Biography sees Jobs as crossroad of humanities and science
“Michelangelo knew a lot about how to quarry stone, not just how to be a sculptor,” Isaacson quotes Jobs as saying in one of the many interviews the Apple chief executive gave him in the months before Jobs’s death on October 5.
Isaacson’s Steve Jobs quickly became one of the most highly anticipated biographies of the year after the tech icon, the creative force behind products like the MacIntosh PC, iPod, iPhone and iPad, died of pancreatic cancer.
The 571-page volume hit bookstores on October 24 but was released earlier than expected on Apple’s iBooks online store and Amazon’s Kindle the day before. Amazon later said it expected the book to be its top seller of the year. No doubt, Jobs would have loved that.
“Edwin Land of Polaroid talked about the intersection of the humanities and science,” Jobs tells Isaacson toward the end, when discussing his legacy. “I like that intersection. There’s something magical about that place.”
The book chronicles Jobs’s achievements but presents a rounded and colorful portrait, warts and all.
It begins with a young, tearful Jobs trying to comprehend what it means to be adopted, a fact that some sources told Isaacson helped explain later behavior by Jobs such as his denying paternity of his first child.
“The real underlying problem was the theme of abandonment in Steve’s life,” Andy Hertzfeld, a former Apple colleague, told Isaacson.
The book portrays Jobs as a cutthroat businessman who championed aesthetic perfection over profit, with his character, aggressive behavior and startling inspirations tied part and parcel to his youthful search for identity.
By the time he graduates high school, Jobs’s rebelliousness is ascendant as he dabbles with LSD, weird diets and “the mind-bending effects of sleep deprivation,” Isaacson writes.
“All of a sudden the wheat field was playing Bach,” Jobs said of one LSD trip. “It was the most wonderful feeling of my life up to that point.”
Isaacson, whose previous work included well received biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, provides plenty of context at every stage of Jobs’s life (1955-2011).
His childhood neighborhood in the 1960s in what would later be part of the Silicon Valley he helped create was filled with engineers living in homes designed for the American “everyman,” which nurtured his interest in electronics and influenced his later passion for clean, simple design.
Born in San Francisco, Jobs found the Bay Area the ideal incubator for his rebel ambitions.
Isaacson notes that in the 1970s the classified section of the San Jose Mercury — where Jobs spotted the ad for his job in 1974 at video game maker Atari — carried “up to sixty pages of technology help wanted ads.”
By the early 1980s, Jobs’s personality had developed into a creative force. Friends and colleagues referred to his “reality distortion field,” a “confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand,” Hertzfeld said.
Driven by Jobs’s unrelenting refusal to accept anything less than his vision of a product, his employees completed staggering amounts of work within impossible deadlines.
“If reality did not comport with his will, he would ignore it, as he had done with the birth of his daughter and would do years later, when first diagnosed with cancer,” Isaacson writes.
The story of Jobs is replete with tales of his rudeness toward family members, competitors, waitresses or anyone else who didn’t live up to his exacting standards.
“At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was heavily sedated,” Isaacson says of one hospital stay while Jobs was battling cancer.
“Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it …. He ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked.”
Isaacson says Jobs called Comcast CEO Brian Roberts after signing up for the cable firm’s high-definition service while recuperating from cancer treatment.
“I thought he was calling to say something nice about it,” Roberts told Isaacson. “Instead, he told me, ‘It sucks.’”
But the man who had no qualms about humiliating people in front of their colleagues was just as likely to break down in tears, something which happens often in the book.
“Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone,” Apple designer Jony Ive told Isaacson.