My first iPod was a gift from a boyfriend enamored with technology. As Christmas approached, I started daydreaming about the fabulous present he was sure to buy me. It was our first holiday together; my expectations were high. Would it be a ruby necklace? A sparkly ring? Some awesomely unique gift tailored to my exact desires?
No. It was some little pink machine in a box.
“It’s an iPod,” explained the ex-boyfriend, a web guru and Apple devotee. I’d never even heard of one. “You can store all your music on here. It’s like a Discman, but with your entire music library. I figured you could use it while walking around campus.”
Then a college sophomore, it’s true that my daily walks were excruciating — and long. Round trip from my car to classes at the University of Maryland could take an hour or more. I’d noticed the slim white earbuds beginning to adorn classmates but hadn’t paid much attention to them. I liked technology as much as the next person, sure, but Apple wasn’t really on my radar. And neither was the iPod.
To tell you the truth, I was disappointed. I’d expected some elaborate show of affection, I guess, and this so-called “iPod” — even in pink — wasn’t really cutting it. Though my ex had even had it engraved, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It stayed in its box until he came over to help me begin loading my CDs on something called “iTunes,” and now I’m feeling quite old — I mean, think back, friends, to when these things were new. And crazy. Sort of whacky.
I don’t have to tell you the rest of the story, of course. I became obsessed with that iPod mini. Four iPods and an iPhone later, I’m surrounded by Apple products and can clearly see the revolution Steve Jobs helped to create. We’re truly a tech-obsessed world, and many of the products we now take for granted were space-age concepts just a decade ago.
Ten years. What a difference it makes.
I approached Walter Isaacson’s epic Steve Jobs, a biography of the late innovator and mastermind, with some trepidation. For starters, it’s huge. More than 600 pages. And though I was fascinated by Jobs the man and Jobs the husband and father, I was less fascinated with the complete history of a company that has changed our world — even if I completely acknowledge that revolution.
Like first receiving that iPod mini, though, I soon saw the error of my ways . . . and realized I was holding something compelling. Listening to the audio version over the course of a month, I experienced a range of emotions while learning about Jobs’ life, trials, inventions, suffering, genius and, ultimately, death. By the close of the book, I was emotionally spent.
You may already have an opinion on Jobs, whose tireless pursuit of perfection and “prickly” personality once made him few friends at work or home. Born in 1955, Jobs grew up at a very unique time in American history. Once physically filthy and prone to bouts of introspection, Jobs was definitely an odd duck — and someone who didn’t take kindly to things like bathing and footwear, apparently. But his genius was evident from the time he was a teen, and he built Apple from the ground up through sheer determination and the ability to bend others to his will.
Make no mistake: Jobs wasn’t the sweetest guy around. He could be sour, angry, off-putting and vile. He didn’t suffer fools kindly, took no prisoners and was disdainful of anyone who came across as “stupid.” His standards were exacting, his moods mercurial; as quickly as he could shift from unhappiness to pleasure, friends and colleagues would be left sorting out the demands he’d make of their time and talents.
After conducting more than 40 interviews with Jobs over the course of two years, Isaacson has created an epic masterpiece that neither downplays Jobs’ incredible accomplishments nor places him on a pedestal. After finishing Steve Jobs, I felt I was provided a very balanced perspective on what made Jobs great and what also made him undeniably, completely human. His edges were jagged. Exploring, at points, his wasted relationships with his own children, his eating disorders and illnesses and his own cold, calculating treatment of others, Isaacson has created a picture of Jobs that feels authentic.
And at the end of the day? Even after hearing about his “reality distortion field” and ability to manipulate anyone into doing his bidding, even (and especially) his own parents? I still liked the guy. I felt for him. And perhaps it’s because I’ve recently lost an uncle to cancer, but I felt physically sick as news of his cancer spread — and both angry and sad to learn how little Jobs initially fought the illness, believing he could lessen its severity through some of his whimiscal fad “diets” and other strange treatments.
Though I found myself weighed down by the sheer volume of material, occasionally skipping through an audio disc or two after Jobs left Apple and went on to head up Pixar, the story kept my attention throughout. Jobs’ adoption, relationships and family were of the most interest to me, and Isaacson did a great job balancing the more “personal” information with Jobs’ professional accomplishments. It never read like a tawdry gossip piece, and Jobs himself commented on the foolish decisions he made when young — and the regrets he had about certain aspects of life, especially how he treated his parents and abandoned his first daughter, Lisa.
Regardless of how we may perceive him, Jobs was certainly an innovator whose absence has left a tremendous void. At the end of Isaacson’s biography, which Jobs never read nor controlled, I felt a gnawing sense of anxiety that the dreams Jobs had yet to realize — the goals he’d set; the products he wanted to launch and explore — have vanished into the ether, vanished with his death. Who will next pick up the gauntlet? I wonder. Who can press on in his stead, bringing us the next concept to completely shake up our world?
Someone will, I know, but not someone like Jobs. He was certainly one of a kind.
4.5 out of 5!
About the narration: Actor Dylan Baker did a wonderful job reading this monumental project — and I appreciated the subtle shifts between Baker as narrator and Baker quoting Jobs. His voice was both soothing and commanding of attention, and I would definitely listen to another book narrated by him.