Saturday, July 6, 2013

My brief review of the biography of Steve Jobs

Over the weekend I finished Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. As the book has been reviewed extensively by other people, I am going to try to limit my own review to insights that were  largely absent in the earlier discussions about the book.

My first observation concerns the amount of research that went into the book. Isaacson conducted  hundreds of interviews with Jobs and the people close to him, yet only a relatively small number of quotes made it into the book. As I read the biography, I kept wondering how many quotes and facts ended up on the cutting-room floor. There was probably enough material to create another bio of Jobs, plus assorted studies of specific products or the people around him. To that end, I would be very interested to see a book about the relationship between Jobs and Ive, as well as Jobs and Lasseter (the creative genius at Pixar).

Speaking of Pixar, I was very excited to see the sections about Jobs' history at Pixar, and how he helped grow the company. The sections about Jobs and Eisner, as well as the tale of the Disney acquisition, were absolutely fascinating. As a technology journalist from the late 1990s until 2010, I really felt that the Jobs/Pixar story was neglected by the media in favor of Jobs/Apple, but Isaacson really helped shed some light into the Pixar connection.

However, I also have some criticism concerning Isaacson's coverage of Apple products from 1997 until his death. I felt it was uneven. For instance, the author dove into the iTunes/iPod/music industry story, but barely scratched the surface of the App Store and its impact. There were also a slew of Apple hardware products that were notable but were barely mentioned. I'm not just talking about Xserve or rare product flops, either. For instance, the MacBook Air marked a milestone in laptop design, but it was not called out in the book.

Nevertheless, these issues are relatively minor, considering the magnitude of Isaacson's accomplishment. He had to write about an incredibly difficult topic, and the result is an extensive, honest portrait of a complex and troubled man.

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