Steve Jobs was an interesting guy – to put it mildly.
For someone so famous, so much in the news, so idolized, and so associated with the image of his company, large parts of his story are already well known, and so reading his biography is a bit like reading a novel when you’ve already seen bits and pieces of the movie.
It is a fascinating tale nevertheless.
As the tale weaves from his adopted childhood, to his days selling Apple I with Steve Wozniack, to launching the Macintosh, to leaving Apple, to unveiling NeXT computers, to taking charge of Pixar movies and helping make Toy Story, to coming back to Apple and launching the iMac, the iPod, the iTunes store, the iPhone, and the iPad, you are constantly amazed at how much he accomplished in a short, single lifetime, while fighting his personal demons all the time.
You are also struck by how extraordinarily lucky he was to be coming of age just when the computer industry was being born. And how fortunate he was to have people around him who – hate him or love him – always knew they had genius on their hands and made allowances for him and let him have his way.
Steve was well known for his ‘reality distortion field’, his mood swings, and his emotional outbursts. So Walter Issacson tries to take a balanced approach where different accounts of some incidents are presented as recollected by the different people involved. This leads to some interesting passages where Steve is quoted and then immediately corrected by the writer himself. As we are told, Jobs wanted it this way so that the book would come off as balanced and believable. So you get Steve as he was – foibles and all. You get to hear from his friends, but also from those who fell out with him; you get to see how his sense of design led to Apple’s iconic products, but also how it led him astray at times; you find out how he wanted to build a world class team around him at Apple, but you also get to see how much he tore them down.
As you read of his strokes of genius interspersed with his emotional outbursts and the costs he paid for them, you may end up liking him or hating him. But you do come away convinced that he was one of a kind.