninformed assumptions that littered discussions of the technology that built Apple’s empire. Of all the things to understand and explain well when talking about Steve Jobs, his work should top the list. The wrong guy [author] indeed.
The second point was that at the end of the book I do not feel like I understand what made Steve Jobs successful. What made this guy more successful than all the other control freaks out there? John Gruber quoted Thomas Q. Brady’s summary of this problem.
When I say “analysis,” I’m not talking about psychology. There’s plenty of that. Isaacson seems to enjoy pointing out that Jobs never really overcame the pain of knowing that his parents gave him up for adoption. But all Isaacson’s armchair, Psychology Today thinking rendered from the source materials was a self-absorbed, immature, emotionally unstable control-freak.
There are two reasons that’s a complete shame.
- We already knew that about Steve Jobs.
- I know lots of people that could be described that way (we seem to have been breeding them in the US over the last couple (few?) decades), and none of them started a company in their garage that became one of the most valued corporations in the world.
What made Jobs different? This isn’t really answered.
I could not have said it better. Isaacson is so in love with this shallow characterization of Steve Jobs that it is easy to attribute things to his personality which had no place in it, thus leading to factual inaccuracies (my first gripe). For example: Isaacson asserts that Steve Jobs released iPhoto to compete against Photoshop because he held a grudge against Adobe for not bringing early versions of Premiere to the Mac. Maybe if he actually used either of those products he would know that they have never, and probably will never compete directly. They’re in different universes as far as target market is concerned.
This may sound like I gritted my teeth the whole time I read the book. I did not. It was an easy enough read and it is nice to have a good overview of the arc of Steve Jobs’ life (even though 11 years of his life at NeXT was only given 1 chapter). But when I finished the book I did not feel satisfaction, I felt disappointment. If you are interested in a better idea of how Steve Jobs worked this 20 minute video gave me a better idea than Isaacson’s 571 pages. Take a look: