Book review: Steve Jobs – The Exclusive Biography

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.jpg

I was never very interested in Apple or Steve Jobs. I had a Macbook once for some years, but never really warmed up to the whole ecosystem. Then a couple of weeks ago I watched the “1997 WWDC Fireside Chat with Steve Jobs” video and the video really impressed me. Steve Jobs is just talking his mind and answering questions by the audience which were quite critical due to the problems Apple was struggling with at the time. Steve Jobs speaks very openly of where he wants to go and what went wrong. He is very clear that they need to focus and kill multiple projects for this reason in order to play to their strengths.

This triggered my interest and I wanted to learn more about Apple in general and Steve Jobs specifically. So I watched the Steve Jobs move from 2015 but was not very satisfied. So then I decided to read the biography by Walter Isaacson and I recently finished reading it.

The book

I was a bit worried about the length of the book as it is more than 600 pages thick. I was dreading long sections about early childhood, but I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the book progresses. By page 80 the book is already starting to describe the beginnings of Apple and their first product: The apple I. The book keeps up a fast pace all the way until the end. The book strikes a good balance between too little and too many details.

This fact shows that Jobs had an interesting life. Filling a 600 page book without going into too much detail is quite an achievement. For me the most interesting part was from when they founded Apple until he returned to Apple. I was not very familiar with this story, so it was mostly new for me.

I have only two minor complaints about the book:

  • Some pictures of the products would have improved some sections. For example Isaacson goes to great length about describing the shape of an iPad. A picture could have shown that. I also would have enjoyed to see some early design sketches. 
  • Isaacson does give some space to critics of Jobs, but I would have appreciated some more details.

Steve Jobs – The myth

By reading the book I wanted to find the answer to the question: what made Jobs so successful and convincing? The book makes it clear that he was difficult to deal with: manipulative, stubborn, emotional, …. So how did he get some of the most skilled people in the world to work for him? And how did he get them to do some of their best work? Jobs somehow had the skill to push people beyond their usual limits and making their best work. What was his secret?

I think people worked for him because he had a clear vision and was consequential about pursuing it. Convince employees of your vision and give them the necessary resources. I think some honest criticism is also a valuable tool to push people into improving their work. Additionally he had a good intuition about what the customers need and what makes a product “work”.

Conclusion

Overall I really enjoyed reading the book. I’m really impressed how much Jobs loved Apple. He wanted to build something lasting. A company for the next 100 years. Did he succeed? Only time will tell…

While reading I also got interested in the story behind Pixar and therefore I want to read Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. I will also check some of the other books that the Walter Isaacson wrote.

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