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« No Blood Drawn at 2011 SBL Bible Software Shootout | Main | On Steve Jobs' Passing »

So I've Been Reading that New Steve Jobs Bio...

I haven't had a lot of extra time lately, so I've mainly read Walter Isaacson's biography Steve Jobs at night before I go to sleep. I'm about 25% through the entire book according to my Kindle screen.

This is not intended to be a review of the book, but I do want to mention two things that have really struck me as I'm reading. First, the subject matter aside, when it comes to the entire biography genre, this one is nearly perfect. Let me explain.

Anyone can write a biography about any person in history, and it be may be well done or it may not be. I bought Isaacson's biography on Benjamin Franklin when it first came out because he's my favorite president of all time (that's a joke—before some of you decide to correct me in the comments). While Isaacson's biography of Franklin is excellent, he didn't have access to the principal subject: Franklin himself. If Isaacson could have gained access to a time machine and conducted first person interviews with him, I have no doubt the Franklin bio would be even better.

With the bio on Steve Jobs, Isaacson has a trifecta for creating the perfect kind of biography that often is not possible when writing about someone: (1) extensive access and interviews with the subject, (2) a biography that covers the subject's entire life and therefore won't require a follow-up volume years from now (unfortunately, in this case, due to the subject's untimely death), and (3) extensive interviews with people associated with the subject to provide context and counterpoint to the interviews with the subject. Again, a biographer rarely has all three of those components when writing about someone.

Here's the second point that's struck me: I honestly believe Steve Jobs would have hated this book.

I realize that Jobs personally asked Isaacson to write his biography and gave him unprecedented access to his life, which up to this point had been extremely private. He also said he wanted no control over it (although he did approve the cover). And to her credit, Steve Jobs' wife, Laurene, told Isaacson he shouldn't "whitewash" her husband's life. 

That being said, I imagine that Jobs would never have guessed how extensively Isaacson would research his subject, let alone some of the content that he's published in the final draft. While I do believe Jobs' ouster from Apple in the eighties was a necessary event to humble the man who, although brilliant, was also extremely immature; and while I realize that the Steve Jobs of the eighties was a very different man than the Steve Jobs of this last decade, that doesn't preclude the fact that the guy could be a real jerk at times, even in his last few years. 

Of course, we're all flawed; we're all sinners. At least this much we all have in common with Steve Jobs. Nevertheless, I would really cringe to read scores of accounts of my own bad behavior over the years. If my contemporaries thought that I needed to bathe more often and use more deodorant when I was younger, that's one thing; but I'd hate to think that the entire world was reading about it today. But this is not even near the worst of Jobs' behavior that is recounted in the book.

Isaacson's biography is masterful because he obviously admires and respects his subject (based on what I've seen in television interviews), but he doesn't let that become blind admiration or hero worship in his book. He remains incredibly objective throughout. This is definitely a warts and all story, and the warts really abound. 

Apple is distributing the ebook version of Steve Jobs through the iTunes Store and the iBook Store. While it's not part of the revolving "most featured' books at the top of the screen, it is the first listing directly underneath in the "New and Notable" section. I can't help wondering that if Steve Jobs were still alive, and if Steve Jobs were still CEO of Apple, if he wouldn't have them pull the book. We can never know for certain, but I'm inclined to think he would. Isaacson's book is just that transparent and honest. Few of us would want to face up to that kind of scrutiny of our lives.

As always, your thoughts, questions, comments and rebuttals are welcome in the comment section.

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Reader Comments (3)

Jobs seems like such a mercurial spirit, I wonder how he would have reacted. And from the little I've read of the book, he strikes me as just narcissistic enough not to be too bothered by what would obviously be incredibly embarrassing to us mere mortals. He certainly knew all those stories of infamy were circulating about him, but he never seemed to engage them publicly. In fact, after Pirates of Silicon Valley came out, which I understand did not whitewash his flaws, he had Noah Wylie as Steve Jobs begin the next keynote at MacWorld. So he must have been able to laugh off or otherwise excuse his own warts. I imagine he might have groused to those close to him about Isaacson's biography, but I wonder if he would have denounced it publicly. Alas, we'll never know.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Lang

Regarding Pirates of Silicone Valley, Jobs called Noah Wyle and told him that he hated both the movie and the script and thought it could have been done so much better. However, Jobs did tell Wyle that he liked his portrayal of him, which led to the appearance on a keynote stage of Wyle as Jobs. Since Sony has secured the rights to Isaacson's book to make a movie from it, Wyle has already expressed interest in reprising his role, although I highly doubt he will get to do that.

Certainly Jobs was aware that he was a flawed person, but he still saw himself as a "privileged and special" flawed person. Isaacson will often give Jobs' account of an event and then offer a totally different interpretation of the event from someone else who was there. I imagine that's the part that Jobs would have especially disliked--that what he would have perceived as untruths, often from people for whom he had little respect, were being reported about him.

I do think Jobs would have hated the book, regardless of whether he said anything publicly or did anything about it being sold through Apple's online stores. However, you may or may not remember a few years back when Wiley Publishers released their bio of Steve Jobs that they titled iCon, not only did Jobs not allow it to be sold in Apple Stores, he went a step further and had every computer book published by Wiley removed from the stores. And of course, now, they don't carry any physical books at all.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Totally off topic but I need help someone who understand Greek and Bible interpretation!

I have been digging way into Bible study over the past two years and love it! I have recently been studying the beatitudes and have come across a conundrum in Mat 5:10. The word persecute has thrown me for a loop.

The greek could be the negative connotation of persecute but it could also mean in Jesus pursued the people so that they could obtain righteousness through Him.

Now I know (by way of context) from Mat 5:11-12 that persecute in Mat 5:10 probably means persecute and not pursued but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the matter?


November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom

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