Sunday, October 30, 2011
Steve Jobs' Biography by Walter Isaacson: A Review
Isaacson's authorized biography of Steve Jobs is a good read. No doubt. How could one go wrong with a subject such as Jobs? All the years I've been reading about Steve Jobs, I used to get a kick out of people complaining about his controlling ways, his voracious appetite for work, and his unrelenting quest for excellence. Well, I wouldn't expect new devices like the iPod and the iPad to come to life by a slow, lassez-faire type with no sense of urgency.
Isaacson's biography is not peppered with too many 'genius' references. I'm glad it's not. It's another strong aspect of the book. Isaacson portrays a person who is aware of societal hierarchies and knows that to get any kinds of access, one needs to be in the right place at the right time. The anecdote of young Jobs forcing his parents to sell their house so that they could move to a place they couldn't quite afford just so that he could attend a better school was most compelling. Those who observe that Jobs did things his way and had disregard for established hierarchy seem to be wrong here. Young Jobs understood that everyone needs a good beginning, even one who has the ability to bring us the iPod.
Another griping snippet in the book was Jobs' refusal to have any sort of relationship with his biological father. Birth anxieties seem to have accompanied him his whole life. Isaacson seems to infer that much of drive was informed by the fact that he was given up for adoption. Jobs' personal relationships were well captured in the book. Two other people stand out in this section as well, his sister and his illegitimate daughter. Through it all, Jobs looks like any average person out there. He was accompanied by ontological insecurities and found work a good place to be and maybe hide in.
Those who refer to Jobs as a genius seem to do so decontextually. What is a genius anyway? What standards are we employing here? Are we talking 'Leonardo' genius or 'Einstein' genius? Apropos, since I mention the latter here, what made Einstein interesting from a popular culture point of view is the fact that he was, for some intents and purposes, quite average. He didn't excel scholastically, didn't have big professional ambitions when in the work force, ah, and, most importantly, had a troubled relationship with mathematics. It took many a person to help and inform him.
And just like Isaacson's biography shows, it took a lot to help and inform Steve Jobs. But while Jobs was extremely hard on those who crossed him, he would be harder on those he liked and, as a result, held to a standard they couldn't always keep. What people like Jobs have is tenacity. Skill comes in many forms. There might just be as many ways of being good at something as there are moments in time. What allows one to produce a great product, in the case of Jobs, is his ability to understand that function could never truly shine outside the realm of form. Aesthetics is never inconsequential. This is a sentence I find myself uttering often. Form is not the stuff of levity. Form has heaviness, the heaviness of importance. It's one nugget I am certain of and one I also saw elaborated in this text.
I recommend that you read it. It won't necessarily inspire but then again, should it? Fundamentally, we are all the same whether we're creating things that millions will want to have or not.