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REVIEW: "Steve Jobs", Walter Isaacson

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  • Rob, grandpa of Ryan, Trevor, Devon & Han
    BKSTVJBS.RVW 20111224 Steve Jobs , Walter Isaacson, 2011, 978-1-4104-4522-3 %A Walter Isaacson pat.zindulka@aspeninstitute.org %C 27500 Drake Road,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 18, 2012
      BKSTVJBS.RVW 20111224

      "Steve Jobs", Walter Isaacson, 2011, 978-1-4104-4522-3
      %A Walter Isaacson pat.zindulka@...
      %C 27500 Drake Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3535
      %D 2011
      %G 978-1-4104-4522-3 1451648537
      %I Simon and Schuster/The Gale Group
      %O 248-699-4253 800-877-4253 fax: 800-414-5043 galeord@...
      %O http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451648537/robsladesinterne
      %O http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451648537/robsladesin03-20
      %O Audience n+ Tech 1 Writing 2 (see revfaq.htm for explanation)
      %P 853 p.
      %T "Steve Jobs"

      I have read many fictional works that start off with a list of the
      cast of characters, but this is the first biography I've ever read
      that started in this way.

      It is fairly obvious that Isaacson has done extensive research, talked
      to many people, and worked very hard in preparation for this book. At
      the same time, it is clear that many areas have not been carefully
      analyzed. Many Silicon Valley myths (such as the precise formulation
      of Moore's Law, or John Draper's status with regard to the Cap'n
      Crunch whistle) are retailed without ascertaining the true facts. The
      information collected is extensive in many ways, but, in places
      (particularly in regard to Jobs' earlier years) the writing is
      scattered and disjointed. We have Jobs living with his girlfriend in
      a cabin in the hills, and then suddenly he is in college.

      Material is duplicated and reiterated in many places. Quotes are
      frequently repeated word-for-word in relation to different situations
      or circumstances, so the reader really cannot know the original
      reference. There are also contradictions: we are told that Jobs could
      not stand a certain staffer, but 18 pages later we are informed that
      the same person often enthralled Jobs. (Initially, this staffer is
      introduced as having been encountered in 1979, but it is later
      mentioned that he worked for Jobs and Apple as early as 1976.) At one
      point we learn that an outside firm designed the Mac mouse: four pages
      further on we ascertain that it was created internally by Apple. The
      author seems to have accepted any and all input, perspectives, and
      stories without analysis or assessment of where the truth might lie.

      It is possible to do a biography along a timeline. It is possible to
      do it on a thematic basis. Isaacson follows a timeline, but generally
      only covers one subject during any "epoch." From the first time Jobs
      sees a personal computer until he is dismissed from Apple, this is
      less of a biography and more the story of the development of the
      company. There is a short section covering the birth of Jobs'
      daughter, we hear of the reality distortion field, and terse mentions
      of vegan diets, motorcycles, stark housing, and occasional
      girlfriends, but almost nothing of Jobs away from work. (Even in
      covering Apple there are large gaps: the Lisa model is noted as an
      important development, but then is never really described.)

      In fact, it is hard to see this book as a biography. It reads more
      like a history of Apple, although with particular emphasis on Jobs.
      There are sidetrips to his first girlfriend and daughter, NeXT, Pixar,
      miscellaneous girlfriends, his wife and kids, Pixar again, and then
      cancer, but by far the bulk of the book concentrates on Apple.

      The "reality distortion field" is famous, and mentioned often.
      Equally frequently we are told of a focused and unblinking stare,
      which Jobs learned from someone, and practiced as a means to
      intimidate and influence people. Most people believe that the person
      who "doesn't blink" is the dominant personality, and therefore the one
      in charge. It is rather ironic that research actually refutes this.
      Studies have shown that, when two people meet for the first time, it
      is actually the dominant personality that "blinks first" and looks
      away, almost as a signal that they are about to dominate the
      conversation or interaction. Both "the field" and "the stare" seem to
      tell the same story: they are tricks of social engineering which can
      have a powerful influence, but which are based on an imperfect
      understanding of reality and people, don't work with everyone, and can
      have very negative consequences.

      (The chapters on Jobs' fight with cancer are possibly the most
      telling. For anyone who has the slightest background in medicine it
      will be apparent that Jobs didn't know much in that field, and that he
      made very foolish and dangerous decisions, flying in the face of all
      advice and any understanding of nutrition and biology.)

      Those seeking insight into the character that built a major
      corporation may be disappointed. Like anybody else, Jobs is a study
      in contradictions: the seduction with charm and vision, then
      belittlement and screaming at people; the perfectionist who obsessed
      on details, but was supposedly a visionary at the intersection of the
      arts and technology who made major decisions based on intuitive gut
      feelings with little or no information or analysis; the amaterialistic
      ascetic who made a fortune selling consumer electronics and was
      willing to con people to make money; the Zen meditator who never
      seemed to achieve any calm or patience; the man who insisted that
      "honesty" compelled him to abuse friends and colleagues, but who was
      almost pathological in his secrecy about himself and the company; and
      the creative free-thinker who created the most closed and restricted
      systems extent.

      There is no attempt to find the balance point for any of these
      dichotomies. As a security architect I can readily agree with the
      need for high level design to drive all aspects of the construction of
      a system: a unified whole always works better and more reliably.
      Unfortunately for that premise, there are endless examples of Jobs
      demanding, at very late points in the process, that radically new
      functions be included. Then there is Jobs' twin assertions that the
      item must be perfect, but that ship dates must be met. One has to
      agree with Voltaire: the best is the enemy of the good, and anyone
      trying to be good, fast, *and* cheap may succeed a time or two, but is
      ultimately headed for failure.

      Several times Isaacson repeats an assertion from Jobs that money is
      not important: it is merely recognition of achievements, or a resource
      that enables you to make great products. The author does not seem to
      understand that an awful lot of money is also another resource, one
      that allows you to make mistakes. He only vaguely admits that Jobs
      made some spectacular errors.

      The book is not a hagiography. Isaacson is at pains to point out that
      he notes Jobs' weaknesses of character and action. At the same time,
      Isaacson is obviously proud of being a personal friend, and, I
      suspect, does not realize that, while he may mention Jobs' flaws, he
      also goes to great lengths to excuse them.

      Was Steve Jobs a great man? He was the driving force behind a company
      which had, for a time, the largest market capitalization of any
      publicly traded company. He was also, by pretty much all accounts, an
      arrogant jerk. He had a major influence on the design of personal
      electronics, although his contribution to personal computing was
      mostly derivative. We are conventionally used to saying that people
      like Napoleon, Ford, and Edison are great, even thought they might
      have been better at social engineering than the softer people skills.
      By this measure Jobs can be considered great, although not by the
      standards by which we might judge Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai
      Lama (which is rather ironic, considering Jobs' personal philosophy).

      Those who hold Jobs, Apple, or both, in awe will probably be delighted
      to find a mass of stories and trivia all in one place. Those who want
      to know the secrets of building a business empire may find some
      interesting philosophies, but will probably be disappointed: the book
      tends to take all positions at once. For those who have paid much
      attention to Apple, and Jobs' career, there isn't much here that is
      novel. As Jobs himself stated to a journalist, "So, you've uncovered
      the fact that I'm an *sshole. Why is that news?"

      Having all of the material in one book does help to clarify certain
      issues. Personally, I have always fought with the Macs I used,
      struggling against the lock step conformity they enforced. It was
      only in reviewing this work that it occurred to me that Apple relies
      upon a closed system that makes Microsoft appear open by comparison.
      So, I guess, yes, there is at least one insight to be gained from this

      copyright, Robert M. Slade 2011 BKSTVJBS.RVW 20111224

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
      rslade@... slade@... rslade@...
      The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance -- it is the
      illusion of knowledge. - Daniel J. Boorstin
      victoria.tc.ca/techrev/rms.htm http://www.infosecbc.org/links
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