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BOOK REVIEW: 'Steve Jobs': A Bratty, Tyrannical Genius Who Created Tech Objects of Desire and Revolutionized the World
Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 18:41 Reviewed by David M. KinchenIn "Steve Jobs" (Simon & Schuster, (646 pages, illustrations, notes, index, $35.00) Walter Isaacson sums up the co-founder of Apple with a question -- and a answer: "Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical." (Page 566).
Jobs died of cancer on Oct. 5 at the age of 56. Isaacson is a fellow baby boomer, and his book hit the shelves -- and the Kindles and iPads -- a few weeks later, but it was obvious that the author knew Jobs would never celebrate his 57th birthday.
Speaking of genius, the author, born in New Orleans in 1952 and the author of bestselling biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, obviously picks subjects who are geniuses to write about. Although it's far from an authorized biography -- and Jobs had no editorial control over it -- "Steve Jobs" is based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs, conducted over two years. Isaacson also interviewed more than 100 family members, adversaries, friends, competitors and colleagues to produce the definitive biography of Jobs.
Jobs was often bratty, the kind of guy who believed that rules that everybody else accepted, often grudgingly, didn't apply to him. For instance, this Mercedes-driving Buddhist refused to put license plates on his car. He said he didn't want people stalking him, but any stalker could readily spot the Jobs-Mobile because he often parked in handicapped parking spaces, straddling the lines -- and it didn't have license plates, the author writes. If you have to ask what kind of Buddhist drives a Mercedes, or owns mansions in some of the most expensive cities of an expensive state, you don't know jack about California.
Jean-Louis Gassée, Apple's manager in France, remarked of Jobs: "The only way to deal with him was to outbully him....I am a recovering assoholic. So I could recognize that in Steve." (Page 185). Gassée was among the few managers on Jobs's European trip, made around the time of the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, who could stand up to Jobs. Most of the other managers, in Italy and Germany, were shaking uncontrollably after tangling with Jobs, the author says.
When Gassée was threatened with a reduced allocation of Macs if he didn't meet Jobs's unrealistic sales projections, the Frenchman got seriously angry: "I remember grabbing his lapel and telling him to stop, and then he backed down."
Gassée recognized the genius of Jobs, including his ability to turn on the charm when he wanted to. Many others interviewed by Isaacson saw this quality in the quintessential child of Silicon Valley, who in the early 1970s partnered with Stephen Wozniak to change the way the world works.
A personal note: I bought my first Macintosh, used, in 1986, from a friend in Northern Californiawho was upgrading to a new model (One thing about Macs -- and other Apple products: the day you buy it, a new model has been introduced). It was eye-opening to a reporter who struggled with kludgy Radio Shack 100s and other computers, but it was seriously underpowered and lacked a hard drive. One of the Apple product managers had lobbied for a hard drive, similar to that on the Lisa computer introduced in 1983, but Jobs delayed adding this feature until the Mac SE model. As I said, he was stubborn! I later owned Performas and other Macs and today I'm blessed with a Mac mini, a 2007 iMac, a MacBookPro and an iPad2. I refuse to use the company's most successful product, the iPhone, because I don't want to get hooked! And I like my music on CDs, so I never got hooked on iPods, like millions did. I've figured out how to synch music from my Mac to my iPad2.
It's worth quoting an excerpt from the book to experience the Full Bore Steve Jobs, so I picked one involving Google and its competing Android operating system to the iPad, which, like all Apple products, uses an OS that is proprietary to Apple, not licensed to others like Android:
MAKING AN ENEMY OUT OF GOOGLE INC:
Isaacson's account of Jobs' blow-up over Google's entry into the smartphone market underscores the subsequent animosity he bore toward one-time Apple board member Eric Schmidt.
Jobs felt betrayed because Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had treated him very much as a mentor. In 2008, he got into a shouting match with the pair, as well as with Android chief Andy Rubin, at Google's headquarters.
Jobs had offered Google an icon or two on the iPhone's home page; but in January 2010, HTC released a phone with multi-touch and other iPhone-like features that prompted Jobs to sue.
"Our lawsuit is saying, 'Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off.' Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this," Jobs told Isaacson the week after the suit was filed.
"They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products -- Android, Google Docs -- are shit."
Schmidt met with Jobs for coffee days later, but Jobs remained enraged and nothing was resolved.
"We've got you red-handed," Jobs told Schmidt. "I'm not interested in settling. I don't want your money, If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android."
Jobs' infuriation stemmed partly from a fundamental conflict between Android's open-source approach and his own belief in a closed, carefully controlled ecosystem.
"We do these things not because we are control freaks," he said.
Addressing users' concerns, he said: "They are busy doing whatever it is they do best, and they want us to do what we do best. Their lives are crowded; they have other things to do than think about how to integrate their computers and devices."
"Look at the results -- Android's a mess .... We do it not to make money. We do it because we want to make great products, not crap like Android."
Isaacson deals with all aspects of Steve Jobs, including his family and his fight with pancreatic cancer that spread throughout his body. Isaacson says that Jobs will be ranked with Henry Ford and Thomas A. Edison as a genius -- there's that word again! -- who revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.
About the Author
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and of Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.