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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson


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#1 SJS

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 09:39 PM

I rarely read biographies, but I was given Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs so I read it.  In terms of literature, it was pretty good.  The book could have been edited better - it is over 500 pages and Isaacson sometimes repeats himself - but overall I felt like I was getting a good picture of the man. 

 

At the end of the day Jobs comes off as complex - as human beings tend to be.  I kept wanting to sum Jobs up in a soundbyte as I was reading - the guy was a genius, the guy got lucky, the guy was a lousy judge of people, the guy was an incredible judge of people, the guy was a visionary, the guy was an autocrat, the guy was a jerk, the guy was a prince.  He resists such characterization; he's all of these.

 

I'm not an "Apple guy".  And yet I was.  My first computer was actually a Texas Instruments machine, but the first computer I fell in love with was the Apple II.  I used Apple II+ and Apple IIe in school.  I wrote programs in Basic, played chess and Broderbund's Lode Runner on it.  The Apple II was an interesting mix of Steve Wozniack's electronics-kit computer and Steve Jobs' vision for an integrated ready-to-use machine for the masses.  I loved it.  I still love it.  If someone put a working Apple II on my desk right now I'd have a mini-orgasm.

 

Woz kept working away at the Apple II as a mid-level engineer while Jobs developed the Macintosh.  The Macintosh was an interesting mishmash of futuristic brilliance and clueless disaster.  The graphical user interface Jobs bought from Xerox and improved was obviously the wave of the future, something that PCs wouldn't get right until 1995. But everything else about the Mac sucked.  It was ugly, limited, expensive.  It was announced to the world in a glorious Super Bowl ad in which a Mac user escaped from the 1984 Orwellian nightmare of thought control of a world ruled by IBM.  But ironically it was the Mac that was the one-size-fits-all straightjacket, while PCs (and Woz's baby the Apple II) beat the hearts of budding techies like me.

 

So I switched to PCs and never looked back.  Jobs' next little disaster was the garish iMac, which was as limited as the Macintosh and less ugly, but still, nothing I could stand the sight of.  Everyone told me how much easier Macs were to use than PCs, but every time I sat in front of a Mac I felt like an idiot (you eject a disk with a trash can?  There's only one mouse button?  There's no place to put my peripherals?  And don't ask me to find anything with the Finder.).  It seemed to me that Macs were easier than PCs in 1984, but not any time after 1995.  Plus, I happened to love DOS; I loved that beautiful black screen and the C:\> which told me I could do anything.  (Who's Big Brother now?)

 

And yet...

 

Jobs' whole "second act" was about as solid a run as anyone has ever had in business.  The iPod.  Apple stores.  iTunes.  The iPhone.  The iPad.  The iCloud.  We're talking about whole industries transformed - telecommunications, music, publishing, retail.  A month ago I got an iPad mini, my first Apple product in about 30 years.  It's cute.  It's useful.  I like it.  I admit it - Jobs is the modern Edison.

 

Anybody else read the book?


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#2 Slim

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 09:50 PM

Brilliant marketer, certainly. Is that what Edison did - got people to pay over the odds for inferior versions of other people's inventions?



#3 Bones

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 10:03 PM

I did not read the book.   But  after  reading your post...i find it may be worth reading. I love biographies.


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#4 chemistry1973

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 10:43 PM

I read it--it was excellent.

 

I think, with Jobs gone, Apple's downward slide seemed to happen as soon as he passed on.

 

Oh, and a vegan, raw diet will not cure cancer.



#5 SJS

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 10:49 PM

I wanted to add this to my review:

 

It's rather interesting the extent to which Jobs was involved in product design.  Other CEOs are described in the book, people like Disney's Michael Eisner, Microsoft's Bill Gates, pre-Jobs Apple CEOs - it's clear that most of them are numbers people or marketers.  (Gates a bit of an exception.)  Jobs truly was a product guy.  He really had a lot to do with the menus, the icons, the color schemes, the freaking fonts.  Hell, he even got involved in the architecture of the Apple stores and corporate offices of Apple and Pixar, and even the packaging of the iPad and iMac.  The closest analogy I can come up with is how fans of the Redskins or the Cowboys feel like the owners of their teams are too involved in the day to day operations of the teams - Jobs was this time a hundred - except that Jobs often really was the best guy to make those decisions.

 

Incidentally, this is another interesting aspect of the book are the people Jobs interacted with.  Hewlett and Packard, the Oracle guy, Bill Gates, Woz, Bono (of U2), Bob Dylan, Al Gore (on Apple's Board), Michael Eisner, Jeffery Katzenberger (the K of Dreamworks SKG), Joan Baez - interesting to see both what these people thought of Jobs and what Jobs thought of these people.  (He had an interesting opinion of Barack Obama, by the way.)  I found myself craving every little crumb of information there was about the Gates-Jobs relationship, which was frankly pretty interesting, and made me want to read a biography of Gates.


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#6 SJS

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 11:00 PM

I read it--it was excellent.

 

I think, with Jobs gone, Apple's downward slide seemed to happen as soon as he passed on.

 

Oh, and a vegan, raw diet will not cure cancer.

 

His dietary peculiarities were fascinating and frustrating.  It would not surprise me to learn that he gave himself cancer, or at least exacerbated his condition, not from his usual vegetarianism (that's an extraordinary healthy diet), but rather from his long stretches of faddy one-food diets, his binging and purging, his fasting, and of course, his refusal to adopt standard medical treatment for several months after diagnosis.  We'll never know, but after finishing the biography I have begun rereading Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things.  Jobs would certainly qualify for a case study in Shermer's last chapter, which is Why Smart People Believe Weird Things.  Some of Jobs' "Think Different" weirdness underpinned his genius, but some of it was just plain weird.


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#7 SJS

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Posted 08 May 2013 - 11:05 PM

Brilliant marketer, certainly. Is that what Edison did - got people to pay over the odds for inferior versions of other people's inventions?

 

The similarities I see between Edison and Jobs are:

 

Both made a wide variety of products

 

Both men were unusually attuned to taking specialized products and providing them in a form and at a price that appealed to a mass market

 

Both men remained designers and engineers even after they had established large corporations

 

Neither man stopped inventing and working on product design until they died, although Jobs' greatest work came at the end and Edison was always chasing his early inventions

 

It is true that both men were great marketers

 

Both men also had arch rivals (Jobs/Gates; Edison/Westinghouse) and both took what I see as the wrong side of major debates (AC vs. DC, Edison DC; open vs. closed architecture, Jobs closed architecture).

 

Both men had powerful allies in industry and politics

 

Both men were the rare industrialist who was also a household name (I just read the book and I can't remember the Oracle or Intel CEOs names; most people know Jobs and Edison)

 

It is true that both mean also stood on the shoulders of giants, but I think both men also clearly made unique and original contributions to their products


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#8 MrSkeptic

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 03:08 AM

He was a marketing genius but he was also an A, #1 asshole. He flaunted rules that he thought didn't apply to him like parking in handicapped spots. He denied he was the father of his daughter who lived on welfare with her mom. He publicly humiliated and fired employees. There are many more examples of his assholery but you can read them for yourself if you have the mind and aren't an Apple fanbois.


They said I could be anything, so I became a disappointment.

 

 


#9 Greg

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 03:45 AM

Did you get the feeling from the book that he was, basically, so arrogant that it was basically his arrogance that eventually killed him?

 

That's certainly my take on him, but I never bought the Apple Kool-Aid.  And a couple of weeks ago, I shed myself of the iPhone 4 baggage.  My Galaxy is AMAZING.  

 

Anyhow, like others have said, he was a great marketing guy.  But he, IMO, was a thief of ideas or he took credit for ideas that were not his.  I seriously fail to understand his status as a deity among the Apple sycophants...but I guess that's kind of what makes them sycophants, eh?



#10 SJS

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 03:49 AM

He was a marketing genius but he was also an A, #1 asshole. He flaunted rules that he thought didn't apply to him like parking in handicapped spots. He denied he was the father of his daughter who lived on welfare with her mom. He publicly humiliated and fired employees. There are many more examples of his assholery but you can read them for yourself if you have the mind and aren't an Apple fanbois.

 

All true, and there are other stories like this as well.  I thought one of the worst (the worst was how he treated his first daughter and her mother) was refusing to include one of his early associates in on Apple stock options when the company was about to go lucratively public.  Woz felt very bad about this and apparently freely distributed some of his own to people he felt had been unfairly left out because of their rank.  Jobs could occasionally be welcoming of his early colleagues, but the rule seemed to be out of sight out of mind with him (or worse, bridges burned too easily). 

 

I'm no fanboi, and the dude is clearly a flawed human being, but he had some noble qualities as well.  I thought it was interesting that he banned all porn-related apps from the App Store, and essentially his explanation was that he had kids of his own.  (Computers + porn = far more lucrative than computers - porn; this was not the only decision Jobs made in his life where immediate financial rewards were secondary to other concerns.)  You can't call the guy a family man, but it's wrong to say he had no heart in that; he repaired his relationship with his first daughter near the end, became close to a sister he discovered in midlife - he had been adopted, recognized the support and sacrifice of his wife, took pains to include his son particularly in his business life, and generously rewarded and spoke highly of his adoptive parents when he became successful.  None of which adds up to family man - there's too many things you can list on the negative side of the ledger - but again, adds up to "complex".


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#11 SJS

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 04:01 AM

Did you get the feeling from the book that he was, basically, so arrogant that it was basically his arrogance that eventually killed him?

 

That's certainly my take on him, but I never bought the Apple Kool-Aid.  And a couple of weeks ago, I shed myself of the iPhone 4 baggage.  My Galaxy is AMAZING.  

 

Anyhow, like others have said, he was a great marketing guy.  But he, IMO, was a thief of ideas or he took credit for ideas that were not his.  I seriously fail to understand his status as a deity among the Apple sycophants...but I guess that's kind of what makes them sycophants, eh?

 

I don't think his arrogance killed him, no.  I think his inability to deal with reality led him to delay medical treatment and that was a mistake.  I think there's a chance that killed him, but I think there's also a chance (better than 50%?) that even immediate medical treatment wouldn't have saved him.  There's no real way to know, but when they got to work on his pancreas finally there were tumors all over - seems likely that process had already begun by the time the first spot was found.

 

Thief of ideas?  Get specific.  The GUI wasn't his, it was Xerox, but he negotiated with them, so that was not thievery, it was vision.  Woz's Apple II?  There's no doubt that machine was 85% Woz, but Woz admits to this day it would have remained a give away hobbyist circuit kit without Jobs, so the 15% from Jobs was not thievery, it was the difference between launching a hobby and launching a company.  What did he steal then?  The iPhone was all him - the finger gestures, the swipes, those came from his engineers and were eventually stolen by everyone else.  Microsoft stole the GUI from him.  (Microsoft can plausibly claim they also got the idea from Xerox, but it is really all but certain they also were "inspired" by what Apple did with it.)  The iPad?  Tablets had been tried and failed before, but it was really the development of multi-touch and other Apple-designed innovations that made a tablet explosive.  The iPod?  Portable digital music players had been tried but sucked - they held only a few songs and navigation was horrible; Apple's engineers hit on the wheel navigation and bought (not stole) the memory storage system that permitted the storage of hundreds of songs.  The iTunes store?  Other systems had been tried for providing music downloads but they were complicated and no one used them; Apple invented the concept and Jobs negotiated like mad to get the record companies on board.  Sony, both a technology giant and a major music industry player, was able to produce nothing remotely similar.

 

I'm not naive.  I'm sure proprietary information gets around more than it should.  But Jobs and Apple can surely count more in-house successes than most, and can attribute their success to copy cat-ism less than many other companies. 


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#12 fenderjazz

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 04:05 AM

He led a chief executive's lifestyle.  We can talk about these people and how much money they make, but they don't have lives.  That is at the root of much of his odd behavior and relationships, I'm sure.  Not making excuses for him and I am far from an Apple fanboi.  



#13 SJS

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 04:06 AM

He led a chief executive's lifestyle.  We can talk about these people and how much money they make, but they don't have lives.  That is at the root of much of his odd behavior and relationships, I'm sure.  Not making excuses for him and I am far from an Apple fanboi.  

 

For a time he was CEO of both Apple and Pixar and was driving between them during the day.  Holy crap!


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#14 Three Eyes

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 08:32 AM

I haven't read many of the posts in this thread because I haven't read the book yet but my friend listened to it on audiobook and really enjoyed it.


Hey there goes Alex. He's loaded with money. Wow he's really set himself up great.


#15 SJS

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 02:05 PM

^^^

Spoiler alert: he invented the iPhone!!


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#16 Three Eyes

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Posted 09 May 2013 - 08:42 PM

^^^

 

Didn't he just invent the "i" part?


Hey there goes Alex. He's loaded with money. Wow he's really set himself up great.





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