Why it matters who Steve Jobs really was

“In 2011 Walter Isaacson published a biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs,” Lev Grossman writes for TIME Magazine. “Isaacson’s biography was fully authorized by its subject: Jobs handpicked Isaacson, who had written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.”

“But now its account is being challenged by another book, this one called Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender, a veteran technology journalist who was friendly with Jobs, and Rick Tetzeli, executive editor at Fast Company,” Grossman writes. “Some of Jobs’ former colleagues and friends have taken sides, speaking out against the old book and praising the new one. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO and Jobs’s successor, has said that Isaacson’s book depicts Jobs as ‘a greedy, selfish egomaniac.’ Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, has weighed in against it, and Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of software and Internet services, tweeted about the new book: ‘Well done and first to get it right.'”

“A more interesting question might be, why has the story of Steve Jobs become so important to us? And why is it such contested territory?,” Grossman writes. “It’s as if Jobs’ life has become a kind of totem, a symbolic story through which we’re trying to understand and work through our own ambivalence about the technology he and his colleagues made, which has so thoroughly invaded and transformed our lives in the past 20 years, for good and/or ill. Apple’s products are so glossy and beautiful and impenetrable that it’s difficult to do anything but admire them. But about Jobs, at least, we can think ­different.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: It matters who Steve Jobs really was because he made a dent in the universe.

It will take an entire shelf of books to get as clear a picture as possible of this amazing and complex historical figure.


  1. “It will take an entire shelf of books to get as clear a picture as possible of this amazing and complex historical figure”

    Unfortunately, most of those books do not make things clear, but rather make they muddy with manipulative, sensationalistic, tabloidish approach, like really bad Isaacson’s biography.

    This new “Becoming Steve Jobs” book might be the most accurate of all in things that it discusses. However, since this book is so favoured by senior Apple staff, it might be too complimentary, so even this book can not be the only one that matters. But lets see; I have not read the book yet.

    1. The longer these types of books get, the more that the author feels obligated to interpret everything for the reader through their own filter.

      I like the biographies that present significant content from various events throughout a person’s life and let the reader draw his/her own conclusions, for the most part.

      Isaacson’s biggest failing appears to be that he tried to paint the picture of Steve Jobs from his own perspective rather than just letting us browse through the artwork of Steve’s life and leverage our own aesthetic viewpoints.

  2. I’m 3 chapters in and already it’s an order of magnitude better than Isaacson’s take. I don’t fault him – there was a rush to get it out to the public, but worse than being rushed is the fact that’s it’s so one-dimensional. Important people need context to be fully understood. And this context comes from that person’s family, their mentors, their subordinates, their bosses – anyone who knew the person well or worked with the person extensively.

    Haters will think this is an attempt to soften the criticism of a man who was “half genius, half asshole,” but the characterization of this work as a puff piece is fucking lazy. The piece doesn’t apologize or shy away from Jobs’ early dickheadedness. In fact, the part I’m reading is essentially painting him as one of the worst things for Apple before his ouster. It’s that his vision for the future was not compatible with where Apple at the time was as a business.

    Anyone who says this isn’t a worthy read about a great man doesn’t value context. A person who doesn’t value context doesn’t really want to understand; they want to label. Today’s tech tabloids is about labeling and sensationalizing and polarizing.

    If you want to come as close to *understanding* Jobs, read this book.

  3. This book is based on first hand remembrance and accounting of 25 years. The writer’s qualification and muster is evident and supported by everyone in Steve Job’s close personal circle and has soul.

    It rekindles warm memories of the Steve Jobs every Apple die hard believed, knew, followed, understood and loved.

    Kudos for a well written and pure book.

    No one can take away the glory admiration and respect that Steve deserved and earned – No one.

    1. Yes a man can have his warts and all (and who doesn’t?) but still be deeply admired and loved. You don’t get the results Steve did by being namby-pamby. Other far less worthy CEO’s have no doubt worse tales to tell since there’s nothing worse than a guy at the top who doesn’t know what he wants and flails about making underlings miserable trying to find it to no avail in the process.

      The Haters are the most inevitably and pathetically flawed of all and contribute nothing but their vacuous armchair agenda-based acerbic vitriol. Troubled trolls with precious little humanity nor a desire to be corrected preferring ill-informed and erroneously gathered opinions as fact. Hopefully this book will help but I’m not entirely optimistic. Haters love to hate if it suits them.

  4. How did Steve make a dent?

    Steve looked for solutions beyond today and next week.

    It is easy to get bogged down with 5-6 competing choices or demands to “finish it today,” when what matters a year or two from now is what is important.

    1. Steve had one talent that was greater than any other person in the information technology industry: When someone showed him something he could tell if it was the future or not. (He wasn’t always right. The hockey puck mouse is a perfect counter example.) But his string from the original Apple computer through the Apple ][ days to the GUI & Lisa & Mac, to the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Steve didn’t really invent any of them. He forced tweaks on all of them, but others showed him the initial concepts.

      I’ve been an admirer of Steve’s since the late 70s. At the time I thought what Sculley and the rest orchestrated deserved a firing squad, or worse.

      Steve wasn’t a great businessman, but he wasn’t a bad one either. His underlying philosophy was to make great products that changed people’s lives for the better. He believed that doing so would make a great company. He didn’t believe that great companies inherently made great products.

      Yes, in his earlier days (up through the early days of NeXT) he absolutely was “a greedy, selfish egomaniac”. He softened (e.g., his greed seemed to almost vanish in his final decade) as he got older, but even then if you ran headfirst into a direct disagreement with him he could be both brutal and mean. If you could *really* back up your stance you might change his mind, but those events, even in his later years, were not common.

      I haven’t read this new book yet. I’ll probably start within the next week, but while Isaacson got several nuances wrong (and left out several more interesting third party inputs), his book was not as far off the mark as many in the past few days seem to be saying.

  5. I’m starting to read “Becoming Steve Jobs”. So far, one thing it covers well and was barely covered in Isaacson’s book (and in pretty much every note on Steve Jobs) is the NeXT years.

    Nobody talks much about NeXT and what it meant for Steve. This new book starts at NeXT, which is awesome.

    Let’s remember, Steve considered the NeXT a much superior computer than the Macintosh. I believe Steve finally ended up being more proud of what he achieved with the NeXT Cube than of what he achieve with the Mac. It’s a personal opinion. The NeXT was awesome. I’d suggest everybody to watch Steve’s demos of the NeXT, and how much far ahead it was compared to what was available back then (including the Mac!)

    Apple’s DNA today is more of NeXT than it’s of Apple. Mac OS X is a direct descendant of NextStep, not MacOS. The technology behind the modern Mac is closer to Next that it ever was to the Mac.

    I want to read more.

  6. Wall street likes the meaner/crazier Steve.
    This new book will have a special edition that comes with a “Li’l Steve” cuddly plush toy and one single serving packet of apple flavored kool aid.
    Meanwhile, in Hell the real Steve is trying to work his mojo on the landlord. “I gotta go back, did you see the soppy dreck they are printing about me? C’mon, for once in eternity can’t you think different?”

  7. I could care less that Steve Jobs had a temper. Or that he could be mean. Or at times, cold. Don’t get me wrong – I want people to be nice. But to dwell on that is

    For me, it’s a mistake that authors like Walter Isaacson to dwell on Jobs’ misdeeds or the more harsh side of his personality. While authors are tempted to rush to write about an historical figure like Jobs, it’s often better to wait and let the dust settle in order to compile a more complete history about a famous person.

    What I’ve wanted to understand instead are the unique qualities that made Steve Jobs so dynamic and historical, why he made such a dent in the universe. Some are apparent: he was charismatic. But it was more than that. What Schlender and Tetzeli have apparently shared in Becoming Steve Jobs is that he was a work-in-progress, someone who constantly learned from his mistakes, adapted and grew. Only those close to him would have seen and understood that. I have also learned that Jobs was a great editor, someone who could ruthlessly pare down an interface or product to its essentials instead of cluttering it with confusing and often needless bells and whistles.

    As I have written elsewhere, Steve Jobs was also the greatest surfer in history. No, not literally, but metaphorically. If all of Steve Jobs’ contemporaries were surfers in a line-up waiting for the perfect wave, only the great surfers would sense that a ripple in the water would turn out to be the wave (a game-changing trend or technology) to catch. If they noticed it at all, some would jump in too soon, others would catch it too late. But Steve Jobs had the innate sense to know which wave to catch, when to jump into the wave, and when he did, how to ride in the curl for all its worth. Nobody could sense and ride a wave like Steve Jobs.

    Finally, Steve Jobs cared to extremes. His fanaticism for colors, fonts, shapes, manufacturing tolerances, materials and other details, the very subtleties that others missed or didn’t care about, where vital to him. He was uncompromising, but it’s because he had such high standards. Where others strived or settled for mediocrity, Jobs would not tolerate that.

    Few of us would dare to be like Steve Jobs. But these qualities are what made him stand apart from the rest of us. He was an outlier. He didn’t care what others thought. Most people would view these things critically, because, if they have to ask, they’ll never understand.

    This is why I have hopes for Becoming Steve Jobs and why I hope that more intelligent writers and historians eventually explain the qualities, rather than the temperament or impulsive behavior, that made Steve Jobs worth remembering.

    1. Oops. I goofed and got interrupted by a phone call in my first paragraph above. Here’s my correction:

      I could care less that Steve Jobs had a temper. Or that he could be mean. Or at times, cold. Don’t get me wrong – I want people to be nice. But to dwell on that is to miss what really matters about a legendary figure like Steve Jobs.

      There. I feel better now.

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