Friday, November 4, 2011

Young, Loud and Snotty: A Review of Steve Jobs’ Biography

By Chip Schrader

Staff Book Critic

Biographer Walter Isaacson has covered the lives of innovative thinkers Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger. Being his latest subject, Steve Jobs approached Isaacson about being his biographer while still working on the Einstein biography nearly ten years ago. This was shortly after Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The book was released only weeks after Jobs’ death, but was not necessarily intended for a posthumous release.

The first chapters focus on Jobs’ childhood. His adoption, his biological parents’ more privileged background, and his adoptive parents’ blue collar background lead all the way up to the day his adoptive parents realize this emotional and manipulative child was more intelligent than they were.

The next several chapters borrow and quote heavily from Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak’s autobiography “iWoz.” In fact, the chapters in this section mimic “Woz’s” autobiography by naming and organizing chapters after the Apple products that were being introduced at this stage in their lives: “Apple I, Apple II, Lisa, Macintosh,” etc.

Those who had read “iWoz” can almost skip a good portion of the first one hundred pages without missing too much vital information, but this fact also reinforces that Isaacson’s research seldom, if ever, conflicts in perspective. This consistency of facts about the relationship between Wozniak, Jobs, and the foundation of Apple validates Isaacson’s research. Moreover, Isaacson freely elaborates on many of Jobs’ associates’ backgrounds throughout the book, providing a small biography of each important personality that comes into his life.

Isaacson has interviewed ex-girlfriends, friends, foes, current and former colleagues. There are no pulled punches, and the cheap shots are free game, as they were in Jobs’ life. In later chapters, Isaacson reminds us of how Jobs had worked with the likes of Ross Perot, founded Pixar, and played a major role in Disney picking up a contract with Pixar to supply the 3-D animation technology. We even are given a glimpse at his part in the creation of the “Toy Story” Franchise.

Isaacson’s detailed account of these business endeavors and friendships brings the reader back to the eighties when Atari video games were king, and his description of American culture’s continual evolution. The cast of characters surrounding Jobs’ life paint a vivid reminiscence of a bygone era. Moreover, the biography shows how long and how short the span of thirty years really is, and how quickly the world changed.

Thoroughly researched, and written with a balanced perspective and detail, the book reads like an intelligent conversation. It never lags or gets dull, even the explanation of the technology and business negotiations keep the reader engaged. Isaacson keeps the details pertinent without driving the descriptions over reader’s heads, a tall order when trying to aptly explain such a rapid technological evolution.

With all of the headlines coming out showing how unpleasant Jobs’ disposition, hygiene, and ethics are, the story provides something deeper than just headline gossip. In fact, the last chapter consists mostly of Jobs’ own words and statements on his own life. This biography is a time machine that brings every reader back to recent eras we can easily access. It is epic in scope as it covers a revolutionary personality who forged a revolution.

Hardcover: 656 pages. Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 24, 2011).

Photo Caption: (Courtesy book cover image)