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'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson: EW review

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.”

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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-

MORE STEVE JOBS BIOGRAPHY:
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

Batman #1 and other new DC Comics reviews

Another week, another batch of issue #1s from DC. I’m skipping the ones I think are duds (Supergirl? Kinda blahh. Captain Atom? Irritating) and zooming in on the books that were striking for various reasons.

Batman #1 Writer Scott Snyder (American Vampire) really knows how to launch a new chapter in Batman‘s history. He pulls from the oldest aspects of the Batman myth, combines it with sinister-comic elements from the series’ best period (that would be the same Dick Sprang-drawn, ’50s era that Grant Morrison also enjoys), and gives the whole thing terrific forward-spin by setting up an honest-to-gosh mystery for Batman to solve. Throughout, the art by Greg Capullo leads with jutting jaws and faces creased with rage, exertion, fear, and grim determination. Batman’s mask covers the very tip of his beaky nose — a nice, distinctive touch. Snyder’s script, much of it about the depressed, disspirited city — talk about “investing in Gotham’s future,” its “fears, frustrations… demons” — works as a metaphor for the economy and general mood of America. Really, the only thing I didn’t care for here is the new, stiff, metallic-looking Batman cover logo. A-

Catwoman #1 Comic books come under fire so regularly for their objectification of women that this Catwoman amounts to a nose-thumbing manifesto: It’s all about the gradual yet partial undressing of Selina Kyle, culminating in a Cat-on-Batman sex scene. Literally. That’s Judd Winick’s story. What hell: go for it; Selina certainly seems to be enjoying herself. The art by Guillem March backs up everything Winick’s drives toward throughout. A low-down gas. B READ FULL STORY

'Buffy Season 9' #1 review: A world without magic, but not without problems. Or parties!

Before we can really discuss the first issue in Buffy Season 9 — the second volume of Joss Whedon’s comic book continuance of his TV touchstone Buffy the Vampire Slayer past its 2003 series finale — we need to look back for a moment at the mammoth events of Buffy Season 8.

Back then, things in the Buffyverse were really complicated. There was that army of Slayers to corral, a mysterious Big Bad named Twilight to contend with, and a world that had discovered that vampires were real — and, even worse, everyone thought they were the coolest thing ever. (Sound familiar?) By the end of the 40-issue run, things became so convoluted — Buffy and Angel transformed into gods and had god-like über-sex, creating their very own universe that threatened to rip the fabric of our universe to shreds — that Buffy herself became rather lost amid the epic, magical derring do.

Whedon’s solution? No more magic. READ FULL STORY

Perez Hilton's children's book, 'The Boy with Pink Hair'

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In a nod to Lady Gaga’s brand of self-acceptance, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton begins his book with “He was born that way — the Boy with Pink Hair.” Parents who aren’t fans of the controversial, sometimes pink-haired Hilton don’t have much reason to get riled up about his new children’s book. It tells the simple story of a boy with bright, “cotton-candy” hair who gets bullied, makes a friend, and discovers a true passion. No, the “Boy with Pink Hair” isn’t a euphemism for “Boy with Homosexual Tendencies,” READ FULL STORY

Reading Jaycee Dugard's 'A Stolen Life'

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I picked up Jaycee Dugard’s A Stolen Life with real reluctance — I’m a parent, and the thought that something like this happens to children fills me with horror. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear about her experience.

And the book is hard to read. There are details of Dugard’s kidnapping by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. There are chapters on her early imprisonment (“I hear the lock rattle and know he is coming to feed me. I can’t remember the last time I ate….The handcuffs are making my wrists raw and make it hard to use my hands.”) There’s a horrifying passage on the first time Phillip Garrido raped her, as well as descriptions of the rapes she suffered when he was high on crystal meth. She remembers the terror of childbirth (she was only 14 when her first daughter was born). And she describes the constant degradations she suffered over the years, living in either a windowless room or a tent in the backyard, with a bucket for a toilet. READ FULL STORY

George R. R. Martin's 'A Dance With Dragons': The EW review

Back in 2005, George R.R. Martin released A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in his fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (the basis for HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones). Despite its almost-800-page length, Crows was only half a novel, really. The author admitted that the sheer size of his ambitious narrative had forced him to split one planned book in two. What’s more, many of his most beloved characters were absent from Crows.

But now the second half of that tale has arrived. And if Crows was only half a novel, A Dance With Dragons is its opposite: By turns thrilling, funny, scary, emotionally devastating, oddly inspirational, and just plain grand, it feels like a compilation of several different great fantasy novels as it pulls together the disparate characters’ story lines. READ FULL STORY

'Those Guys Have All the Fun': Read our review of the much-discussed ESPN history

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The sports world is abuzz with talk of James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’ new oral history of ESPN, Those Guys Have All the Fun, in stores today. But is it any good? Here’s an early look at our review, which is in the issue on stands this Friday:

Those Guys Have All the Fun
James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
Nonfiction

James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales insist in the intro to this oral history that “it would take a dozen or more weighty volumes to provide an all-encompassing account of ESPN.” Those Guys is just a single volume, but it’s hard to fathom what they left out. At 745 pages, it’s a mammoth chronicle of a niche channel that, as Fox Sports chairman David Hill points out, something like 299 million Americans “don’t give a rat’s ass about.” The book is hotly anticipated among SportsCenter obsessives, who’ve been panting over the prospect of clashing big shots, frat-boy antics, and anti–Keith Olbermann venom. Miller and Shales deliver all that, along with a whole lot more—probably too much more if you’re not a drooling ESPN junkie.

Compiled from more than 550 interviews, Those Guys traces ESPN from its birth as an underdog to its current status as a money-printing behemoth. Some of the best sections deal with the early days of cable, when the network invented itself through savvy business decisions and slow-pitch-softball coverage. But it’s the big libidos and bigger egos that will get the most attention. The book is packed with entertaining stories of unpleasant people and awful behavior: booze-fueled boorishness, absurdly arrogant execs, and the endlessly fascinating Olbermann, whom ex–SportsCenter anchor Charley Steiner describes as “intellectually…a genius and socially…a special-needs student.”

Miller and Shales offer compelling behind-the-scenes tales of many major sports moments, including the Rush Limbaugh–Donovan McNabb flap and ESPN’s takeover of Monday Night Football. Those Guys is padded with too many historical footnotes and dull anecdotes (wow, Peyton Manning remembers Chris Berman sitting in with Hootie & the Blowfish?). But for anyone who does give a rat’s ass about Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Tony Kornheiser, et al., it provides an impressive account of the network’s embarrassments and victories. B+ –Rob Brunner

Follow me on twitter: @RobBrunnerEW

MORE ON ‘THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN’:
‘Those Guys Have All the Fun’: So what exactly is in that top-secret ESPN book?


The Flash gets a big surprise, goes 'Fringe,' in 'Flashpoint' #1

Flashpoint, the big new DC Comics storyline that started last week with the first of five issues, and turns out to be not just ultra-flashy, but also reminds me a little of — what else? — a TV show.  READ FULL STORY

'Mickey Mouse: Race to Death Valley': A comics classic reborn

In the world of funny-animal comics cultdom, artist-writer Floyd Gottfredson is overshadowed by Carl Barks, the Donald Duck artist. But Fantagraphics Press’ new Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: “Race to Death Valley” contains all you need to know to revel in the very different, deeply pleasurable work of Gottfredson. READ FULL STORY

Tina Fey's 'Bossypants': EW review

BOSSYPANTS

Tina Fey is allergic to bulls—. If she comes within five feet of a pile, the uncommonly sensible, reflexively funny comedy goddess in eyeglasses will gracefully sidestep the stuff. And all the while, she’ll make wise and hilarious observations about the stink, counting as friends those who smell it too. It’s Fey’s 
 custom-quality, handcrafted BS detector that makes Bossypants so irresistible.

In this genially jumbled memoir-esque collection of riffs, essays, laundry lists, true stories, fantasy scenarios, SNL script excerpts, and embarrassing photos from the wilderness years before she received the gift of a flattering haircut, the great Miz Fey puts on the literary equivalent of a satisfying night of sketch comedy. As a result, some of the bits are better than others. Many of the chapters link together as a more or less chronological account from the author’s girl-dork years in Upper Darby, Pa., to her days and long nights on SNL, to her creation of 30 Rock and Fey’s sitcom alter ego (and beacon of hope to working women), Liz Lemon. (There’s also stuff on her turn imitating that former governor from Alaska.)

But Fey remains notably selective about the information she shares; while making jokes at her own expense, she maintains an inviolable sense of privacy. It’s the more freewheeling, improvised chapters that capture Fey at her sharpest (and most influentially feminist). I love her list of beauty secrets. I’m grateful for her comparative charts on the experiences of being “very very skinny” and “a little 
 bit fat.” I plan to steal Fey’s imaginary response to a rude Internet commenter: “First let me say how inspiring it is that you have learned to use a computer.” Oh, and a note to those who would ask Fey, a working mother, “How do you juggle it all?”: Don’t ask! If she knew how to juggle it all, she wouldn’t be so funny. Or such an excellent Bossypants. Grade: A–

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