Tuesday, 17 January 2012
I recently read Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. It was absolutely fascinating, and I found myself riveted from beginning to end.
Jobs was a complex man. A genius, certainly, but a horrible human being. For the first part of the book I couldn't decide whether to pity him, or just to be disgusted. For example, he believed his fruitarian/vegan diet obviated the need to bath more than once a week...and he wandered around barefoot in the offices. He believed rules didn't apply to him, so he drove at high speeds, without number plates, and parked in disabled parking bays. When he rejoined Apple in the late '90s, he terminated all charitable donations. (By contrast, the oft-vilified Bill Gates has sunk $28 billion into charitable causes, and is estimated to have saved millions of lives.)
For a smart guy, he also seemed to be singularly oblivious in some ways. For example, when first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer his doctor was very relieved because it was the rare, easily curable variety. So Jobs avoided medical treatment for the next year, believing his fruit diet would cure it. We know how that ended...
His obsession with detail and his broad visions were his genius; he wanted everything just so. Of course, that meant that anyone who didn't want it that way was wrong - which is why Apple devices are so tightly locked down. I don't personally subscribe to the Apple way; I like my choices.
One thing I found interesting was the amount of emotion around Jobs. For example, there are numerous mentions of Jobs bursting into tears in board meetings or when arguing with people. Not just him either - it seemed to be a relatively regular occurrence with others too.
I did think there was quite a bit of post facto revisionism in some ways. For example, the book talks about how long Steve Jobs took with the design of the case of the original Apple II, and how beautiful and elegant it was. I went and took a look at pictures of some of the Apple II's contemporaries, and to be honest, the Apple II doesn't seem any better than most (e.g. the early Commodores). The same applies to various other Apple devices mentioned: hailed only as visionary because they became popular.
One curious omission in the book was any significant mention of operating systems. There are a couple of brief mentions, but by and large, iOS, MacOS and MacOS X are pretty much ignored. I don't know why that is, given how tightly integrated the Apple hardware and operating systems are.
Anyway: highly recommended.