Woz, Isaacson, Jobs… in that order!

After spending the Eid break doing little else but devour the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I can’t quite get the characters in the book out of my head.

Yes, it’s Jobs bio first and last, and though Isaacson has been brutally honest in the protagonist’s portrayal, traces of Jobs’s control do surface. There are some obvious names that have been left out, and the ‘bozos’ in Jobs’s opinion are portrayed as just that!

Very often in the book, the tone is more of an autobiography than a biography. He is listening to what people have to say about Jobs, from Jobs’s perspective. The more than subtle empathy with his main character continues to such an extent, the closing remarks of the book are that of Jobs, not of Isaacson.

Having said that, Isaacson’s writing is magically lucid–the beauty of the prose’s simplicity is all his own, not even Jobs could have engineered that.

Next on my reading list his biography of Einstein. If anyone can make physics readable for me, it must be Isaacson.

I love biographies, but the reason I picked up the book is because I love Apple(=Jobs as I used to think), and am an obsessed consumer of its goods. I read the book on my iPad, experiencing and living everything Jobs wanted to and managed to achieve–adjusting the brightness of page, size of text, the orientation of the screen, making my reading experience as much about the physical product as of Isaacson’s skill. I love Apple even more now, even as I bristle a bit under its need for control.

The rationale behind why the products are the way they are is revealed in this book, and also revealed are the people and brains behind the products and applications that make Apple so beautiful. Ive, Atkinson, Rubenstein, Fadell… names that the non-techy consumer may not be aware of. It was their brilliant designs, ideas, engineering that Steve Jobs recognised, approved, fine-tuned and marketed–like no one else could. His A-Players.

Jobs is controlled in what he wishes to talk openly about and what he prefers to brush off or simplify. The reason I think he pushed for this book is in part to tell his story, but also as importantly to tell the stories of the A-Players. The guys who achieved the sleek, seamless beauty and superior engineering of Apple products that we enjoy today. This book is probably his way of finally recognising those A-Players, sharing the literary centre stage with them, even if they were not on stage with him in any of the MacWorld events.

But as is his wont, Jobs holds back. You know that wonderful interface that Apple products have, when you run the cursor over the dock, icons magnify?  A feature that helps you fit in more icons on the dock, the feature that also appears in the keyboards of iphone/ipad/ipod, and in the address book of these products. That amazing feature was by a young coder who was recruited on the spot when he showed it to Jobs. But who is he? That name is never revealed… that awesome feature helps us fit in more into small screens! What did that unknown person do to piss of Jobs, or is he so valuable that Jobs is guarding his name (as he has done with others)?

I am not going into his parenting skills and lack of it, his psychedelic tripping, food fetish and how he time and again proved to be a crappy friend–all that has to be read, understood and enjoyed.

That brings me to the other Steve. Wozniak–he invented the universal remote outside of the Apple umbrella, because of which he attracted Jobs’s wrath–who was one of Jobs’s oldest friends. The teddy-like gentleman-hacker co-founded Apple, and was the BRAIN behind it, none of which is really news.

Of the hundreds of characters that inhabit the book, Woz is the one who really touched me. He worked as a middle-level engineer in Apple, even though he founded it; Even after stepping out of Apple, he was so pure in his excitement over Apple products and so rancour-free. He still lines up outside Apple stores (along with other Apple faithfuls) on the eve of a product launch. He shared his stock options with founding employees who were screwed over by Jobs. His is not the generosity of a person who has no other option to shine or be liked. After all the man single-handedly designed Apple I and II hardware and circuit boards.

His is a generosity that is simple, genuine and childlike. He more than willingly gives Jobs the credit for making Apple what it is. The brand was founded by two geniuses. One who is self-effacing and the other who was not. No prize for guessing who was who.

The book was a great read, and it also gave me a better understanding of a lot of things in my life at the moment.

There are two interesting things that resonated with me. His Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and his Reality Distortion Field. These two mental facets (NPD and RDF) in Jobs’s case helped create a brand that is ‘insanely great’–because his focus was on ‘the brand’. He probably could have achieved the same with a little less ‘assholishness’.

Unfortunately, I have seen both of these traits in action in lesser mortals whose focus is their own growth over that of others; their greed over the needs of the rest. For a few years now I have been highly disturbed and at a loss on how to handle the situation and the person(s), and it was a rather sad realisation that I really can’t. I can temper its effect on me, but not totally be immune to it.

I worry over a couple of things now, when this book becomes widely and frequently read/quoted:

1. Parents might end up thinking it is ok for their child(ren) to be a brat or badly behaved, in the hope or assumption that it could be a sign of later genius.

2. In the hands of evil corporate leaders, NPD and DRF could be a ruthless tool for uninhibited corruption, and they could well take refuge in Jobs’s success, forgetting Jobs’s success is because his focus was not his ego, but the idea of perfection.

Here is my wish list of people I want Isaacson to write about, immediately:

1. Oprah Winfrey

2. Osama bin Laden

3. Charles Dickens

4. Prabhakaran (LTTE)

ETA:Embarassing errors & typos (haste makes waste!) have been edited before re-publishing post. No more bloopers, I hope.

12 thoughts on “Woz, Isaacson, Jobs… in that order!

    • Vani, sooo agree with wot u had to say – read this cover to cover during the navratri hols :) and it was an eye-opener for me.. corp. politics and one upmanship at its worst etc etc etc. Navina, read this book, it reads like a james patterson, u’d never feel like putting it down.. yeah Vani the book did make me weep for Wozniak.. thank good and true geniues like him are still around to balance the ego-filled and talentless bosses in the IT world..

      • wouldn’t call jobs talentless. he is a consummate genius. and i don’t really like him any less after the book. in fact appreciate his vision even more.

        • the talentless was in ref to the usual bosses in the it world Vani, not wrt to Jobs.. he was a true visionary agreed. afterall how many ppl can actually get the design of a pc worked arnd its dimensions in those days when nano tech was stll at its infancy… its just that jobs also knew the power of pr, media and expolited it and he was charismatic… woz is pure talent nothing else.

  1. I’m waiting for my book to arrive – your review makes me even more impatient now! :) If my brother’s not already got it/read it (on his iPad2, I might add), I think I know what I’m going to get him for Christmas…

    Also, I hope Isaacson takes you up on your wish list :)

    and a PS. There are plenty of parents who encourage/condone their brats’ brattish behaviour without any evidence of – or belief in – their genius. What’s one book going to do to worsen the situation? (although will read the book and eat humble pie if reqd) :)

  2. Really lovely post. Enjoyed reading something after a LONG time. It’s wonderful to write AND/OR read something when your heart’s so much in it. That makes the piece really enjoyable for both the writer and reader! :-)

  3. Good review Vani :) I would like to put in a few words on some of the prominent points in the piece. As one reads along (for once I am amongst those reading printed books) one gets the impression that Jobs’ RDF is working on Isaacson, however it is also an opportunity to get a view into what people thought of effect of Jobs’ RDF on themselves. The effect of Jobs’ control on the various facets presented in the book are so powerful that people seem to want to go with the flow even if they think they are being wronged.

    Woz is a genius but to remain a middle level engineer was his choice not one that Jobs locked him in. It was a rollover of thinking from his father who was an engineer and considered engineering over leadership and vision. This was the difference between Woz and Jobs. Jobs saw a dream and worked towards making it a reality and built an army of trusted colonels along the way, those who would jump into a death pit on his command. That is how a war is won. Jobs’ RDF made people achieve what they thought was not possible, that was his genius… to get people to believe what he believed. How else could he build the game for atari in 4 days when Woz thought it would take engineers atleast a couple of months ?

    The book will surely get a lot of people exposed to the dark side of Steve Jobs, but at least we know for sure he was as human as the rest of us and yet with the time offered to him, he led a company to achieve what conglomerates cannot do in generations.

    • true. he is like pied piper.
      about woz, the reason he seems so guileless is because he was not forced down by jobs, and jobs always treated him with respect. i was just bringing out the difference in the two personalities.
      great read isn’t it?

  4. The book is a wonderful glimpse into the life of a genius with all of his successes and failures in plain view. Even if you weren’t a Jobs fan boy/girl you can gain a great deal by reading this book. Steve commented to his closest friends and his wife that he knew he would not live a long life. He understood that he had a short time to make his mark in the world…and he did it in spades.

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