Walter Isaacson. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. 630 pp. Hardcover $35.00 ISBN 978-1451648539.
There have been several books written about Steve Jobs over the years, but only Isaacson’s can claim the title “Authorized Biography.” As Isaacson explains in the introduction, the book came about due to Steve’s persistence and was created following over forty interviews with Steve. In addition, Isaacson interviewed about one hundred other people including family, friends, foes, and rivals. This combination provides for one of the most complete biographies of Steve Jobs, an extremely private man, ever produced.
Everyone is familiar with the story of Apple’s creation, but what Isaacson is able to provide is some insight into Steve’s thinking. From the book we learn that Steve was rebellious from childhood, experimented with a wide variety of drugs, and was a devout Buddhist. There are other concerning aspects of Steve’s life including his bizarre diets and cruelty to those he deemed inferior.
One aspect of Steve’s personality that Isaacson focuses on his Steve’s “reality distortion field.” Steve applied this distortion field rather liberally throughout his life. Whether he was convincing others to meet impossible deadlines or denying that he was the father of his oldest daughter, his reality distortion field could be easy for others to buy into. At times it did prove correct, however, and those around him were able to pull off the impossible. However, the reality distortion field did fail him on several occasions, most notably his decision not to receive an operation to remove a tumor from his pancreas in 2003.
Isaacson’s book provides great tales from Steve’s experiences at Apple, NeXT, and Pixar. The book feels taught and complete. Perhaps the most difficult chapters to read are those that describe Steve’s cancer and how much he suffered the last year of his life. Amazingly, despite is suffering; he was able to appear on stage twice in 2011, although, as the book describes, Steve had to prepare himself for these appearances. The cancer was extremely aggressive and created a cycle that destroyed his appetite and caused him great pain and depression. He never stopped working with Apple engineers, however, and was even designing a yacht for himself and his family when he died.
Steve has been compared to many other giants of industry and design, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Steve was not perfect, and neither were any of these men. Often their work took precedence over everything else, including their families. Steve was no different. His children, three of them were interviewed for the book, understood that their father was doing great work and did not blame him for his, at times, neglect. Neither did his wife, Laurene Powell.
Isaacson’s book reads quickly and is high recommended for anyone interested in Apple, technology, or learning about a giant of our time. There are occasions when stories are repeated, and the reader questions whether or not Isaacson himself falls under the spell of Steve’s reality distortion field, but this is likely due to the speed at which this book was released. Nevertheless, Steve Jobs is a masterpiece about a guy who, could be an asshole at times, but vastly changed the way we use technology….and was taken from the world far too soon.
Isaacson’s book reveals one glimmer of hope, however. Steve’s oldest son, Reed, developed an interest in cancer research and is currently studying at Stanford University, the same institution that treated his father. The type of cancer that claimed Steve has been studied intensely thanks to Steve and his willingness to allow Stanford to study him and his tumor. There are drugs today to slow the growth of the cancer to allow those suffering from it to enjoy a long and healthy life. Steve hoped that he would be one of the last to die from his cancer, and he very well could be.