Book Review: Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

I’ll keep it short: Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (titled, simply, “Steve Jobs”) is disappointingly shallow. It reads like a high school history book, touching many topics, but going into depth on none. The book serves as a good introduction to Steve Jobs, but given the countless articles that have been in circulation for years, didn’t we already know this stuff? The story of Jobs recruiting John Sculley, hiring him, changing his opinion of him, and eventually losing a power struggle with him, isn’t anything new. Same with Apple buying NeXT, same with Jobs being “mercurial” and “difficult” and adopted, and a vegetarian. Oh, and he had pancreatic cancer. And he liked Bob Dylan a lot.

The main trouble with this book is that it doesn’t dive deep. Isaacson relates story after story (told to Isaacson by those who knew and worked with Steve Jobs), but the stories are just who-what-when-where. No “why.” It may turn out that Steve Jobs, despite his amazing contributions, may not have been all that deep, and that may explain why Isaacson doesn’t try to explain “why,” but I have a feeling there probably is quite a bit of depth to Jobs, and it would be interesting to read a biography of Steve Jobs written by someone who really knew him– perhaps his wife Laurene Powell Jobs, or Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, or Apple’s lead designer Jony Ive. (Interestingly, while I came away wanting to know more about Steve Jobs, I also came away wanting to know more about his wife, and Wozniak, and Ive, among many others. They are given cardboard-cutout treatment in Isaacson’s book but appear to be among many fascinating people who are mentioned.)

The book shows signs of being rushed, which it probably was. The same people are introduced in multiple chapters, the same topics are covered in multiple chapters, and each time it’s as if it’s the first time. Taken on a chapter by chapter basis, there isn’t a problem, but when you read the book straight through, the lack of careful editing is apparent.

Finally, there’s a necessary technological slant to much of Steve Jobs’ story, but Isaacson’s impressive background doesn’t include much tech. Thus, he tends to parrot technical prose verbatim, not realizing that sometimes it needs explaining. For example, when describing what NeXT’s system could do, Isaacson writes: “It offered protected memory, advanced networking, and preemptive multitasking”– and then moves on, as if the reader has any idea of what any of that means.

In the end, “Steve Jobs” is an easy read, partly due to Isaacson’s skill, and partly because he tells the reader things he already knows, challenging the reader not at all. That’s too bad. I’d hoped for more. Of course, this will not be the last book written about Steve Jobs, and with luck we’ll soon get one written by someone who’s able to reveal something new.

Those looking for additional info on Steve Jobs today would do well to visit www.allaboutstevejobs.com, a site I’ve just discovered but am enjoying immensely.

Visit my resources page for some better books about Steve Jobs.

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