Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Three-quarters of the way through Walter Isaacson’s monumental book about Steve Jobs is arguably the funniest section. Jobs is still recovering from pneumonia and a liver transplant in 2009. When he is in a lot of pain, the pulmonologist tries to cover his face with a mask. Jobs tears it off and murmurs that he doesn’t like the style and won’t wear it. He orders them to bring five different mask designs so he can choose one he likes, even though he can barely speak. Jobs was a control freak and a mean sod, even in the depths of his hallucinations. Imagine what he looked like when he was healthy. Fortunately, you don’t have to: Here, you’ll find every tidbit you need to know about how Jobs, um, inspired excellence in his  ‘A’ coworkers and unfortunate ‘B’ coworkers.

Isaacson makes it abundantly clear that Jobs was neither a pioneer nor a particularly gifted electronic engineer. However, he was a businessman with remarkable flair and focus, a marketing genius, and, when he got it right, which wasn’t always the case, he had an intuitive sense of what the customer would want before the customer even knew what they wanted. He was more concerned with the goods than with the money: Fortunately, he discovered, the money will come if you get the products right.

 One quirky advertisement (titled “Think Different”) receives a whole chapter. A half-page detailing Jobs’ decision-making process for selecting a washing machine is taken from a bizarre interview Jobs gave to Wired. Do you want to know the patent number of the iPod Nano’s packaging? It can be found on page 347. In a similar vein, Isaacson’s prose occasionally incorporates the meaningless language of corporate PR, as evidenced by the recurrence of the word “passion.” This book is full of intense emotion. Steve’s “passion for industrial design,” “passion for awesome products,” and so forth. 

Jobs was not only a sort of genius but also a truly bizarre individual. He once worked the night shift as a young man so that his coworkers wouldn’t have to deal with his BO. Jobs was of the opinion that his vegan diet meant that he only needed to shower and wear deodorant once a week.) He soaked his feet in the toilet at times to relieve stress and was constantly walking around bare foot. His cranky health theories went hand in hand with his intermittent veganism. When he asked the Lotus Software chairman, “Have you ever heard of serum cholesterol?” for buttering his toast, The man replied, I’ll make a deal with you. I will refrain from discussing your personality, and you should refrain from mentioning my dietary habits.

That character. Isaacson was informed by an ex-girlfriend who, it should be noted, was very fond of Jobs that she believed Jobs had narcissistic personality disorder. The details of Jobs’ personal life are sketchy, but they do not excite. He cut off an on-and-off girlfriend when he found out she was pregnant in his early 20s, aggressively denied paternity, and later, uncharacteristically, admitted that he regretted his actions and wanted to build a relationship with his daughter.) Jobs seems to have had what Americans call “issues around abandonment” because he was adopted.)

He defrauded his buddies of money. He withdrew stock options from former coworkers. He fired everyone immediately. He humiliated job interviewees, bullied waitstaff, and business contacts. Isaacson used the term “reality distortion field” to describe him, and he lied whenever he felt like it. He was also a crybaby, like many bullies. He broke down in tears whenever he was stopped in his tracks, like not being named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine when he was 27.

In terms of criticizing other people’s work, Jobs’ analytical style was blunt: too gay” (a desktop rabbit icon); a shithead who sucks,” according to Jef Raskin, a colleague; “fucking, stupid people” (his suppliers); a dick” (the Sony Music CEO); “brain-dead” refers to non-Apple mobile phones.

Nowadays, we are instructed to behave courteously. Steve Jobs is a great example of the opposite. Jobs summoned Fortune magazine’s managing editor to Cupertino in 2008, just as a negative article about him was about to be published: ” He asked Serwer, “So, you’ve uncovered the fact that I’m an asshole,” leaning into his face. Why is this news?


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