Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Tuesday 1st November 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Anyone picking up this authorised biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, is left in little doubt that he was a Very Important Person. Not surprising, considering that Jobs himself designed the dust-jacket which features an enormous headshot of the self-proclaimed genius.

Jobs also hand-picked the author, Walter Isaacson. In the Introduction, Isaacson puzzles away at why Jobs chose him. “I think you’re good at getting people to talk,” Jobs said when he asked him that question. But the explanation is obvious. Isaacson’s previous subjects include Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein and Jobs clearly thought he belonged in the same company.

To Jobs’s credit, he urged his official biographer to produce a warts-and-all portrait and Isaacson has taken him at his word.

The figure who emerges from these pages is a ferociously driven technologist whose business savvy and marketing flair revolutionised six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing.

Yet he was also a thoroughly unpleasant human being. He belittled his employees and took credit for their ideas. He screamed at waitresses, telling them the food they were serving was “garbage”, and parked in handicapped spots. He even abandoned his first child. “He was never destined to win Father of the Year,” writes Isaacson with characteristic understatement.

Steve Jobs was undoubtedly the type of wunderkind who only comes along once in a generation and Isaacson doesn’t stint in describing all his achievements in loving detail. He died tragically young, something he long suspected would happen, and left behind two of the most respected brands of the 21st Century: Apple and Pixar. He was also rich beyond the dreams of avarice, becoming a billionaire at the age of 40.

But could he have achieved all this without being quite such a cruel, arrogant man?

The answer that Isaacson provides in this richly entertaining biography is no. Like America’s great robber barons of the 19th Century, Jobs was a ruthless entrepreneur who trampled over business rivals in his climb to the top. “Jobs never studied Nietzsche, but the philosopher’s concept of the will to power and the special nature of the Überman came naturally to him,” writes Isaacson.

One of Jobs’s least attractive characteristics was his poor personal hygiene, a condition that was exacerbated by his eccentric diet. For weeks on end, he would only eat one or two vegetables, such as turnips or carrots, often turning orange in the process. “We would have to literally put him out the door and tell him to go take a shower,” says Mike Markkula, Apple’s first chairman. “At meetings we would have to look at his dirty feet.”

More troubling for his biographer was Jobs’s semi-detached relationship with the truth, making it difficult to disentangle what actually happened from his self-aggrandizing hyperbole.

“The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek,” related Bud Tribble, one of the computer nerds who worked on the first Macintosh. “Steve has a reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything.”

Nevertheless, without this ability to bend reality to his will Jobs wouldn’t have been able to change the world. He was a mediocre engineer, but a charismatic leader and he knew how to harness the wizardry of others to create high-tech products that consumers would buy in their millions: the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.

“Woz designed a great machine,” says Regis McKenna, a Silicon Valley PR man, referring to Apple’s co-founder Steven Wozniak who built the world’s first fully-integrated personal computer. “But it would be sitting in hobby shops today were it not for Steve Jobs.”

By the time Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple earlier this year it had become the most valuable company in the world, yet Jobs was never interested in making money. His one redeeming virtue – and the source of all his triumphs – is that he cared more about getting the product right than the bottom line.

“Jobs thought of himself as an artist, and he encouraged the design team to think of ourselves that way too,” says Andy Hertzfeld, one of Apple’s first employees. “The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money. It was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater.”

It was this perfectionism – this artistry – that enabled Jobs to transform so many industries. When asked by a journalist what market research he did before launching a new product, he replied, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”

If any other Silicon Valley entrepreneur made such a lofty comparison we’d dismiss him as delusional. In Jobs’s case, as this biography makes clear, it was probably justified.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter In this week’s ⁦@calling_podcast⁩ ⁦@JamesDelingpole⁩ and I discuss the looming Coronavirus pandemic, whether there’… link  (5 hours ago)


Why the left keeps losing by John Gray -
The closing of the conservative mind: Politics and the art of war by John Gray -
Cambridge and the exclusion of Jordan Peterson by Nigel Biggar -
The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film