Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

July 14, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.

Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.

Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.


  • I never followed Jobs’ life while he was alive, so beyond a few of the most basic facts, almost everything in this book was new to me. In that regard, I was able to get a broad look at the man and learn a little bit about what drove him.
  • Jobs’ obsession with every little detail of a product was fascinating to me. Everything had to be absolutely perfect for him, and that’s why Apple has had such a long string of successes with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, App Store, iTunes, etc. I loved reading how he looked at 25 prototypes of the iPhone before choosing a model and how he wasn’t afraid to trash everything and go back to square one if something felt off.
  • Reading about how they planned the Apple Store was interesting as well. Jobs didn’t go looking for a steel building clearance sale to help save money; instead, he went with whatever he thought would look best (and the cost be damned).
  • There was quite a bit of detail regarding Jobs’ work life. The early Apple years were covered extensively, and the later ones got a decent amount of treatment as well. Any fan of Apple products will love seeing how the i-lineup came into being.


  • There wasn’t as much personal stuff as I expected. This was more of a business biography than anything else. I know a lot more about Jobs the CEO than I ever did before, but I still know very little about Jobs the man.
  • It was tough reading about how Jobs’ fear of being cut open/operated on potentially cost him several years of his life. Obviously we’ll never know what might have happened if he’d agreed to let his doctors treat his cancer the way they wanted to, but…. Sometimes you’ve just got to trust the experts.
  • Isaacson is not that great a writer. He uses the same phrases over and over instead of reaching for new ones, and he presented the material in a somewhat simplistic way. Moreover, he offers practically zero analysis, so this reads like an extended newspaper account of Jobs instead of an actual biography.
  • There was no coverage of Jobs death at all. I’m not sure about the timeline of this book, but you’d think that Isaacson would have included something–a date, final words–about the subject’s death.


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is kind of a mixed bag for me. It gives plenty of information about Apple and Jobs’ business doings, but not enough about his personal life, which I’m sure a lot of people would like to know about. With all that access to Jobs, couldn’t Isaacson have come up with more to say on that angle? I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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