Andy Hertzfeld: I don’t think Steve Jobs would have liked ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ biography

“I suspect that Steve Jobs would not be thrilled with Becoming Steve Jobs, a new business biography by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli,” Andy Hertzfeld writes for Medium. “While it’s a worthwhile book filled with previously unheard stories and insightful industry analysis, Steve would have disliked it because of the persistent negative spin it applies to the first half of his career. That’s why it’s puzzling to see Apple throw their considerable weight behind it.”

Becoming Steve Jobs distinguishes itself by emphasizing a narrative of growth and change, depicting ‘the evolution of a reckless upstart into a visionary leader.’ Unfortunately, the authors attempt to bolster their case by exaggerating flaws and missteps in the first half of Steve’s career while diminishing them after his return to Apple in 1997,” Hertzfeld writes. “I was surprised and chagrined by the negative tone pervading the description of Steve’s first tenure at Apple. The authors hardly interviewed any Apple employees from the early days, so there’s no new reporting here to justify their negativity; they seem to be trashing Steve’s early career simply to accentuate the contrast with his later one.”

“At this point I should confess my bias, because I was an early Apple employee who had the privilege of working closely with Steve Jobs on the original Macintosh (and also wrote a book about the experience, Revolution in the Valley, available for free here), so perhaps I’m unduly sensitive. I adore the early Apple Computer that Brent and Rick belittle, so I’m writing this piece to defend it,” Hertzfeld writes. “Even so, Becoming Steve Jobs is worth reading, because it’s packed with interesting stories that haven’t been told before, including Brent’s personal encounters with Steve and his family and thoughtful observations from crucial collaborators like Jony Ive, John Lasseter, Regis McKenna, Eddie Cue and others; John Lasseter’s story of his final visit with Steve almost made me cry. ”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: First of all, nobody, not even Andy Hertzfeld, can proclaim with 100% certainty what Steve Jobs would or would not like, do, or say. It was impossible to do even when he was still alive. It’s a doubly impossible feat now. Of course, anyone can suspect how Steve might feel.

We suspect Jobs would appreciate any book that makes you want to continue reading it vs. one that feels like a textbook and requires a major force of will to complete. No book, TV show, movie, TV newscast, newspaper, or radio broadcast is 100% accurate. Effective, compelling writing requires a theme. Schlender and Tetzeli most certainly did what Hertzfeld says: They emphasized the negative in Steve’s early life and accentuated the positive in Steve’s later life in order to provide a compelling story.

Nobody wants to read a dry police report of a man’s life. That’s not how good books work.

Hertzfeld is a computer scientist. He wants to read a perfectly-accurate computer program that reproduces his experiences exactly. He is criticizing an excellent book for being an excellent book.

Related articles:
‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ poised to top New York Times Best Seller list – April 9, 2015
UBS: ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ better understands Jobs than Isaacson bio; ‘Tim Cook has been the right choice’ – April 1, 2015
Ken Segall: ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ is a better portrait of Steve as a complete human being – March 27, 2015
Why Apple feels the need to defend Steve Jobs – March 27, 2015
Tim Bajarin: ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ the most accurate portrayal written to date – March 27, 2015
Apple execs, including Tim Cook, praise new Steve Jobs biography, and criticize an old one – March 23, 2015
Disney CEO Bob Iger kept Steve Jobs’s cancer a secret for three years – March 20, 2015
The evolution of Steve Jobs: It’s time to revisit — and correct — the myth – March 20, 2015
Apple CEO Cook blasts Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’ bio as a ‘just a rehash; a tremendous disservice’ – March 17, 2015
Steve Jobs: ‘I just don’t like television. Apple will never make a TV again’ – March 13, 2015
Tim Cook reportedly offered Steve Jobs his liver, but Jobs refused – March 12, 2015
Gruber: ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ is a remarkable new book – March 3, 2015

18 Comments

    1. Anyone who thinks Andy Hertzfeld doesn’t know the value of good story-telling has NOT read his collection of stories at folklore.org – they are funny, engaging, whimsical, confrontational, sneaky, and just plain enjoyable to read. Seriously, I read most of those years ago and had a good time. I also thought Becoming Steve Jobs was a great book, whether it got all the details perfect or not.

      From excerpts I’ve seen, I don’t think I’d be able to finish reading Isaacson’s book, since the excerpts make it clear he got all kinds of factual things provable wrong. Emphasizing different parts of stories for a good story I can understand. Failing at basic fact-checking because you didn’t bother to learn enough about the world of your subject is lazy and pathetic.

      1. They can both be right. The book needs a prequel as Steve’s first coming was just as amazing as his second coming.

        Despite the dysfunctional drama, Apple 1.0 lurched forward with Steve in ways it failed to do after he left. He was learning by doing ambitious things and when you do that mistakes are an unavoidable, even necessary, part of the process.

  1. First off Andy is not claiming to know with 100% certainty that Steve would have liked the book.

    Interestingly enough after pointing out that Andy (A man who personally knew Steve btw) does not know what Steve would think you turn around and drop your own opinion on us and preface it with the same disposition as Andy did his. You SUSPECT Steve would like it….

    Hmmm… One guy knew Steve and the other runs a blog…. who would more likely have a sense of what Steve would think of this book… Gee I’m going to have to ponder this one for awhile.

      1. And yet he makes some valid points. It isn’t always about the accuracy, but how you got there. Which *is* the point of the Take.

        Wow, even I’m confused now. 😀

        1. The way I understood the MDN Take:

          Nobody can say with certainty what Jobs would think. Anyone can “suspect” what he might think. That is opinion. MDN, who has been following Apple closely for well over a decade online, with tens of thousands of articles and Takes, has as much right to form an opinion as anybody and their opinion holds significant weight, if you’ve been reading MDN for a long time. Anyone belittling MDN for their Take on a Steve Jobs bio is a fool.

          Hertzfeld is programmer. As such, he wants it all laid out in black and white. That doesn’t make for a compelling book. He’s criticizing the book because he was there for some of the early parts and it wasn’t all negative. We all get that, but he’s looking for more of a rote recitation of events whereas the book is trying to be compelling. The two are at odds with each other. I don’t have any issue with anyone wishing there was more nuance, but I think this is the best Steve Jobs book to date and it is clear as day that MDN and Tim Cook and Jony Ive and Eddy Cue agree.

          1. Implying that due to being a programmer he can only see in black and white is way off base, imo. Reading Andy’s blog and book shows, in fact, that he does not see things in black and white…

          2. I’m reading “Becoming Steve Jobs” now and am sympathetic to Andy’s perspective. I think Schlender and Tetzeli paint a picture of Apple in the late 70s and early 80s that is simplistic and under-detailed. More importantly, I think this notion that Andy’s opinion is defective because “Hertzfeld is a programmer” is claptrap. Andy was THERE. And by the way, MDN, Cook, Ive and Cue were NOT – and for that matter, neither were the authors.

  2. I worked at Apple before and during the early Macintosh development period, albeit in a different division (the one that was making money so the Mac team could do their work), and worked with Andy on a couple of earlier Apple// projects.

    I suspect that Andy’s more arguing against the relentless negativity of the first part of the book, not that what’s there is inaccurate. It’s incomplete from a historical perspective.

    There were during that period numerous hints of what Steve would become after his time at NeXT and after, and a bit of that balance wouldn’t hurt the book.

    1. And nobody said Andy wasn’t. There is no “controversy.” Andy doesn’t like the negative portrayal of Steve’s early days. MDN says the methods employed by Schlender and Tetzeli make for a compelling book. Tim Cook, Jony Ive, Eddy Cue and other Apple employees, along with MacDailyNews, all recommend “Becoming Steve Jobs” over Isaacson’s biography which IMHO was rushed and dry.

  3. 1) He doesn’t think that Jobs would have like the book
    2) MDN say no one could know what Steve Jobs would have thought about even when alive.
    3) MDN suspect however that he would have liked it.

    So what do we learn from this apparently its not ok to think even when you knew the guy personally but is ok to suspect even if you didn’t. Very illuminating.

  4. I think Steve Jobs wanted an honest biography of his life, including the negative aspects, instead of some overly positive revisionist history. That’s likely what he was looking for when he authorized the Walter Isaacson biography without giving himself or Apple any editorial oversight.

    Have not finished Becoming Steve Jobs yet, but so far it seems much much better than Isaacson’s book at achieving this vision. Both books are merciless at depicting Job’s negative aspects, but Becoming Steve Jobs paints a more complete and nuanced picture of this complicated man and the significance of how he changed the world.

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