Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review - Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

Long-time readers know that despite this being basically a music blog, I will occasionally delve into technology stuff. And recently, I plowed through the Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs book and wanted to post something.

The list of markets Jobs revolutionized or invented is mind boggling: personal computing, desktop publishing (with Adobe), computers with a graphical interface (not having to type commands into the computer to make things happen), saving the music industry from Napster-like piracy with iTunes, the animated films industry (through Pixar – that part of the story is one of the most interesting), the mobile phone industry, retailing (Apple Stores), the app store for phones and tablets, and tablet computing with the iPad.

It might sound like I am an Apple ‘fan-boy’ as they are called, to agree with this list, but read the book. It’s all true. He either took an existing seed of an idea and made it work (graphical user interface, tablet computing), or outright invented it (iTunes).

Also true is that Steve Jobs was a major prick. This guy either thought you were a genius or you were shit. He led through fear and intimidation and pushed people beyond what is reasonable. Now, in many cases this method led to engineers and designers coming up with things that had previously been thought impossible. But still, not fun. He would also do things like send food back in restaurants after one bite, claiming it was inedible. And he pretty much totally neglected his family and kids. That kind of bullshit.

So while I very much admire the man, his perseverance and his genius, I don’t strive to be at all like him after reading the book. However, I do appreciate his take no prisoners attitude and the questioning of the status quo and responding to a ‘no’ with a ‘why not?’ And his willingness to fail. Nothing good happens without taking chances and failing. Most people and companies for that matter play it safe, and that is no way to change the world. Dream big and make it happen. Why not?

While Jobs died at the too-young age of 56, he lived a few lifetimes. The book presents Jobs’ life chronologically, with quotes from all the major players from the different phases of his life. Some of the most fascinating are from Bill Gates, who actually worked together with Jobs in the 80s to primarily design software for the first Macs. Later when Gates got into the operating system business, that is when their famous rivalry was born. But it seems like near the end, they had a grudging respect for each other. 

The book is well-written and well-organized and is a pretty quick read for 500+ pages. The writer doesn’t sugar coat anything and you get a pretty good sense for what kind of guy Jobs was. Overall, it’s fascinating. I am not even presenting the tip of the tip of the iceberg. To relate something to my blog here, the section where Jobs convinced the big music companies to allow the use of their artists on iTunes is unreal. I don’t think anyone else but Jobs could have pulled it off. Read the book for that section alone… 

And for the record, I typed this on an iMac, while listening to iTunes and syncing my iPod and being interrupted by calls to my iPhone. When this is posted, I’ll read it on my new iPad. Basically, I am a long-time Mac user.

In fact, after Jobs died, I pulled my Macintosh 512k from 1986 out of storage and guess what – it fired right up (see photo at left). That is highly cool. RIP Steve and thanks.


Chris said...

Interesting. Great innovators/entrepreneurs/superstars/etc. are often assholes that give up a lot of personal life and relationships for whatever it is they are driving at. I'm glad I'm not like that. I'm not willing to make the trade-off. I'd rather be mediocre and excel at it.

sue hanes said...

Isorski - If you read Isaacson's
Einstein - he also presents Einstein in the same way.

He was a genius but was a personal failure when it came to family.

Nobody's perfect.

Isorski said...

Sue I am totally ordering that book! Chris, totally agreed. Look at Axl Rose (kidding).