For me, picking out a biography to read usually involves treading the line between the pure esotericism of reading about some relatively obscure artist whose (typically auto) biography serves as nothing more than an absurdist piece of narcissistic embellishment or browsing through one of the many repetitive reformulations of a well-known figure’s life. So when I’m given the chance to read about someone whose personal exploits are, in their own right, juicy bits of clandestine esoterica I more or less halt anything I’m doing and buy the damn book.
Perhaps what makes Steve Jobs so fascinating in my eyes is that the more I read about the turtleneck-toting tech giant the more I can relate to him. Jobs is hardly the typical Fortune 500 CEO in that, quite frankly, he didn’t give a crap what shareholders thought. This had always been attributed to Jobs’ infatuation with his products; however, Isaacson paints a different image entirely: one of selfish intent. In a way, Steve Jobs’ secrecy was not part of his manière d’être per say so much as a manifestation of his relentless desire for recognition. In a way it’s this departure from using Jobs as a paradigm for successful product-driven industry leaders that makes the book a worthwhile read. While the man accomplished much, he did so in ways so selfish that we might want to immediately dismiss the claims as unsubstantiated half-truths. For instance, he more or less forced his parents to pay for his stay at Reed College (even though they could barely afford it) where he eventually dropped out. Yet, what distinguishes Jobs’ selfishness is that each of these experiences were fundamental to his later success. For instance, while at Reed he took a calligraphy course that later led to typefaces for MacOS and experienced several LSD trips that helped him gain perspective on life.
Yet, such an anecdotal treatment of Jobs’ life leaves the reader more confused than enlightened. Certainly we get a unique picture of a harsh, self-motivated, angry man but I couldn’t help but thinking that Isaacson missed the point of it all. If Jobs really was the kind of man that thrived on whatever grandeur he could get then why did his passion surround his products and not his company? If Jobs really was just interested in his own external growth, then the only reason he would have allowed a biography to be written would be so that he can draw attention after he died. It would then also follow that if this were his sole interest then his biography would have to be a polemic oeuvre. In fact, that’s exactly what we get in Walter Isaacson’s portrayal of Jobs—a portrayal of the Apple mastermind that describes Jobs as he would like to be thought of. But is this all a façade? When reading the biography, I certainly got the impression that Jobs must have had a hand in editing the work; for even descriptions of his imperfect ego have an unnatural grandeur that could have only come from the narcissist himself.
Is it worth the $16 and 600 pages? If anything, you’ll a bit more about the business titan but don’t expect to learn about what actually drives the man. Given his secretive nature, this will probably be as good as it gets.
Posted By Alfredo Luque