Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

After enough subtle hints, I was happy to unwrap a copy of the Steve Jobs biography at Christmas. I don’t read many books, and those I do, I rarely finish, but I couldn’t put this one down. When I intended to read half an hour before bed, I’d usually end up reading for two.

That said, the book isn’t amazingly written, and I was disappointed that some of the most interesting periods of Jobs’ career, including his time at NeXT and Pixar, were quickly glossed over, the book choosing to focus more on his leadership at Apple instead. Others have criticised Isaacson’s technical cluelessness and worse still, an incuriosity about his subject.

Regardless of these failings, the book remains a fascinating portrayal. Whilst it avoids going into any great detail, this is still the story of an intriguing individual. Whilst Jobs may have been deeply flawed on an emotional level (often viewing the world in a binary way; products were insanely great or completely shit, people were either heroes or bozos) he proved to be a visionary genius at the same time.


A few passages I thought warranted highlighting.

Page 13: Early signs of Jobs’ powers of persuasion:

It was not merely intelligence that [Imogene Hill, Steve Jobs forth grade teacher] saw. Years later she liked to show off a picture of that year’s class on Hawaii Day. Jobs had shown up without the suggested Hawaiian shirt, but in the picture he is front and centre wearing one. He had literally, been able to talk the shirt off another kid’s back.

Page 87: Chrisann Brennan and Greg Calhoun go travelling in 1976:

Theirs was a serious trip, beginning in March 1976 and lasting almost a year. At one point they ran out of money, so Calhoun hitchhiked to Iran to teach English in Tehran. Brennan stayed in India, and when Calhoun’s teaching stint was over they hitchhiked to meet each other in the middle, in Afghanistan. The world was a very different place back then.

Page 156: Jobs’ deteriorating relationship with John Sculley:

Jobs knew that he could manipulate Sculley by encouraging his belief that were so alike. And the more he manipulated Sculley, the more contemptuous of him he became. Canny observers in the Mac group, such as Joanna Hoffman, soon realised what was happening and knew it would make the inevitable break up more explosive. “Steve made Sculley feel like he was exceptional,” she said. “Sculley had never felt that. Sculley became infatuated, because Steve projected on him a whole bunch of attributes that he didn’t really have. When it became clear that Sculley didn’t match all of these projections, Steve’s distortion of reality had created an explosive situation.”

Page 188: Jobs’ 30th birthday invitation:

“There’s an old Hindu saying that goes, ‘In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits; For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you.’ Come help celebrate mine.”

Page 191: What it took to quit Apple:

By early 1985 Burrell Smith was also ready to leave. He had worried that it would be hard to quit if Jobs tried to talk him out of it; the reality distortion field was usually too strong for him to resist. So he plotted with Hertzfeld how he could break free. “I’ve got it!” he told Hertzfeld one day. “I know the perfect way to quit that will nullify the reality distortion field. I’ll just walk into Steve’s office, pull down my pants, and urinate on his desk. What could he say to that? It’s guaranteed to work.” The betting on the Mac team was that even brave Burrell Smith would not have the gumption to do that. When he finally decided he had to make his break, around the time of Job’s birthday bash, he made an appointment to see Jobs. He was surprised to find Jobs smiling broadly when he walked in. “Are you gonna do it? Are you really gonna do it?” Jobs asked. He had heard about the plan. Smith looked at him. “Do I have to? I’ll do it if I have to.” Jobs gave him a look, and Smith decided it wasn’t necessary. So he resigned less dramatically and walked out on good terms.

Page 295: Sculley’s lack of vision:

Feeling like a genius in 1987, John Sculley had made a series of proclamations that nowadays sound embarrassing. Jobs wanted Apple “to become a wonderful consumer products company,” Sculley wrote. “This was a lunatic plan… Apple would never be a consumer products company… We couldn’t bend reality to all our dreams of changing the world… High tech could not be designed and sold as a consumer product.”

Page 296: After being forced out of Apple:

His frustration with Apple was evident when he gave a talk to a Stanford Business School club at the home of a student, who asked him to sign a Macintosh keyboard. Jobs agreed to do so if he could remove the keys that had been added to the Mac after he left. He pulled out his car keys and pried off the four arrow cursor keys, which he had once banned, as well as the top row of F1, F2, F3… function keys. “I’m changing the world one keyboard at a time,” he deadpanned. Then he signed the mutilated keyboard.

Page 310: Gil Amelio:

That spring Larry Ellison saw Amelio at a party and introduced him to the technology journalist Gina Smith, who asked how Apple was doing. “You know Gina, Apple is like a ship,” Amelio answered. “That ship is loaded with treasure, but there’s a hole in the ship. And my job is to get everyone to row in the same direction.” Smith looked perplexed and asked, “Yeah, but what about the hole?”

Page 405: Jobs management style:

Finally Jobs declared, “Until you can prove to me that it will make business sense, I’m not going to do it.” That was actually his way of backing down. If you put aside emotion and dogma, it was easy to prove that it made business sense to allow Windows users to buy iPods. Experts were called in, sales scenarios developed, and everyone concluded this would bring more profits. “We developed a spreadsheet,” said Schiller. “Under all scenarios, there was no amount of cannibalisation of Mac sales that would outweigh the sales of iPods.” Jobs was sometimes willing to surrender, despite his reputation, but he never won any awards for gracious concession speeches. “Screw it,” he said at one meeting where they showed him the analysis. “I’m sick of listening to you assholes. Go do whatever the hell you want.”

Page 471: Early relationship with Wendell Weeks, CEO of Corning Glass, manufacturer of the ‘Gorilla Glass’ used on the iPhone:

[Jobs] dialled the main switchboard number and asked to be put though to Weeks. He got an assistant, who offered to pass along the message. “No, I’m Steve Jobs,” he replied. “Put me through.” The assistant refused. Jobs called [his friend John Seeley] Brown and complained that he had been subjected to “typical East Coast bullshit.” When Weeks heard that, he called the main Apple switchboard and asked to speak to Jobs. He was told to put his request in writing and send it in by fax. When Jobs was told what happened, he took a liking to Weeks and invited him to Cupertino.

Page 508: Jobs and Rupert Murdoch:

Murdoch and Jobs hit it off well enough that Murdoch went to his Palo Alto house for dinner twice more during the next year. Jobs joked that he had to hide the dinner knives on such occasions, because he was afraid that he his liberal wife was going to eviscerate Murdoch when he walked in. For his part, Murdoch was reported to have uttered a great line about the organic vegan dishes typically served: “Eating dinner at Steve’s is a great experience, as long as you get out before the local restaurants close.”