Steve Jobs (The Book) (Updated)

Steve Jobs (The Book) (Updated)

Nov 07




By Steve Lohr
New York Times
October 21, 2011

Original Link

In his last years, Steven P. Jobs veered from exotic diets to cutting-edge treatments as he fought the cancer that ultimately took his life, according to a new biography to be published on Monday.

His early decision to put off surgery and rely instead on fruit juices, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments — some of which he found on the Internet — infuriated and distressed his family, friends and physicians, the book says. From the time of his first diagnosis in October 2003, until he received surgery in July 2004, he kept his condition largely private — secret from Apple employees, executives and shareholders, who were misled.

Although the broad outlines of Mr. Jobs’s struggle with pancreatic cancer are known, the new biography, by Walter Isaacson, offers new insight and details. Friends, family members and physicians spoke to Mr. Isaacson openly about Mr. Jobs’s illness and his shifting strategy for managing it. According to Mr. Isaacson, Mr. Jobs was one of 20 people in the world to have all the genes of his cancer tumor and his normal DNA sequenced. The price tag at the time: $100,000.

But the 630-page biography spans Mr. Jobs’s entire life, and also includes previously unknown details about his romantic life, his marriage, his relationship with his sister and his business dealings. Mr. Isaacson conducted more than 40 interviews over two years with Mr. Jobs, who died on Oct. 5.

A copy of the book was obtained by The New York Times before it officially went on sale.

In October 2003, Mr. Jobs got the news about his cancer, which was detected by a CT scan. One of his first calls, according to the book, was to Larry Brilliant, a physician and epidemiologist, who would later become the head of Google’s philanthropic arm. The men went way back, having first met at an ashram in India.

“Do you still believe in God?” Mr. Jobs asked.

Mr. Brilliant spoke for a while about religion and different paths to belief, and then asked Mr. Jobs what was wrong. “I have cancer,” Mr. Jobs replied.

Mr. Jobs put off surgery for nine months, a fact first reported in 2008 in Fortune magazine.

Friends and family, including his sister, Mona Simpson, urged Mr. Jobs to have surgery and chemotherapy, Mr. Isaacson writes. But Mr. Jobs delayed the medical treatment. His friend and mentor, Andrew Grove, the former head of Intel, who had overcome prostate cancer, told Mr. Jobs that diets and acupuncture were not a cure for his cancer. “I told him he was crazy,” he said.

Art Levinson, a member of Apple’s board and chairman of Genentech, recalled that he pleaded with Mr. Jobs and was frustrated that he could not persuade him to have surgery.

His wife, Laurene Powell, recalled those days, after the cancer diagnosis. “The big thing was that he really was not ready to open his body,” she said. “It’s hard to push someone to do that.” She did try, however, Mr. Isaacson writes. “The body exists to serve the spirit,” she argued.

When he did take the path of surgery and science, Mr. Jobs did so with passion and curiosity, sparing no expense, pushing the frontiers of new treatments. According to Mr. Isaacson, once Mr. Jobs decided on the surgery and medical science, he became an expert — studying, guiding and deciding on each treatment. Mr. Isaacson said Mr. Jobs made the final decision on each new treatment regimen.

The DNA sequencing that Mr. Jobs ultimately went through was done by a collaboration of teams at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and the Broad Institute of MIT. The sequencing, Mr. Isaacson writes, allowed doctors to tailor drugs and target them to the defective molecular pathways.

A doctor told Mr. Jobs that the pioneering treatments of the kind he was undergoing would soon make most types of cancer a manageable chronic disease. Later, Mr. Jobs told Mr. Isaacson that he was either going to be one of the first “to outrun a cancer like this” or be among the last “to die from it.”

According to Mr. Isaacson, his interviews with Mr. Jobs were occasionally punctuated by music listening sessions in Mr. Jobs’s living room. During one interview, Mr. Jobs played music from his new iPad 2, cycling through the Beatles, a Gregorian chant performed by Benedictine monks, a Bach fugue and “Catch the Wind” by the Scottish musician Donovan.

Mr. Jobs’s personal affinity for music, and his friendships with musicians, helped him maneuver deals to build the iTunes library and special versions of the iPod. It also moved into his private life at times, Mr. Isaacson writes. After Mr. Jobs learned he had cancer, he exacted a promise from Yo-Yo Ma to play at his funeral.

Mr. Jobs sometimes entertained business guests at his home. Rupert Murdoch, the conservative head of News Corporation, came twice for dinner. Mr. Jobs joked to Mr. Isaacson that he had to hide the kitchen knives from his wife, Laurene Powell, because of her liberal views.

The book provides new details on Apple’s business dealings and rivalries. The author recounts Mr. Jobs getting into a shouting match with co-founders of Google , Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in 2008, over Google’s development of Android software for smartphones, which would compete with Apple’s iPhone.

Mr. Jobs told Mr. Isaacson that he regarded Android as a “stolen product,” copying Apple technology.

In romance, Mr. Isaacson writes, Mr. Jobs fell hard, but often made it hard on the women in his life. In 1985, he met and fell in love with a computer consultant, Tina Redse. They lived together on and off for years, and Mr. Jobs proposed in 1989. But she declined, telling friends he would “drive her crazy.”

Later, he met Ms. Powell, a former Goldman Sachs trader who had enrolled at Stanford business school. They fell in love and she moved in with him. But his behavior could be maddening. On the first day of 1990, he proposed, and never mentioned it again for months. In September, exasperated, she moved out. The next month, Mr. Isaacson writes, he gave her a diamond engagement ring, and she moved back in. Eventually they married.

The book also offers some tidbits about Mr. Jobs’s legendary attention to detail, which, according to Mr. Isaacson, extended to a luxury yacht that he began designing in 2009. The design is sleek and minimalist, with 40-foot-long glass walls. It is being built in the Netherlands by the custom yacht firm Feadship, the book says.

Starting last spring, Mr. Jobs met individually or in pairs with people he wanted to see before he died. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, was one of them. He came to Mr. Jobs’s house in Palo Alto, Calif., in May, and they spent more than three hours together, reminiscing, Mr. Isaacson writes.

By 2011, Mr. Gates, though still Microsoft chairman, had for years focused most of his time on his huge charitable foundation. Mr. Jobs told Mr. Isaacson that Mr. Gates was happier than he had ever seen him.

They talked about the emotional rewards of family life and having children, and the good fortune to have married wisely. Mr. Gates later recalled to Mr. Isaacson the two laughed that Laurene had kept Mr. Jobs “semi-sane” and that Melinda, Mr. Gates’s wife, “kept me semi-sane.”

The book will be published by Simon & Schuster, with a list price of $35.


Walter Isaacson’s biography of the Apple CEO doesn’t go deep enough. Maybe some more LSD would have helped
By Andrew Leonard
October 27, 2011

Original Link

The day after the March 2011 launch of the iPad 2, as a very sick Steve Jobs prepared to fly to Hawaii for a short stint of recuperation, Walter Isaacson, Jobs’ hand-picked biographer, asked to see what the Apple CEO had downloaded onto his iPad to divert him on the flight. There were three movies, and one book: “The Autobiography of a Yogi,” “the guide to meditation and spirituality that he had first read as a teenager, then reread in India, and had read once a year ever since.”

How appropriate! One of the great mysteries of Steve Jobs is the question of how a man so sincere in his commitment to Zen Buddhism and Eastern spirituality could at the same time be such a flaming asshole. If there’s one thing that comes shining through in Isaacson’s warts-and-all biography, it’s Jobs’ consistent tendency to act like a jerk; to make his friends, employees and family miserable with his insults and put-downs. His tantrums, manipulations and lies (or “reality distortions”) are the stuff of legend. But by golly, he also dedicated himself obsessively to cultivating the perfection and purity of his inner spirit. Uh, how exactly does that compute?

Steve Jobs embodied a unique duality. As Isaacson documents, Jobs fully embraced the hippie-dippie mores of his native Northern California: he dropped acid, smoked dope, lived in a commune, became a vegan, grooved to Bob Dylan, sought transcendence and enlightenment and neither regretted nor disowned any of it … and yet he also became the most successful businessman of modern times, in part by employing management tactics featuring the kind of cutthroat machinations not usually rewarded by upwardly mobile karmic transmigration.

As I finished Isaacson’s rushed-into-stores tome, I realized that I was still confused as to how these contradictions could be reconciled. After almost 600 action-packed pages, I was dismayed: no enlightenment for me! In a sudden burst of yogic whimsy, I reached for my brand-new iPhone 4S and tapped the iBooks app. I stumbled for a second — the first suggested purchase was none other than Isaacson’s book. That seemed a little incestuous. But then I typed the letters “auto” in the search query box, was instantaneously prompted with the suggestion “The Autobiography of a Yogi,” and tapped the screen two more times to download my own free copy.

Which is how I found myself reading the life story of Paramahansa Yogananda, a man considered instrumental in introducing millions of Westerners to meditation and yoga — on my phone. And then how I found myself watching a YouTube video featuring 1936 footage of Yogananda lecturing on the topic of “How to Sleep Correctly” — on my phone. And then, caught up in the inexorable flow, how I found myself asking Siri — my phone’s voice-recognizing personal assistant — to locate the nearest yoga studio: (“I found 10 yoga studios, nine of them are fairly close to you,” answered Siri.)

To all of which a younger version of myself might say, wow, man, that’s trippy. “Yoga is not magic,” saith Yogananda, but to anyone who is part of the generation that came of age along with Steve Jobs, the iPhone 4S sure as hell is. To borrow the argot of the mighty Jobs: Who gives a shit whether he was a jerk or not? The products he brought to market are fucking amazing! Steve Jobs didn’t invent the integrated circuit or the Internet or the personal computer or the cellphone — but he saw, ahead of almost all the rest of us, how to put the pieces together in ways that unlocked creativity and inspired passion and delight.

And there’s your connection, there’s your paradox resolved. The good karma derived from midwifing all those incredible devices into the world surely outweighs the personal unpleasantness. Maybe the universe forgives Steve for being an asshole because the combined force of everyone loving their iPhone has lifted the entire planet into a more exalted state (with the likely exception of exploited Chinese workers — though who is to say they don’t want their iPhones too?).

The most serious flaws in Isaacson’s ultimately unsatisfying “Steve Jobs” are that the author doesn’t step back and grapple with how the world has changed as a consequence of Steve Jobs’ passage through it, and also fails to resolve the contradictions in Jobs’ character into a coherent narrative. This is disappointing, especially when one considers that the level of access Isaacson enjoyed to Jobs and his family during the last days of his life is, of course, impossible for anyone else to duplicate.

It doesn’t make the book a bad read. Steve Jobs’ life is inherently interesting — his rise and fall and rise again, his LSD-dropping entrepreneurial genius, his epochal impact on not just the computing industry but also the movie, phone and music businesses are all riveting stories. But most of us already know most of the details. Few recent figures have had their daily adventures more chronicled than has Steve Jobs. Some key parts of the legend — such as the creation of the Macintosh — have been told far more entertainingly and with much more insight than they are here by Isaacson.

The real challenge any would-be biographer of Jobs faces is to explain what it all means. In the past 40 years, the personal computer and the Internet have vastly transformed how billions of people live and Steve Jobs was right there in the middle of it, as big, or bigger, a player than anyone else. It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate vehicle than Jobs for telling this grand story. No one, for example, better embodies the synthesis of countercultural values and start-up entrepreneurialism — the dual impulses for self-actualization and capitalist accumulation, the frenzied pace of change — that define the San Francisco Bay Area than Jobs. One of Jobs’ favorite songs was Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing.” Exactly!

But instead of fully immersing himself in this fertile Ganges of cultural and technological cross-pollination, Isaacson skates across the surface. He jumps from product launch to product launch, recounting all the standing ovations Jobs received from his adoring fans, and toting up the stunning sales numbers of each new release, but never really getting to the bottom of the question of why something like the Macintosh or the iPhone engendered such strong emotions, or what is really signified by the fact that I can now carry all the teachings of all the yogis that ever lived in my pocket.

There are other failures, other mysteries left unsolved. Isaacson’s depiction of the chaos that an undisciplined and out-of-control Jobs was unleashing on Apple just before he was pushed out by John Sculley in 1997 makes a pretty convincing case that he deserved exile from his own creation. He was a terrible manager. But 10 years later he comes back and this time around he can do almost no wrong. From whence came this catharsis? What changed? Did the umpteenth reading of the yogi’s autobiography finally deliver an epiphany that catalyzed his transformation into one of the greatest CEOs to ever stride the earth? Job’s reinvention of himself is one of the most fascinating stories in the history of modern business, but Isaacson portrays it simply as something that just happened.

Steve Jobs didn’t just happen. His was a force of will the likes of which most of us will never see again. And in that respect, Isaacson’s biography does make perfectly clear one point that should trouble all of Apple’s employees and customers. No one can step into Steve Jobs’ shoes. None of his successors will be able to combine the vision and the assholery and the moral authority into a package seamless enough to ensure Apple continues its permanent consumer electronic revolution. At a moving memorial service held for all of Apple’s employees on Oct. 19, the new CEO, Tim Cook, recounted how one of the last things Steve Jobs had told him was that he didn’t want Apple’s executives to be asking themselves, “What would Steve do?” — he wanted them to do “what they thought was right.” Well, what happens when people disagree on what’s right? One of the obvious lessons of Steve Jobs’ life is that true greatness doesn’t necessarily emerge from a collective decision-making process — in Apple’s case, it emerged from one man’s stubborn conviction that he was right 99.9 percent of the time and heaven help those who got in his way. Steve Jobs was the one asshole to rule them all. And there’s no business school you can go to that will tell you where to imbibe that defining elixir.

After the news broke that Steve Jobs was resigning as CEO, I was chatting with my daughter about his accomplishments, and as we discussed his legacy, I realized that she didn’t even know he had been the CEO of Pixar. We are all huge Pixar fans in my household — every new movie release is a major cinematic event in south Berkeley. My son, a 13-year-old with pretty strong geek credentials in the making, emerged from his lair and asked what we were talking about. I said Steve Jobs had resigned — a fact that my son registered as pretty big news. “Did you know he was responsible for Pixar too?” I asked.

His eyes widened. “WHO IS this guy?!” he exclaimed.

Who indeed! I still don’t know — even after devouring the endless encomiums and memorials and biographies that have proliferated since his death. But I keep coming back to that quest for transcendence and to Steve Jobs’ off-repeated testimony to the almost spiritual mandate he felt to incorporate purity and simplicity into everything he touched. As a human being, Jobs was anything but pure, anything but simple, all too easily swayed by raw emotion. But one cannot hold an iPhone without marveling at its grace and sublime design. In a consumer society, it is the ultimate consumer object, a key to infinite libraries and a doorway to infinite malls, an instrument of connection and pleasure, an object insanely simple to use, but encompassing within it the full complexity of technological progress and the accumulation of human knowledge.

It is, of course, not the final statement of consumer electronic apotheosis. There will be better gadgets to come. There will be a cooler phone in six months, or earlier, and it might not even be from Apple. That’s part of the fun. The journey toward those gadgets, as Jobs liked to say, will be its own reward. But it’s all still pretty mind-blowing, especially for those of us who recall playing games of “Pong” as teenagers. And when you get right down to it, maybe the world doesn’t just owe Steve Jobs thanks for all of the goodies produced by Apple and copied by everyone else. Maybe the world also ought to consider sending the countercultural craziness of 1960s California a big smooch.

Because one common thread to all the drug experimentation and dalliances with Eastern spirituality so rampant in the region Steve Job grew up in was the active desire to get your mind blown — to get knocked out of the mundane world you occupied straight into some new realm where everything made sense, where everything was connected, where transcendence and enlightenment were finally within one’s grasp. Make no mistake — that restless seeking is an integral part of Apple’s DNA.

Isaacson recounts a meeting between Steve Jobs and the New York Times technology reporter John Markoff, author of “What the Dormouse Said” — an investigation of the psychedelic roots of the computer revolution. “Taking LSD,” writes Isaacson, “was one of the two or three most important things he’d done in his life, Jobs told Markoff. People who had never taken acid would never fully understand him.”

If everything is connected, and the iPhone is the ultimate instrument of connection, then maybe the key to what made Steve Jobs go was his desire to translate that quest for transcendence into products that blow our minds.

I’m not going to say the iPhone can deliver enlightenment — but I just asked Siri: “Is there a god?”

Her answer: “There are 14 churches near you.” The closest, I was amused to see, just happened to be a Zen Buddhist Center less than half a mile away.

I hope Steve Jobs is grinning, too.


By Walter Isaacson
New York Times
October 29, 2011

Original Link

ONE of the questions I wrestled with when writing about Steve Jobs was how smart he was. On the surface, this should not have been much of an issue. You’d assume the obvious answer was: he was really, really smart. Maybe even worth three or four reallys. After all, he was the most innovative and successful business leader of our era and embodied the Silicon Valley dream writ large: he created a start-up in his parents’ garage and built it into the world’s most valuable company.

But I remember having dinner with him a few months ago around his kitchen table, as he did almost every evening with his wife and kids. Someone brought up one of those brainteasers involving a monkey’s having to carry a load of bananas across a desert, with a set of restrictions about how far and how many he could carry at one time, and you were supposed to figure out how long it would take. Mr. Jobs tossed out a few intuitive guesses but showed no interest in grappling with the problem rigorously. I thought about how Bill Gates would have gone click-click-click and logically nailed the answer in 15 seconds, and also how Mr. Gates devoured science books as a vacation pleasure. But then something else occurred to me: Mr. Gates never made the iPod. Instead, he made the Zune.

So was Mr. Jobs smart? Not conventionally. Instead, he was a genius. That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor. Trained in Zen Buddhism, Mr. Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn’t study data or crunch numbers but like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead.

He told me he began to appreciate the power of intuition, in contrast to what he called “Western rational thought,” when he wandered around India after dropping out of college. “The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do,” he said. “They use their intuition instead … Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”

Mr. Jobs’s intuition was based not on conventional learning but on experiential wisdom. He also had a lot of imagination and knew how to apply it. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Einstein is, of course, the true exemplar of genius. He had contemporaries who could probably match him in pure intellectual firepower when it came to mathematical and analytic processing. Henri Poincaré, for example, first came up with some of the components of special relativity, and David Hilbert was able to grind out equations for general relativity around the same time Einstein did. But neither had the imaginative genius to make the full creative leap at the core of their theories, namely that there is no such thing as absolute time and that gravity is a warping of the fabric of space-time. (O.K., it’s not that simple, but that’s why he was Einstein and we’re not.)

Einstein had the elusive qualities of genius, which included that intuition and imagination that allowed him to think differently (or, as Mr. Jobs’s ads said, to Think Different.) Although he was not particularly religious, Einstein described this intuitive genius as the ability to read the mind of God. When assessing a theory, he would ask himself, Is this the way that God would design the universe? And he expressed his discomfort with quantum mechanics, which is based on the idea that probability plays a governing role in the universe by declaring that he could not believe God would play dice. (At one physics conference, Niels Bohr was prompted to urge Einstein to quit telling God what to do.)

Both Einstein and Mr. Jobs were very visual thinkers. The road to relativity began when the teenage Einstein kept trying to picture what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam. Mr. Jobs spent time almost every afternoon walking around the studio of his brilliant design chief Jony Ive and fingering foam models of the products they were developing.

Mr. Jobs’s genius wasn’t, as even his fanboys admit, in the same quantum orbit as Einstein’s. So it’s probably best to ratchet the rhetoric down a notch and call it ingenuity. Bill Gates is super-smart, but Steve Jobs was super-ingenious. The primary distinction, I think, is the ability to apply creativity and aesthetic sensibilities to a challenge.

In the world of invention and innovation, that means combining an appreciation of the humanities with an understanding of science — connecting artistry to technology, poetry to processors. This was Mr. Jobs’s specialty. “I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” he said. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

The ability to merge creativity with technology depends on one’s ability to be emotionally attuned to others. Mr. Jobs could be petulant and unkind in dealing with other people, which caused some to think he lacked basic emotional awareness. In fact, it was the opposite. He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, cajole them, intimidate them, target their deepest vulnerabilities, and delight them at will. He knew, intuitively, how to create products that pleased, interfaces that were friendly, and marketing messages that were enticing.

In the annals of ingenuity, new ideas are only part of the equation. Genius requires execution. When others produced boxy computers with intimidating interfaces that confronted users with unfriendly green prompts that said things like “C:\>,” Mr. Jobs saw there was a market for an interface like a sunny playroom. Hence, the Macintosh. Sure, Xerox came up with the graphical desktop metaphor, but the personal computer it built was a flop and it did not spark the home computer revolution. Between conception and creation, T. S. Eliot observed, there falls the shadow.

In some ways, Mr. Jobs’s ingenuity reminds me of that of Benjamin Franklin, one of my other biography subjects. Among the founders, Franklin was not the most profound thinker — that distinction goes to Jefferson or Madison or Hamilton. But he was ingenious.

This depended, in part, on his ability to intuit the relationships between different things. When he invented the battery, he experimented with it to produce sparks that he and his friends used to kill a turkey for their end of season feast. In his journal, he recorded all the similarities between such sparks and lightning during a thunderstorm, then declared “Let the experiment be made.” So he flew a kite in the rain, drew electricity from the heavens, and ended up inventing the lightning rod. Like Mr. Jobs, Franklin enjoyed the concept of applied creativity — taking clever ideas and smart designs and applying them to useful devices.

China and India are likely to produce many rigorous analytical thinkers and knowledgeable technologists. But smart and educated people don’t always spawn innovation. America’s advantage, if it continues to have one, will be that it can produce people who are also more creative and imaginative, those who know how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences. That is the formula for true innovation, as Steve Jobs’s career showed.


By Malcolm Gladwell
The New Yorker
November 14, 2011

Original Link

Not long after Steve Jobs got married, in 1991, he moved with his wife to a nineteen-thirties, Cotswolds-style house in old Palo Alto. Jobs always found it difficult to furnish the places where he lived. His previous house had only a mattress, a table, and chairs. He needed things to be perfect, and it took time to figure out what perfect was. This time, he had a wife and family in tow, but it made little difference. “We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years,” his wife, Laurene Powell, tells Walter Isaacson, in “Steve Jobs,” Isaacson’s enthralling new biography of the Apple founder. “We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?’ ”

It was the choice of a washing machine, however, that proved most vexing. European washing machines, Jobs discovered, used less detergent and less water than their American counterparts, and were easier on the clothes. But they took twice as long to complete a washing cycle. What should the family do? As Jobs explained, “We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table.”

Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s biography makes clear, was a complicated and exhausting man. “There are parts of his life and personality that are extremely messy, and that’s the truth,” Powell tells Isaacson. “You shouldn’t whitewash it.” Isaacson, to his credit, does not. He talks to everyone in Jobs’s career, meticulously recording conversations and encounters dating back twenty and thirty years. Jobs, we learn, was a bully. “He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe,” a friend of his tells Isaacson. Jobs gets his girlfriend pregnant, and then denies that the child is his. He parks in handicapped spaces. He screams at subordinates. He cries like a small child when he does not get his way. He gets stopped for driving a hundred miles an hour, honks angrily at the officer for taking too long to write up the ticket, and then resumes his journey at a hundred miles an hour. He sits in a restaurant and sends his food back three times. He arrives at his hotel suite in New York for press interviews and decides, at 10 P.M., that the piano needs to be repositioned, the strawberries are inadequate, and the flowers are all wrong: he wanted calla lilies. (When his public-relations assistant returns, at midnight, with the right flowers, he tells her that her suit is “disgusting.”) “Machines and robots were painted and repainted as he compulsively revised his color scheme,” Isaacson writes, of the factory Jobs built, after founding NeXT, in the late nineteen-eighties. “The walls were museum white, as they had been at the Macintosh factory, and there were $20,000 black leather chairs and a custom-made staircase. . . . He insisted that the machinery on the 165-foot assembly line be configured to move the circuit boards from right to left as they got built, so that the process would look better to visitors who watched from the viewing gallery.”

Isaacson begins with Jobs’s humble origins in Silicon Valley, the early triumph at Apple, and the humiliating ouster from the firm he created. He then charts the even greater triumphs at Pixar and at a resurgent Apple, when Jobs returns, in the late nineteen-nineties, and our natural expectation is that Jobs will emerge wiser and gentler from his tumultuous journey. He never does. In the hospital at the end of his life, he runs through sixty-seven nurses before he finds three he likes. “At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated,” Isaacson writes:

“Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.”

One of the great puzzles of the industrial revolution is why it began in England. Why not France, or Germany? Many reasons have been offered. Britain had plentiful supplies of coal, for instance. It had a good patent system in place. It had relatively high labor costs, which encouraged the search for labor-saving innovations. In an article published earlier this year, however, the economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr focus on a different explanation: the role of Britain’s human-capital advantage — in particular, on a group they call “tweakers.” They believe that Britain dominated the industrial revolution because it had a far larger population of skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them — refined and perfected them, and made them work.

In 1779, Samuel Crompton, a retiring genius from Lancashire, invented the spinning mule, which made possible the mechanization of cotton manufacture. Yet England’s real advantage was that it had Henry Stones, of Horwich, who added metal rollers to the mule; and James Hargreaves, of Tottington, who figured out how to smooth the acceleration and deceleration of the spinning wheel; and William Kelly, of Glasgow, who worked out how to add water power to the draw stroke; and John Kennedy, of Manchester, who adapted the wheel to turn out fine counts; and, finally, Richard Roberts, also of Manchester, a master of precision machine tooling — and the tweaker’s tweaker. He created the “automatic” spinning mule: an exacting, high-speed, reliable rethinking of Crompton’s original creation. Such men, the economists argue, provided the “micro inventions necessary to make macro inventions highly productive and remunerative.”

Was Steve Jobs a Samuel Crompton or was he a Richard Roberts? In the eulogies that followed Jobs’s death, last month, he was repeatedly referred to as a large-scale visionary and inventor. But Isaacson’s biography suggests that he was much more of a tweaker. He borrowed the characteristic features of the Macintosh — the mouse and the icons on the screen — from the engineers at Xerox PARC, after his famous visit there, in 1979. The first portable digital music players came out in 1996. Apple introduced the iPod, in 2001, because Jobs looked at the existing music players on the market and concluded that they “truly sucked.” Smart phones started coming out in the nineteen-nineties. Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, more than a decade later, because, Isaacson writes, “he had noticed something odd about the cell phones on the market: They all stank, just like portable music players used to.” The idea for the iPad came from an engineer at Microsoft, who was married to a friend of the Jobs family, and who invited Jobs to his fiftieth-birthday party. As Jobs tells Isaacson:

This guy badgered me about how Microsoft was going to completely change the world with this tablet PC software and eliminate all notebook computers, and Apple ought to license his Microsoft software. But he was doing the device all wrong. It had a stylus. As soon as you have a stylus, you’re dead. This dinner was like the tenth time he talked to me about it, and I was so sick of it that I came home and said, “Fuck this, let’s show him what a tablet can really be.” 

Even within Apple, Jobs was known for taking credit for others’ ideas. Jonathan Ive, the designer behind the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone, tells Isaacson, “He will go through a process of looking at my ideas and say, ‘That’s no good. That’s not very good. I like that one.’ And later I will be sitting in the audience and he will be talking about it as if it was his idea.”

Jobs’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him — the tablet with stylus — and ruthlessly refining it. After looking at the first commercials for the iPad, he tracked down the copywriter, James Vincent, and told him, “Your commercials suck.”

“Well, what do you want?” Vincent shot back. “You’ve not been able to tell me what you want.”

“I don’t know,” Jobs said. “You have to bring me something new. Nothing you’ve shown me is even close.”

Vincent argued back and suddenly Jobs went ballistic. “He just started screaming at me,” Vincent recalled.

Vincent could be volatile himself, and the volleys escalated. When Vincent shouted, “You’ve got to tell me what you want,” Jobs shot back, “You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see it.”

I’ll know it when I see it. That was Jobs’s credo, and until he saw it his perfectionism kept him on edge. He looked at the title bars — the headers that run across the top of windows and documents — that his team of software developers had designed for the original Macintosh and decided he didn’t like them. He forced the developers to do another version, and then another, about twenty iterations in all, insisting on one tiny tweak after another, and when the developers protested that they had better things to do he shouted, “Can you imagine looking at that every day? It’s not just a little thing. It’s something we have to do right.”

The famous Apple “Think Different” campaign came from Jobs’s advertising team at TBWA\Chiat\Day. But it was Jobs who agonized over the slogan until it was right:

They debated the grammatical issue: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. ‘Think differently’ wouldn’t hit the meaning for me.”

The point of Meisenzahl and Mokyr’s argument is that this sort of tweaking is essential to progress. James Watt invented the modern steam engine, doubling the efficiency of the engines that had come before. But when the tweakers took over the efficiency of the steam engine swiftly quadrupled. Samuel Crompton was responsible for what Meisenzahl and Mokyr call “arguably the most productive invention” of the industrial revolution. But the key moment, in the history of the mule, came a few years later, when there was a strike of cotton workers. The mill owners were looking for a way to replace the workers with unskilled labor, and needed an automatic mule, which did not need to be controlled by the spinner. Who solved the problem? Not Crompton, an unambitious man who regretted only that public interest would not leave him to his seclusion, so that he might “earn undisturbed the fruits of his ingenuity and perseverance.” It was the tweaker’s tweaker, Richard Roberts, who saved the day, producing a prototype, in 1825, and then an even better solution in 1830. Before long, the number of spindles on a typical mule jumped from four hundred to a thousand. The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution. That is not a lesser task.

Jobs’s friend Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, had a private jet, and he designed its interior with a great deal of care. One day, Jobs decided that he wanted a private jet, too. He studied what Ellison had done. Then he set about to reproduce his friend’s design in its entirety — the same jet, the same reconfiguration, the same doors between the cabins. Actually, not in its entirety. Ellison’s jet “had a door between cabins with an open button and a close button,” Isaacson writes. “Jobs insisted that his have a single button that toggled. He didn’t like the polished stainless steel of the buttons, so he had them replaced with brushed metal ones.” Having hired Ellison’s designer, “pretty soon he was driving her crazy.” Of course he was. The great accomplishment of Jobs’s life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies — his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness — in the service of perfection. “I look at his airplane and mine,” Ellison says, “and everything he changed was better.”

The angriest Isaacson ever saw Steve Jobs was when the wave of Android phones appeared, running the operating system developed by Google. Jobs saw the Android handsets, with their touchscreens and their icons, as a copy of the iPhone. He decided to sue. As he tells Isaacson:

“Our lawsuit is saying, “Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off.” Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google’s products — Android, Google Docs — are shit.”

In the nineteen-eighties, Jobs reacted the same way when Microsoft came out with Windows. It used the same graphical user interface — icons and mouse — as the Macintosh. Jobs was outraged and summoned Gates from Seattle to Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters. “They met in Jobs’s conference room, where Gates found himself surrounded by ten Apple employees who were eager to watch their boss assail him,” Isaacson writes. “Jobs didn’t disappoint his troops. ‘You’re ripping us off!’ he shouted. ‘I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!’ ”

Gates looked back at Jobs calmly. Everyone knew where the windows and the icons came from. “Well, Steve,” Gates responded. “I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

Jobs was someone who took other people’s ideas and changed them. But he did not like it when the same thing was done to him. In his mind, what he did was special. Jobs persuaded the head of Pepsi-Cola, John Sculley, to join Apple as C.E.O., in 1983, by asking him, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” When Jobs approached Isaacson to write his biography, Isaacson first thought (“half jokingly”) that Jobs had noticed that his two previous books were on Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, and that he “saw himself as the natural successor in that sequence.” The architecture of Apple software was always closed. Jobs did not want the iPhone and the iPod and the iPad to be opened up and fiddled with, because in his eyes they were perfect. The greatest tweaker of his generation did not care to be tweaked.

Perhaps this is why Bill Gates — of all Jobs’s contemporaries — gave him fits. Gates resisted the romance of perfectionism. Time and again, Isaacson repeatedly asks Jobs about Gates and Jobs cannot resist the gratuitous dig. “Bill is basically unimaginative,” Jobs tells Isaacson, “and has never invented anything, which I think is why he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”

After close to six hundred pages, the reader will recognize this as vintage Jobs: equal parts insightful, vicious, and delusional. It’s true that Gates is now more interested in trying to eradicate malaria than in overseeing the next iteration of Word. But this is not evidence of a lack of imagination. Philanthropy on the scale that Gates practices it represents imagination at its grandest. In contrast, Jobs’s vision, brilliant and perfect as it was, was narrow. He was a tweaker to the last, endlessly refining the same territory he had claimed as a young man.

As his life wound down, and cancer claimed his body, his great passion was designing Apple’s new, three-million-square-foot headquarters, in Cupertino. Jobs threw himself into the details. “Over and over he would come up with new concepts, sometimes entirely new shapes, and make them restart and provide more alternatives,” Isaacson writes. He was obsessed with glass, expanding on what he learned from the big panes in the Apple retail stores. “There would not be a straight piece of glass in the building,” Isaacson writes. “All would be curved and seamlessly joined. . . . The planned center courtyard was eight hundred feet across (more than three typical city blocks, or almost the length of three football fields), and he showed it to me with overlays indicating how it could surround St. Peter’s Square in Rome.” The architects wanted the windows to open. Jobs said no. He “had never liked the idea of people being able to open things. ‘That would just allow people to screw things up.’ ”



Pulse on Steve Jobs

What Do Steve Jobs’s Final Words Mean?
A Sister’s Eulogy For Steve Jobs
Apple Posts Video Of Steve Jobs Memorial
Steve Jobs (The Book)
Steve Jobs: Imitated, Never Duplicated
Remembering Steve
Wikipedia on Steve Jobs
• Steve Jobs: Imitated, Never Duplicated (David Pogue)
• Guy Kawasaki on Steve Jobs
Larry Brilliant Recalls The Personal Side Of Steve Jobs (LA Times)
Steve Jobs, World’s Greatest Philanthropist (Harvard Business Review)
TidBits on Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs Memorials Held At Apple Stores Around The World (Huffington Post)
Dying Apple Boss Left Plans For Four Years Of New Products (Daily Mail)
The Man Who Invented Our World (Slate)
What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs (Gawker)


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