26 Oct Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs
In 2004, Steve Jobs asked Walter Isaacson to be his official biographer. Isaacson is a former Managing Editor of TIME magazine, and chairman and CEO of CNN who has published biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger. Yes Steve Jobs had a huge ego.
Jobs gave Isaacson carte blanche to speak to anyone he had ever worked with and interacted with; then availed himself for 40 interviews. The result is one of the bestselling biographies of all time. Isaacson depicts Jobs idiosyncrasies and contradictions masterfully; letting you know that while he could be cruel and abrasive, he was also a sensitive man.
The book places Jobs in a context that the world is beginning to forget – 70s California, post-hippie movement, technology meets drugs, Zen Buddhism and rock n roll. Bono (U2) and Steve had several conversations about this time in world history and Bono is quoted saying, “the people who invented the twenty-first century were pot smoking, sandal wearing hippies from the West Coast like Steve, because they saw differently…the sixties produced an anarchic mindset that is great for imagining a world that is not yet in existence.”
Through extensive conversations with people who worked with, loved and even despised Steve Jobs, we get a multidimensional view of the visionary.
His curiosity and lifelong study of Zen Buddhism; his wilful creation of himself as charismatic (though shy, he cultivated behaviour that made him appear strange and memorable like learning to stare at people without blinking, not wearing shoes); his obsessive nature that led him to throw himself into all manner of fad diets. At one point he was a fruitarian who was absconding showers because he believed that fruits kept his body clean; result – body odour and skin tinged a funny shade of yellow.
This book is a joy to read. Isaacson is fascinated by his subject but not in so much awe that he hides the truth of Job’s megalomaniacal tendencies. Rather he celebrates Jobs through anecdotes like a high school prank that involved hacking into the A,T&T network and calling the Vatican pretending to be Henry Kissinger.
We hear from his college roommate, Daniel Kottke, who helped build and sell Apple products from the very beginning but was shunned by Steve when the company went public.
At the end of the book, you feel like you got to know what it took to make Steve Jobs… well as much as you can know without actually being the man.
Isaacson gets you to feel like you met Jobs but managed to watch his life at the safe distance of two degrees of separation – close enough to care but far enough to know the truth. An entertaining and riveting must read.