Saturday, August 8, 2015

Becoming Steve Jobs

I'm blanking where I came to hear about this book, I just remember reading somewhere that this book would be good.

Turns out, for me, it was a much much better read than Walter Isaacson's version of Jobs. As a preface, I might suffer from confirmation bias from my previous article of Isaacson's book.

I won't cover much of the book contents, there are the usual bits of history, but not as much as the Walter Isaacson (I mean, one being a biography, I'll attribute it to a style choice).

Instead, I would describe this book as a compilation of mini stories throughout his years starting from 1979. This isn't a retelling of history that you can find on Wikipedia. (Well actually you can now after this book is published.) As a journalist covering the industry, Schlender has a lot of notes from different eras of Steve Jobs life. Moreover, he interviewed various people that crossed Steve's path. They say that wounds heal with time, and remembering a figure that has been passed on has made a lot of people being interviewed a little more candid and opinionated about things.

Schlender interviewed a lot people in the inner circle including both Tim Cook and Lauren Powell Jobs for this book during 2013 to 2014. Constructing stories that we know with these interviews brings more life and passion to the stories, and also to the people.

There is an entire chapter devoted to much shared/retweeted 2005 Stanford University commencement address. The trials and tribulations of getting to the stadium, Steve Jobs panicking at the last minute. The entire speech is reprinted in its entirety. Something even which Isaacson's book does not have. (It was used with permission from Apple and Lauren Powell Jobs.)

Continuing with the mini-stories, the last chapter wasn't something that summarizes the feelings of everyone interviewed, or having an title that is . It was titled "Just tell them I'm being an asshole". It came from a conversation that Schlender had with Jobs about not being able to make it to an important roundtable due to his health. Without wanting to tell the others the real reason for his absence, he simply said:
"Just tell them I'm being an asshole. That's what they'll probably be thinking, anyway, so why not just say it?"
I felt that was the best representation of Jobs' attitude at his age. He's owning up to that part of his history, embracing the arrogance of his youth, perhaps poking fun at it a little.

Maybe Walter Isaacson was caught in the Steve Jobs reality distortion field that was so famously described in his book. Don't get me wrong, his book is still the way to go for people who wants a historically accurate version of Steve Jobs. However, it is missing that spark and passion that Jobs himself embodies. In engaging/courting Isaacson for his biography, he rises to the list of people that Isaacson has wrote biographies about: Einstein, Franklin, Kissinger. The Isaacson story is a story that was essentially told by Jobs. Reading that book and this book has told me a lot about how Jobs' wanted control. Control over product announcements, control over leaking bad news, control over how his story is written. Even when he didn't interfere with Isaacson's version, the side/version that Jobs told Isaacson was essentially what he wanted the world to see of him, of his legacy.

It is sad then, that that book is the official biography of Steve Jobs. There are so many things that can be inferred, so many anecdotes from the interviews of Lauren Powell Jobs, Bill Gates, Ed Catmull, Tim Cook and Jony Ive, that complete the picture of Steve Jobs.

I recommend this book to people who have read Isaacson's book and came away feeling that they've missed parts of the story. Reading this book will not tell you the entire story of Steve Jobs, but you'll leave with a very good idea of who Jobs is and what he stands for.

PS: After doing some wikipedia reading which links to the articles, seems like Apple endorses this book as well. That's great to know. Maybe that's where I remembered it from.

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