Thursday, October 27, 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - review pt.1

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Since I have an entire chapter of my book on Steve Jobs, I really had to get a copy of the first authorised biography: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson to see if I had missed out anything important. I've not finished the book yet, but I've got up to where Apple has been founded and the Apple II has become a great success, so perhaps I can offer a review so far.
    First thing is that Walter Isaacson, who is apparently an eminent biographer, having written biographies of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin before, is not a great writer. The book is perfectly readable, but rather pedestrian, a bit like a History Channel show, very worthy and sincere. So, onto the content and Jobs' early life. The book hasn't really revealed anything startlingly new. There's plenty of detail, but at over 650 pages long you'd expect more detail than the other shorter unofficial biographies. We get a lot of detail on Jobs interest in Zen and other Eastern religions and his LSD use and experiments with weird diets: just fruit, just apples, no mucous products...But I'm not sure this tells us anything.
    There's an attempt to make us believe that Jobs' interest in Zen and experiments with psychodelic drugs and strange diets was part of a quest for a better way of living that has now become part of Apple's DNA. I think there is a danger of reading too much into a young man's motives - it's not as if any of what Jobs was doing in the 1960s and early 70s was in anyway unsual. All the kids in the San Francisco area were into mediation, LSD, Bob Dylan and macro-biotic diets. Jobs was actually being entirely normal for his generation and locale - this was the epicenter of the hippie movement. Dropping out of Reed College after one semester, refusing to acknowledge he was the father of his girlfriend's child, going to India on the hippie trail, conning Woz out of a few thousand dollars on the Atari deal, not wearing shoes and all the rest can just as easily be attributed to a confused young man, unsure of what he wanted in life and sometimes shirking his responsibilities in a very immature way.
    Isaacson could at least hint that perhaps Jobs was not always a visionary in pursuit of spiritual and aesthetic perfection, who occasionally fucked-up, but was instead just as confused as the rest of us. [Part 2 of the review is here]