The Steve Jobs biography was released late October 2011 and by January it seemed like everybody had read it. In fact, the book was as ubiquitous in New York City as those white ear buds I saw everyone wearing on the subway not long after the iPod came out in 2001. But what’s struck me the most is not how many people have read it, but how many people I‘ve heard marvel at how much they related to Steve Jobs while reading his biography. I think what they meant is they were surprised by how much they understood him while reading the biography. If the latter, the implication is that Walter Isaacson did a spectacular job building a portrait from his 40 interviews with Steve Jobs and 100+ interviews with family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues. Which he really did; The book is perfectly paced for a mainstream audience and strikes the right balance recounting history and paraphrasing first-hand insights from the subject and those involved in Apple, NeXT, Pixar, and their seminal projects. But if you were overwhelmed by a sense of connection, and insist that you genuinely related to Steve Jobs while reading his biography, you’re probably a complete asshole.
Yes, I just called you an asshole. You may also be conceited and pretentious, but that’s not for me to say, I don’t know you.
There’s a moment in the book where his widow Laurene refers to him as a great man, while conceding that he was a deeply flawed family man. It’s one of the more intimate moments in the book and left me wanting more from the homestead. Granted his family life had nothing to do with his ideals, which is really what the book’s about, but it has everything to do with his reasons for cooperating with Isaacson. The motive behind this book was not ego: in one of their last meetings Walter Isaacson asked why had he been so eager, during close to 50 interviews and conversations over the course of two years, to open up so much for a book when he was usually so private? “I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.” It’s a rare moment of compassion and sensitivity from a man who seemed exceedingly intolerant, disrespectful, abusive, who exhibited complete antisocial behavior and wrote it off as part of his singular ambition and vision to serve the consumer (whom he also didn’t seem to hold in the highest of regard).
So back to the reason you’re an asshole for claiming you related to Steve Jobs — the book provides an unflinchingly balanced view of an uncompromising, sardonic, irascible codger who didn’t play well in the sandbox with anyone. He had no sacred cows, felt he was without peer and was quick to deride all captains of industry (see the entertaining anecdote where he meets Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning). Steve Jobs was a man so egotistical he put himself beside Einstein, Bob Dylan, Picasso and Gandhi in Apple’s 1997 Think Different ad campaign. And that was long before he disrupted how we consume music, how we buy music, how the Internet sells content, how we consume print media, how we experience media convergence, the retail experience, the cloud, etc. At the end of the day he was an exceedingly challenging man, a rare human being who bucked tradition, avoided common logic and showed a disregard for all social conventions and courtesies at every available opportunity. Who finally succumbed to cancer because he chose his crackpot fruitarian diets over Western medicine. But that iPhone sure is cool…
Anyway, below are my favorite quotes from the book: