Saturday, November 05, 2011

Books Read in 2011: "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson

If Steve Jobs's story had been an Ayn Rand novel, I would mock it as insanely unrealistic. But it really happened.

This would have been a fascinating book even if Steve Jobs were still alive. It might have been extraordinary to have such a warts-and-all biography of a sitting CEO, rather than a hagiographic in house PR piece or a bit of autobiographical self-justification. But the truth is that Jobs would never have cooperated if he weren't faced with, and scared of, his own mortality.

In the book, near the end, Job tells Isaacson that he cooperated because he wanted his kids to know him. He was always so busy and so engaged with Apple and Pixar and all of his other projects that he wasn't the father that he wished he could have been, and he wanted them to know why he wasn't always there. But I suspect that he sought someone to help explain him to himself. He was always so focused on the right now and the near- and long-term future that he rarely took time for introspection and rumination about the past. If he gave someone permission to poke in all the dark corners of his life and shed light on whatever he found there, might he glean some explanation. Not that there was ever any shortage of people who were willing to try and explain Steve Jobs.

The book is not without its faults, though. Early chapters focus a lot of Jobs's "abandonment" and his search for a father figure, which ring hollow when you consider that he was only a few days old when he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs. His parents were always open and honest about his adoption. Once, when he was about 8, a neighbor girl teased him and said that he was adopted because no one wanted him. His father sat him down and told him that they chose him because they did want him. He was just that special. By all accounts in the book, and by Jobs's own recollections, Paul Jobs was a loving and attentive father. Surely there were generational clashes, as there were between millions of fathers and sons in the 1960s and 70s, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Again, near the end of the book, after Jobs had resigned as CEO of Apple and was homebound and weak, he shared some photographs with Isaacson for inclusion in the book, including one of his father and himself as a toddler. Isaacson says, "He would have been proud of you," to which Jobs replies, "He was proud of me." This is not a man who doubted the love of his father. While he may have wondered about his biological father, he certainly never lacked for a father figure.