Why You Should Read Steve Jobs’ Biography


I’ve got 140 pages left to go in Steve Jobs’ biography, and I’ve laughed, shuddered, but most of all, felt inspired by all the pages so far. I can’t believe I didn’t know more about Jobs’ personal background; the creation, near death, and triumphant rise of Apple; or the myriad other people in the tech world that were related to Jobs’ life.

Isaacson writes with clarity and detail. The anecdotes are numerous and often funny. The portrait Isaacson paints of Jobs has inspired, scared, and taught me a lot. I admire Jobs’ passion for life and creation; I’m repulsed by his streaks of cruelty. Because of and despite of his character strengths and flaws, he left a lasting legacy. The biography’s author Walter Isaacson put it this way:

  • The Apple II, which took Wozniak’s circuit board and turned it into the first personal computer that was not just for hobbyists.
  • The Macintosh, which begat the home computer revolution and popularized graphical user interfaces.
  • Toy Story and other Pixar blockbusters, which opened up the miracle of digital imagination.
  • Apple stores, which reinvented the role of a store in defining a brand.
  • The iPod, which changed the way we consume music.
  • The iTunes Store, which saved the music industry.
  • The iPhone which turned mobile phones into music, photography, video, email, and web devices.
  • The App store, which spawned a new content-creation industry.
  • The iPad, which launched tablet computing and offered a platform for digital newspapers, magazines, books, and videos.
  • iCloud, which demoted the computer from its central role in managing our content and let all of our devices sync seamlessly.
  • And Apple itself, which Jobs considered his greatest creation, a place where imagination was nurtured, applied, and executed in ways so creative that it became the most valuable company on earth.

Anyone who owns an Apple product, from occasional iPod users to the most hard-core cult-of-Apple fanboys, should crack open this book.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Product design simplicity

Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.

Jonathan Ive page 343 Steve Jobs

Jobs obsessing over the color of the iMac in a print ad

[Lee Clow][4] was preparing a series of colorful magazine ads, and when he sent Jobs the page proofs he got an outraged phone call in response. The blue in the ad, Jobs insisted, was different from that of the iMac. “You guys don’t know what you’re doing!” Jobs shouted. “I’m going to get someone else to do the ads, because this is fucked up.” Clow argued back. Compare them, he said. Jobs, who was not in the office, insisted he was right and continued to shout. Eventually Clow got him to sit down with the original photographs. “I finally proved to him that the blue was the blue was the blue.” Years later, on a Steve Jobs discussion board on the website Gawker, the following tale appeared from someone who had worked at the Whole Foods store in Palo Alto a few blocks from Jobs’s home: “I was shagging carts one afternoon when I saw this silver Mercedes parked in a handicapped spot. Steve Jobs was inside screaming at his car phone. This was right before the first iMac was unveiled and I’m pretty sure I could make out, ‘Not. Fucking. Blue. Enough!!!’”

Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs

Apple stores

[[Ron] Johnson][5] said that the size of a store signaled the importance of the brand. “Is Apple as big of a brand as the Gap? he asked. Jobs said it was much bigger. Johnson replied that its stores should therefore be bigger. “Otherwise you won’t be relevant.” Jobs described Mike Markkula’s maxim that a good company must “impute” – it must convey its values and importance in everything it does, from packaging to marketing. Johnson loved it. It definitely applied to a company’s stores. “The store will become the most powerful physical expression of the band,” he predicted.

Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs

I think I’ll read more biographies. Who needs fictional characters when you’ve got real ones like Jobs?