Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

by Manshu on November 16, 2011

in Books

I’ve recently finished reading the much talked about biography of Steve Jobs and absolutely loved it.

It is one of the most honest biographies I’ve ever read and the only biography I’ll place higher on the frankness scale is The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

Much of the book talks about the temperamental nature of Jobs and how harsh he was with people around him and often presents the counter view to what he thought by interviews with the other person.

The best thing about the book is the detailed view it gives on almost all situations that it deals with and because Walter Isaacson interviewed so many people it presents different angles to the same incident and makes it a lot different from what an autobiography might have looked like.

It also brings out the sharp contradictions in Jobs’s personality with many events big and small. One example is Jobs being given up for adoption by his parents, his biological father later on abandoning his mother and him doing the same thing with his daughter but never making amends with his biological father or making special allowances and trying to improve relations with his daughter.

His temper and volatile nature is also written about quite often with several incidents in the book when he yells at people who work with him and even the people who don’t like the elderly woman who worked at Whole Foods and didn’t make a smoothie upto his standards.

There are a few stories about how he trashed people’s ideas and then a week later came back to them and told them the same idea as if it were his own and there was nothing you could do about it.

There were many instances of the famous reality distortion field, which was a term coined by early Apple employees to convey that he could make you feel like you could do something which you yourself didn’t think possible. This extended to others as well as recounted by Wendell Weeks who was the CEO of Corning Glass, the company that supplied Apple with the Gorilla Glass that Apple used in the iPhone.

Apparently, Corning had developed this strong glass in the sixties that they called Gorilla Glass which was very strong but they never found a market for it and stopped making it. Jobs told Weeks that Apple would buy as much glass as Corning could make within six months and Weeks told him they had no capacity and none of their plants make the glass now.

Jobs turned on his reality distortion field and convinced him they could do it and eventually they ended up doing it within six months. There are several other amazing examples of the reality distortion field as well.

Among his other quirks were the fact that he felt that the rules that applied to regular people didn’t apply to him and that showed in the way he drove a Mercedes that didn’t have a number plate or parked in the spot reserved for handicapped people.

That is also a great example of the contradictions in his nature – on one hand he eschewed the idea of having a special parking place for the CEO and on the other hand he didn’t feel anything wrong about parking in the handicapped parking spot in his office.

His relationship with money was another such thing and probably the best example of that is when he worked for a $1 annual salary for two years upon his return to Apple, and initially refused an options grant by his board. Eventually, he asked them for a lot more than they had originally offered and stunned everyone. He later recounted that it was not about the money but about being recognized by his peers.

The books also talks about the amazing things he did and recounts how he changed the computer industry, the music industry, and the phone industry. It is not lopsided in any way and does talk about the amazing attention to detail he paid like noticing that an advertisement missed two frames, and it also talks about how even competitors like Bill Gates showed their admiration for him from time to time.

I didn’t touch upon those things so much in my review because they are already quite talked about and I wanted to recount the things that are not so well known.

Despite all the shortcomings in his nature I felt that what Jobs did, only Jobs could have done. It’s an amazing story of a remarkable man and I would heartily recommend this book to anyone.

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