I have been a loyal and enthusiastic Apple customer since 2002, when I bought my first iMac, the “Sunflower,” and wrote this review. I did not, however, get involved in the “cult” of Steve Jobs. I knew little about him until the media coverage of his deteriorating health made him almost impossible to ignore. I recall watching only one of his famous keynote addresses live, the announcement of the iPad in January of 2010. Around the time of his retirement in August, I, like so many others, watched his wonderful Stanford Commencement Address for the first time.
People like me — who love Apple products, who are grateful to Jobs for the indispensable role he played in creating them, but who knew little about Jobs the man — found ourselves “caught flat-footed”, as Jobs might have said, when we learned about the the seriousness of his illness, his retirement, and then his untimely death last month. We wanted to know more about this great innovator and businessman. We wanted a complete and accurate picture of the man who produced so much of value in his short life. Enter Steve Jobs, the authorized biography written by Walter Isaacson. For reasons I’ll explain, Steve Jobs’ getting Isaacson to write this biography was pure genius.
Before the book even came out, we learned that Jobs gave Isaacson hours upon hours of exclusive interviews, that he told Isaacson to feel free to interview anyone whom he wished, and that the interviewees were told to speak freely about Jobs, warts and all. In addition, Jobs said he would not ask to see the finished product before publication. All this, plus the fact that Isaacson was an experienced and respected journalist and biographer, someone picked by Jobs himself, combined to make the book a must-read, and so I pre-ordered it — on my iPad, of course.
After watching some of the pre-publication media appearances by Isaacson, I was concerned about the tone he would take in the biography. While Isaacson said he liked Jobs, some of the interviews seemed to emphasize Jobs’ least desirable and most controversial character traits. And, towards the beginning of the biography, when Isaacson used some of the value-laden terms critics have used to refer to Jobs — such as “Reality Distortion Field” — it seemed unjustified. But after reading about half the biography, I realized (1) there were some character traits of Jobs that served neither him nor anyone well, and (2) given the information he presented, Isaacson came across as both respectful and objective.
Next: The best and worst of what we learn about Jobs in the biography, and my opinion of Jobs after reading it.