Book Review: Biography/Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Hachette India/2011, 630 pp; Rs799 (Hardback)
The biography by Walter Isaacson on Steve Jobs is indeed a work of details. Departure of Steve was painful, including for those who never ever used any of APPLE products but have bearing with the innovation of control and perfect design for that Steve was popular and hyped. Steve spent fifty-five years on earth, of which fourty-two years of working life across the ladders and boards. Walter Isaacson’s biography carries almost all the mentionable things related to his personal life and unprecedented success in the world of technological innovation. For passive reading, this biography stands fine and fulfills the basic curiosity of readers who want to know the story of a successful man, who was once deserted by his own parents, brought up by foster parents but more caring than real one, a drop out, a humble starter from garage but rose to rank where sometime his company’s fortune in the American banks was ahead of U.S government!
It’s also true that a biography can’t be totally free from good or bad preoccupations. That intrinsic weakness also very much inflicts this book and Walter Isaacson, seems alienated from his author’s profile for persuading readers to acknowledge every functional characteristics of Steve’ as acts of virtue. That leaves extraneous and flawed impression, is probably not very distinct from the friendly American media which always projected Steve as evangelist and his products as symbol of successful life. Those all claims if accumulated and judged, would be come up as classis bunch of exaggeration, with little or no merits. In proper assessment, Steve could be recalled as an extraordinary technical mind with amazing quality of learning, copying and then its untemprable execution barring exception.
He learned lot about the electronic circuits from his father and later during internship in Hewitt-Packard at the age of thirteen which ahead proved fateful. The best thing was with him, he could catch workable ideas even from the trash. Instead spending time on listening stodgy lectures at university, he opted to search precious books and electronic equipments from second hand and grey markets, all those bonhomie played formidable role in his shaping which were humane and fallible, against the popular myths about him. Search for commandable ideas had remained his keen pastime, and his visit to India as teenager was one among the early assertions of those incessant quest. Much before he felt the influence of Gandhi on his leaning for peace and simplicity, he spent few months in Haridwar and other calm Himalayan townships for knowing the essence of frugality and ofcourse his efforts were not for knowing the core of Indian spiritualism. In this book, Walter Isaacson should have recalled Haridwar as north Indian town instead what written on the pages as “west India town”, besides he could stop hyperbole views regarding Steve’s over attachment to an unknown Yogi, about him there is even feeble trace among Indians!
In late 1970’s, an ordinary garage of his father was chosen by Steve and cofounder Wozoniak as the birthplace of APPLE. Idea of name was not generated from the namesake fruit, with Steve remained faithful throughout life but from APPLE Corp, for which, he had to fight a long battle which he succeeded to command at last. The major breakthrough came with APPLE, once it awarded collaboration with XEROX, and then this company was getting closer to produce world’s first personal computer without the hassled essentiality of complex operating system. The bright brains of APPLE stolen those noble concept and also the competent engineers from XEROX and further left the company off from computer manufacturing. Today, we all know XEROX as manufacturer of photocopy machine, hadn’t Steve dealt with them, today the technical scene would have much nobler and decent for XEROX and mass consumers. APPLE used those expertises for making its first computer, LISA; which was named after Steve’s daughter from his girl friend, whom he never treated properly except in the evening of life. APPLE’s next product, Macintosh in 1984 generated huge attention worldwide, but this time stolen expertise of Steve was unethically drained by Microsoft and since then, Operating System became synonymous with Windows and hostility in business between APPLE-Microsoft. Book gives subtler explanation of these events and how the Steve’s downfall started tinkling around 1986.
He had to leave apple this year, after falling in row with his once confident turned super rival, John Sculley. That was wrong happened with the founder of APPLE, but similar happened with his core team members as well by his decisions in past, so it’s better if his forced ousting understood as manifestation of existing subhuman work culture in APPLE and other corporate. He left the company after retaining only one share to attend the shareholders meeting. Henceforth, he relied on Nietzsche’s quotation “The spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world” and these lines were completely justified when Steve was back at APPLE in 1997 to revive its fortune. In the meantime, his original entrepreneurship grew up with his ventures, NeXT and Pixer; these ten years should be considered as peak of Steve’s genuine instinctive merit.
Once back at APPLE, he not only regained his lost position but he overachieved the command in second stint. In product innovation too, the last fifteen years were satisfactory for him; he came out with Ipod, Ibook, Iphone etc, which are one among the best gadgets if not the best itself. Steve was essentially a man for class, his product reveals it; he always disliked journeys through commercial flights though it’s also true he was a perfectionist who didn’t have any furniture in his room, because he couldn’t found a proper match. The good thing with him, he stood with high quality products, bad side remained his aversion to make APPLE products peoples friendly. This biography could be essential read for tech enthusiasts and also for those stands with business as creative profession. Steve’s consciousness was never determined through his material beingness, same he thought for his targeted consumers…he was up to the mark or not, rests on us to decide!
Atul Kumar Thakur
December 30, 2011, Friday, New Delhi