Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: Book Review

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Steve Jobs' management style was different. Isaacson's book portrayed Jobs in frank terms as demonstrated by this review.

Submitted: January 10, 2016

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Submitted: January 10, 2016

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Recently a middle manager at an investment services company told me that he had been called out by former employees while walking the streets of our town. “Aren’t you Jim Jones and don’t you work for Apex? I worked for you and you treated me like …. .” is how he explained the confrontations.

It is not hard to imagine that Steve Jobs could have faced similar encounters throughout his career, but one difference between him and the investment manager is that Jobs was indulged throughout his life. In Walter’s Isaacson’s revealing biography it is quite evident that Jobs was given a free pass on behavior from a very early age.

His adoptive parents explained to him that he was a special person when he confronted them as a distraught six or seven-year-old after a playmate asked if his being adopted meant that he was unwanted.  Isaacson describes the progression of Jobs self-image very succinctly and early in his book as, “Abandoned. Chosen. Special.” This would account for a lot of the pain in his life that he would both endure and inflict.

Employees, fellow industry leaders, and family members were not spared the ravages of Jobs value structure which saw everything from food to engineering feats as either the best or the worst the human race had ever produced. He only tolerated “A” players and woe to those who didn’t measure up. He was challenged at times, which he tolerated to a degree, and during his career there were some adults in the room who pointed out his dreadful behavior, but Isaacson makes it clear that even at the end of life Jobs never mellowed.

But understand that Jobs in Isaacson’s hands is far from a monster, but rather a man driven by a passion for the utility and beauty of consumer products of his invention. Therefore, the iPod could be a “1000 songs in your pocket” operated with a mere thumb.

Jobs solicited Isaacson to write his biography and gave the author complete access to associates and family members. Jobs only prevailed upon Isaacson on the choice of the cover photo. The result is a very frank and unforgiving look at a man who achieved his goal of successfully merging technology with the liberal arts.

The author is a master of using anecdotes to reveal his subject’s core and often the profound effects that person had on those who surrounded him. His telling of Jobs’ construction and design of the Pixar headquarters building is one example.

Jobs picked a mill in Arkansas for the structural steel and had the firm sandblast the steel to its virgin color and then apply a clear finish. The truckers were cautioned not to mar it in transport and ironworkers used nuts and bolts to erect it rather than welding it. The result was a job so remarkable that on weekends the iron workers would bring their families to the site to show off their work.

Jobs must have been thinking a lot about his legacy when he encouraged Isaacson to take on the project. He admitted to the author that he knew there would be revelations that he would not like, which provided an unvarnished look at this major force in both technology and design. To the credit of the biographer, this was one time that Jobs didn’t receive a free pass.

 


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