Saturday, December 03, 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: A Review

By John Cheeran
Steve Jobs believed that people do judge a book by its cover. So it is not surprising that the cover of Jobs’s biography, aptly titled Steve Jobs, has a black and white picture of him, looking at you intently, and unblinking.
Great men inspire great biographies. Steve Jobs, the man who founded Apple Computers and agonized over his products in a maddening way, never left anything unattended. Jobs was a man of control. Ask Bill Gates. Then, ask Apple lovers. Whether it is a design detail or having his version of the world, Jobs planned and demanded the best. In Walter Isaacson, former chairman of the CNN and managing editor of Time magazine, Jobs found the right man to put together his life story. But be warned, this is hardly a paid job.
Unlike many of us Jobs knew a lot of things. Such as that he was nearing death and had to rush through whatever he wanted to do in the extra time he had been given. Result is the biography, Steve Jobs. Jobs’s world view was often, nay, almost black and white. In colour, too, he preferred black and white as the cover of the biography testifies. The pictures included in the book, all, again in black and white, convey the colourful nature of Jobs’s personality. He yielded against his will rarely, as when U2’s Bono asked for a special ipod edition in black.
Unlike many of us Jobs did not know many things. Such as who his father was. Jobs had an amazing life, a life that would have been almost impossible in India. He was put up for adoption by his biological parents and Jobs did not know for many years who was his father. The sense of abandonment shaped his life to a certain extent. As much as iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad were American, Jobs, too, was truly American. Circumstances did not deter him and he had the ability to push the envelope all the time. In this, the reality distortion field, did the trick. Only Jobs could have been demanding to a frustrating extent and get what he wanted from his people. Jobs founded Apple in 1976. He was 21. At 19, Jobs spent seven months in India in search of a guru. What have you been doing when you were 19 and 21?
I’m not a digital citizen. Nor am I an iPhone or iPad user. But to read how Jobs built the Apple and pushed boundaries in his quest for innovation is an exciting and enlightening experience.
Jobs was a difficult man to work with and live with. Both the dissembling and the truth-telling were simply different aspects of his Nietzschean attitude that ordinary rules did not apply to him, notes biographer Isaacson who has also authored the biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin.
To many of us, Apple represented the acme of consumerism. Then you read Jobs telling his girlfriend Egan Jennifer that it is important to avoid attachment to material objects. “Our consumer desires are unhealthy, he told her, and to attain enlightenment you need to develop a life of nonattachment and non materialism. Wasn’t he defying that philosophy, Egan asked, by making computers and other products that people coveted?”
Isaacson writes: ”Throughout his career, Jobs liked to see himself as an enlightened rebel pitted against evil empires, a Jedi warrior or Buddhist samurai fighting the forces of darkness.”
With the publication of the biography, many things such as Jobs’s refusal to take treatment for his cancer and his obsession with his fruity diet are quite well known now. One thing, however, you should not miss is Jobs’s reflection on his legacy, in his own words. In it Jobs says:”People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read that are not on the page.”
That’s something that you can chew on.

Title: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Publisher: Little, Brown, (in India) Hachette, India
Price: Rs 799

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