So, I finished the new Steve Jobs bio. It’s advertised as 656 pages, but it’s not really that long; the hardcover must have some bigass font.
The book is organized roughly chronologically, but major events which are logically connected would be grouped together, so for example, there’s separate chapters for Jobs’ personal relationships, which might span several years, and then the founding of Pixar would be grouped together for another chapter (don’t quote me on this, I’m just trying to give you an idea). The prose is a very straightforward “this is what happened, and this is what that person thought” reporter-style, which minimal embellishments from the author. The book actually feels a little disjoint, to the point where you can almost pick a chapter at random and read it without being too lost. I noticed many places where details, plot points, or even quotes and sayings would be repeated, which annoyed me a bit, and detracted from the overall cohesiveness.
To be honest, I’m a little disappointed by the book. Maybe I’m a bigger Jobs fan than I thought I was, but I would estimate that half of the material and stories were already familiar to me. In particular, all the chapters about how the first Mac came to be feels straight from folklore.org. Of course, there were always interesting tidbits, like Steve Jobs’ dietary “beliefs”, and his penchant for taking walks and going around barefoot (I feel you there, brother). Of course, there are some stuff which have never really been made public (or I certainly didn’t know it), such as how NeXT and Pixar got started, and how Jobs got back to Apple. Those parts were particularly interesting to me.
This being a biography, the purpose is to understand the person better, to be able to see all aspects of their lives, not just what they’re famous for. To that end, I would say the book succeeded. I feel I can now say that my opinion of Steve Jobs is “one crazy son-of-a-bitch”. Absolutely brilliant in many ways, but also frakking off-the-wall in others. Based on these stories, I can also understand why some because called him “tyrant”, “megalomanic”, “crazy” and the like (because, frankly, he seemed to be, in many ways).
I’m sure many many people are reading the bio in hopes of learning how to be more like Steve Jobs, so that they can replicate his success. My opinion now is that it’s not possible, and I sincerely hope people don’t try. He truly seems like a once-in-a-generation individual (or once every 250 years, according to Al Gore (Al Gore lol)) for whom the combination of the person he was, the times he lived, and the environment he inhabited all came together to create a story that is arguably the greatest of this age. Anybody who tries to mold themselves in exactly Job’s image is just going to come off an asshole. There are certainly lessons for people to take away (his incredible focus on “product, product, product”, his belief in focus itself (pick 3 things, and do it “insanely great”), his unwavering drive for perfection, his ability to bring “A players” together, just to name a few), but each person needs to synthesize these lessons for themselves, and find their own way (I truly believe Jobs himself would agree with this).
In the end, it’s an interesting read about not just the achievements, but the life of one of the greatest heroes of the Internet age, and I would recommend it, despite its flaws.
Edit: Nice review, with a completely different perspective: http://scripting.com/stories/2011/10/27/theJobsBook.html
Edit2: Ha, and here’s one that argues with me, about the “don’t try this at home kids” bit: