About me
About me

Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

It’s a measure of the brilliance of this book that my first thought having read it was that Steve Jobs was an excellent subject for a biography. He was an exceptionally complex character, who achieved quite phenomenal personal success despite a deeply flawed personality.

His complex personality could have lead to a very confused biography, but it is to Isaacson’s considerable credit that the portrait he paints is entirely clear. And, somehow, Isaacson fashions a somewhat sympathetic character out of a man whose actions were often cruel, and whose personality appears thoroughly unlikeable. Jobs’ gamut of failings run from from minor transgressions of social norms (for example, refusing to wash), via quite astonishing acts of cruelty (for example, refusing to acknowledge that his firstborn daughter was his), to alarming acts of quite alarming idiocy (for example, eating only carrots until he turned orange). Yet somehow, this collection of failings interacted to allow him to lead his businesses to create products of unparalleled perfection.

It’s somewhat disturbing to see people claim to want to emulate Jobs’s “formula for success”. I don’t think it is entirely possible to tease out whether he achieved so much despite his flaws or because of them. Could he still have made his visions reality without declaring people’s work to be “shit” and demanding the impossible of employees under the threat of on-the-spot firing? It’s impossible to know, but we can be certain that emulating such tactics will not result in the same success the majority of the time.

I find it intensely irritating to see people producing lists of “lessons learned” from this biography, which consistently list culturally positive attributes of Jobs’s behaviour (e.g. simplify things), damaging behaviours reframed in a positive light (e.g. build a team of “A players”, without mentioning that Jobs’s interpretation of this includes indiscriminate firing), and omit many of the things to which Jobs himself attributed his success (e.g. frequent use of LSD). It is typical of much of the nonsense in the field of management theory that people, without justification, attribute his success to only those bits of his management style which they find palatable. And it is infuriating.

Away from that brief digression… Whatever conclusions one draws about Jobs from reading this biography, the biography itself is – to use a Jobs phrase – “insanely great”. The 656 pages fly by, and the narrative is as absorbing as any I’ve ever read. It is a character study that combines real detail with forceful narrative drive in a way that few biographies manage, and it comes highly recommended.

Steve Jobs is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.

This 2,019th post was filed under: Book Reviews, , .

Some recently published posts

What I’ve been reading this month / October 2019, 3 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / September 2019, 6 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / August 2019, 7 minutes long

A flying visit to Copenhagen / July 2019, 9 minutes long

What I’ve been reading this month / June 2019, 6 minutes long

Some random old posts

What I’ve been reading this month / June 2019, 6 minutes long

A whole lot of B for the Bang / January 2005, Less than a minute long

Does this G8 summit matter? / June 2005, 1 minute long

David Miliband’s £6,000 blog / April 2006, 2 minutes long

Shock revelation: People enjoy taking drugs / October 2006, 2 minutes long

Woman Allegedly Gives Crack to Son, 4 / January 2005, Less than a minute long

Comments and responses

No comments or responses to this post have been published yet.

Compose a new comment


You may use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> .

If you would like to display a profile picture beside your comment, sign up for Gravatar, and enter your email address above.

By submitting your comment, you confirm that it conforms to the site's comment policy. Comments are subject to both automatic and human moderation, and may take some time to appear.

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. This site uses cookies - click here for more information.