'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson: EW review


Image Credit: Albert Watson

After the spate of obituaries and articles, is there anything left to learn about the man who turned personal computing into a pleasure — and then a necessity — for so many of us? In a word, yes. In Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson (pictured below) — the former editor of Time who has previously written biographies of Einstein and Franklin — has given us a nuanced portrait of the brilliant, mercurial, complicated genius who rethought and reimagined computers, movies, phones, music, and tablet computers.

It isn’t always a pretty picture. The sleek, polished Apple devices that are so much a part of our lives, that we dandle so comfortably in our hands, sprang almost entirely from Jobs’ imagination — “endowed with his DNA,” as Isaacson says — and at Apple, he assembled a team that could build them. The simplicity and perfection that Jobs sought, that he demanded, came at a price, and Isaacson reveals that price in a way no one ever has before. Working for Jobs was like riding a wild, manic roller-coaster: Some days he goaded and bullied his staff into delivering better work than they thought possible. Other days he might approve an idea or innovation in a half-hour meeting (the kind of thing that would drag out for months at other companies). Then he could turn again on a dime, ignoring key staffers when gifting coveted Apple stock. His family got the same loving/cruel treatment: Until he was sued, he did not pay child support for his first child, Lisa, his daughter with girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (behavior he regretted later in life). Jobs’ wife Laurene Powell admitted to Isaacson, “There are parts of his life and personality that are extremely messy, and that’s the truth.” He punished himself, too, going on bizarre fasts, subsisting on a single food, such as carrot salad or apples, for weeks on end — even after his cancer was diagnosed. His daughter Lisa perhaps put it best when he said, “He believed that great harvests came from arid sources, pleasure from restraint.” Even on his deathbed, Jobs’ ever-fevered creativity did not flag: “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” he told Isaacson. “It would be seamlessly synced with with all your devices.”


Image Credit: Patrice Gilbert

If occasionally workmanlike, Isaacson’s thoughtful, broadly-sourced bio is thorough, filling in all the holes in Jobs’ life, especially the years after he returned to Apple. My only quibble is a small one: Though the jacket is gorgeous (perhaps because Jobs himself had a hand in it), the book’s interior feels cheaply done, with thin paper and an unremarkable font. As I hefted it, I thought, If only it measured up to Jobs’ exacting design standards. But no matter, really. What’s important is that Isaacson has taken the complete measure of the man. This is a biography as big as Steve Jobs. A-

Steve Jobs: Famous folks he met and what he thought about them
Steve Jobs’ food weirdnesses: Fasts, living on apples or carrots for weeks on end, fruit smoothie diets

Comments (137 total) Add your comment
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  • tommymommy

    I’ll probably borrow this from the library. Sounds fairly interesting.

    • Jobs was a hypocrite and jerk

      He was given up for adoption, finds his birth mother and then based on what SHE tells him, decides his father is not worth finding, why not hear both sides? Then the hypocrite spends years denying his own responsibilites to his first daughter. He did whatever suited his ego at the time. Woz was the genius behind apple, Jobs was the marketing guy plain and simple

      • L

        Bitter much?

        He didn’t want to know his father because he didn’t trust him. He’d met him before, just didn’t know at that time who the man was. The article above also states that he regretted his decisions regarding his daughter. Chill out a bit, pal.

      • M


        How do you know that Job’s father did not express regret? Jobs lived in a self righteous world where only he was correct. Jobs is a hypocrite

      • Howard

        Jobs was a hypocrite. Truth be told, nearly all of us are, some time or another, in some way or another, hypocrites. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

      • Jakey

        Woz was certainly a smart guy, but he was NOT the genius behind Apple. Woz’s “baby” was the Apple IIe, for those of us who remember such things. The Mac and everything that came after it was all Steve Jobs.

  • Tug

    Steve Jobs hated Jay Leno

    • Herp

      Everybody hates Jay Leno…

      • Jay Leno

        I love Jay Leno.

      • Carol

        I hate Jay Leno too! He’s a self centered PIG.

    • Brian Wallace

      I love Jay Leno. Good work ethic. Charitable man. Conan O’Brien is a FAILURE, Tug! He’s an unfunny, bitter FAILURE. Enjoy your fat wife.


      • Tom Strong


    • jj

      Jay Leno is my grandfather’s humor….zzzzzzzz

      • Mark

        What was Carson then?

  • Tricia

    Do you feel that his recent death affected your review at all? I haven’t read the book,so I can’t say one way or another,but just wondering if you feel the need to be more positive in light of recent circumstances? Just a question, not stating anything

  • Shecky

    We sure are throwing around the word “genius” easily these days, so much so that I’m not really sure what it means anymore. I mean, Edison created both the phone and the light bulb, one which allowed us to communicate across vast distances, one which allowed us to work at night. Cell phones and tablets? Not so much. Nice little toys but I can happily exist without a I-pod or an I-phone (and no, I don’t own either one).

    • Chichi

      I agree with you to some degree with the over use of the word genius. But I think Jobs fits the bill. A genius can see inovation in an already produced invention and expound upon it in newly infinite ways, something Jobs has done (with the help of a great team).

    • Huntman

      People did OK without the phone and lightbulb for a long time, but those inventions enhanced our lives. The same with the smartphone, personal computer and music player. Being able to carry all of those things in your pocket is a big step in personal enjoyment and business productivity. To me, that’s genius.

    • Grubi

      I disagree with you because there are almost no things left to invent that can be immediately considered necessities. The phone, the light bulb, the car, these are all things that, while we can theoretically live with out, are essential to the way we do business. The same can be said to an extent about Apple computers. Would businesses and even every day people operate differently without computers? Definitely. Think about what will happen within the next 5-10 years. Will many of Jobs’ other inventions like the iphone and ipad be considered necessities in the business world? I can’t be sure, but I would definitely consider it likely. Without the phone, the car, and the light bulb, people survived fine. But if we were to take those things away now, it would be utter chaos. The same can be said of Apple computers and in the future, will probably be said about ipods and ipads.

      • Grubi

        I guess I spent to much time typing and checking what I wrote. Huntsman seems to have made most of my points for me.

      • Applefan

        Slap an Apple Logo on it, and sell it to me. Please. I don’t care what it is. I don’t care what it does. All I know is it is mine mine mine mine…

      • Jon Yeager

        Grubi wrote :
        « I disagree with you because there are almost no things left to invent that can be immediately considered necessities. »

        That was the case before the invention of the phone and light bulb, too. Do you think people were sitting around hoping someone would soon invent them?

        The fact that you can’t imagine what the next great invention of that level is going to be is what makes those inventors geniuses.

        That someone was going to eventually introduce cameras and the web on a cell phone was a given. Same for everything else Jobs did. As much as you appreciate those creations, I can’t believe *anyone* would lump Jobs with major geniuses throughout history.

        It’s not like we wouldn’t have cell phones with cameras and internet on them today if Jobs wasn’t around. Cell phones were evolving at a pretty rapid pace even before the iPhone. Tablets were already being brainstormed by other companies before the iPad. With desktop computers leading to laptops, and laptops leading to notebooks, do you really believe the world would’ve been deprived of tablets for very long without Apple or Steve Jobs?

        If Apple and Jobs are geniuses of anything, it’s marketing. That’s really what they managed to do : market their products so brilliantly that not only did it convince everyone there wasn’t anything like them already, but that you can’t live without them.

      • Grubi

        @Jon Yeager

        You kind of missed my point. I acknowledged the fact that people were able to live fine before light bulbs, cars, and phones. What I said was that if we were to take those things away now, it would be utter chaos. And because the same can be said of the Apple Computer, I consider Jobs to be a genius.

      • Trog

        The only technological advances necessary to the survival of humans occured in the Stone Age. Every so called advancement since then has only served to enslave us.

      • Jakey

        I have a friend who thinks that one day, these things will all just be implanted in us, and we will start to become like the Borg. Why have to carry your phone or your computer if it can be made small enough to be implant? Then we;ll always be online and always have access.

      • Brian

        I’m not saying Apple didn’t have a great marketing plan, but most people would agree that the best marketing for Apple were the products themselves. Apple products are never the fastest, or cheapest, or most extensive, but, they always work, and work well. For the average consumer that wants a good user experience, and doesn’t mind paying a bit more, Apple products are the best.

    • Cara

      Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. You know, Southwestern BELL!

      • Jane

        Thank you.

    • Jeff

      Much like Jobs, Edison had people working for him who did the actual “innovation”. Edison himself was more of a businessman.

    • peter

      Actually Edison invented neither, even A.G. Bell didn’t invent the first telephone and his lightbulb was a joint invention with Joseph Swan. Edison invented the phonograph and industrial R&D.

    • Howard

      Ah, Shecky, you need to brush up on your history. Edison had nothing to do with the phone; that was Alexander Graham Bell.

      • Devyn

        Actually, you’re incorrect and should perhaps brush up on YOUR history. Edison invented the carbon microphone, a great improvement on the telephone, This is what allowed long-distance calls to happen, and remained the standard in telephones into the 1980s.

        He didn’t invent the 1st device, but you sure can’t say he had nothing to do with the telephone.

      • Stewart Wolpin

        Howard, Bell didn’t invent the phone – it was Elisha Gray (read “The Telephone Gambit”). And Edison invented the carbon microphone transmitter, which made the telephone commercially viable. As the lightbulb, Edison didn’t have the idea but he certainly made it work when no one else could.

    • Not a genius

      Actually, Edison didn’t “invent” the lightbulb. I know that American history suggests such, but he, in fact, didn’t invent it. Humphry Davy did in 1809. Read Bill Bryson’s book “Home.” American history is too revisionist. That said, Edison did perfect it and, like Jobs, knew how to market it. Edison also got credit for a lot of the work his employees did. If that sounds a little like Steve Jobs, then it really isn’t a surprise. The “genius” both men displayed was real. But a lot of that genius wasn’t the nuts and bolts of a product, but getting the buying public to realize they NEEDED it. My point is this: if you want to put Edison up on a pedestal as a genius, then you should put Steve Jobs on that same pedestal. You don’t have to like the guy personally. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a genius, either.

    • Ravi

      I don’t think Jobs is a genius in the same category as Edison. You see, internet was already there. Cell phone was already there. Then music was already there. What jobs did is integrate them into a nice looking product. Nothing else. Please stop comparing Jobs to a scientist like Edison. Even jobs doesn’t like it.

  • Jahnavi Yadav

    This sounds really good. I wanted to know when it releases. Please comment. :)

  • Diane

    The book probably is made with thin paper and unremarkable font because Jobs was hoping/expecting that people would read it on the iPad. Otherwise he probably would have said something about that too

  • jim

    I am really sick of all this Steve Jobs love. He was not that great of a man. Apple has billons of billons of money they are sitting on and not one Apple product is built in the US. You want an Ipad or a computer from them you need to wait until they ship it from China. They could have each and every product the make built in the US, but they chose profit margin over what is right!

    • Brian Wallace

      I agree. He was a bitter, hateful man who just stole other people’s ideas, dumbed them down and turned people into idiots (people excited over a fricking cell phone! Get a life!) If he’s a genius, then Puff Daddy is a genius.


      • martin

        I also agree, all the biographers report that he did a**hol-ish things like abandon his daughter and cut his closest people out of the profits, but then quickly move on to how smart he was. He was basically a user, who was a master of marketing Steve Wozniak’s inventions. Steve W. was the true ‘genius’.

      • Jakey

        If he just stole other people’s ideas and “dumbed them down” as you say, then why was he the only one who could do these things? Microsoft for all its money and power STILL doesn’t have a true Unix based OS. He didn’t dumb anything down. What the man did was pure genius.

      • ABC

        Microsoft doesn’t have a true Unix based OS because Microsoft has a Microsoft based OS, with which it is making plenty of money. But someone was able to implement a Unix based OS on a PC long before Steve Jobs – Linus Torvald did it in the early 90’s.

  • Dinana

    Interesting that Tina said the books construction felt cheap…story about the man who created the iPad…the idea, I’m sure, is for people to read this on their devices, not in the printed form…

    • Flyer

      That was the first thing I thought – that it didn’t matter to me about the pages and font, because I’d be buying this book on my Kindle anyway.

  • scorpio9094

    Yes, he was a genius. The personal computer allows us the capability to calculate, investigate, reference and so much more.

    • martin

      Again: Steve Jobs couldn’t even write code.
      Steve Wozniak ‘invented’ the personal computer.

      • Howard

        And Henry Ford didn’t invent to automobile. But both Ford and Jobs came up with the idea of how to make the product accessible to millions instead of just the wealthy.

      • Jakey

        Woz’s baby was the Apple IIe. Where are those now besides in a museum? If Jobs did nothing, then how com eApple floundered and almost went bankrupt, had to be bailed out by Bill Gates of all people, and only made a turnaround AFTER Jobs took over again? Must have been something Jobs knew and did.

      • NM

        Woz is a great man, but he said he’d have been happy with a job designing calculators at HP. Making computers was a hobby to be done in his free time. Jobs pushed him to be great, to think beyond the technology of the day. Jobs was smart enough to recognize Woz and make him develop the technology he envisioned.
        They needed each other to be great. It was a pattern Jobs would repeat throughout his life.

      • kev4

        Jobs helped write the code and Wos did the componets of the first personal computer that came out of Woz’s mouth you really think texas instrements and atari would have hired a college dropout as an engineer that didnt know what they were doing give me a break!

    • Shecky

      These abilities already existed. All Jobs did was manufacture it all in in smaller, cuter packages and then market it to people like you. How does this make him a genius? Makes him a sharp seller but genius? How so?

      • Howard

        Well, Shecky, if it was all that easy, what kept YOU from coming up with any of those pedestrian ideas and marketing them?

      • I agree with Howard

        It was his vision and tenacity that took existing technology and made it great. Obviously, not just anyone can do that. It was also the tenacity of his vision that frequently made him a complete a**hole. But, as pointed out in the review, he made himself just as miserable as he did the people around him.

  • DH

    I think Jobs was a genius because the long lines for his products verifies that! Now it does bother me he bragged about being a private man but waited until his death to take cheap shots. My mother used to say “No one is liked or likes everyone and anyone who say otherwise can’t be trusted” but Jobs could have voiced some of this while he was still alive…..just seens cowardly and I LOVE Leno as well hahahaha

  • blahblah

    hmmm… is it too soon to be a zombie steve jobs for halloween?

  • jfms777

    EW critic: Have you looked at many new books lately? Many books’ interiors look cheaply-done. It is called “saving money because the publishing industry is in deep sh*t.” Other book critics have noticed. Surprised you did not.

  • GHB

    Of course Jobs was a genius. He transformed everything we do! For all those saying otherwise on this blog, you’re just jealous that you haven’t accomplished anything yourselves in your small, miserable lives. Nobody said that Jobs was Mr. Nice Guy, but a genius? Absolutely!

    • Jeff

      Great businessman – maybe. Genius – no. And when he realized he was dying, I wonder if he felt spending all that time at Apple vs. spending it with his family was worth it.

  • angeljake

    …that we ‘dandle?’

  • okay we get it

    he was a genius, or was he? he was not kind, he was a jerk, he had his product made outside the U.S., he held grudges, he just sounds like someone who lucked into a huge fortune/didn’t share it with his own country, he sent the jobs elsewhere; will we have this orgy of mourning for Wozniak who did most of the work or the rest of the team when they pass, or do we reserve it only for the chief? unfair and tired

    • henry

      All of you are hypocrites. You are criticizing a dead man, and at the same time probably owned one of his product creations. Talking about being a BIG JERK, you should look in the mirror.

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