Book review: ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

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!

ISBN: 1451648537 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonPublisher Website
Personal audio copy won from Devourer Of Books

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.


99 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

  1. I’m a huge Apple fan, and I really want to read this one. I think the size has intimidated me. I’m going to have to pick it up at some point. I’m glad you really enjoyed it.

  2. This book sounds completely fascinating. I hadn’t picked it up because the sheer number of pages is daunting, but an audiobook seems like a great way to still get all of the details. We’re about to road trip for Spring Break and I think Steve Jobs will be accompanying us… Thanks for such a persuasive review!

  3. I’ve decided I’m going to download the book on my Kindle — far less intimidating to watch the “percent completion” than FEEL the remaining pages!


    I’m excited to read it — especially after the insights provided by your review. Thank you for sharing…

  4. I know how you felt. I’m a little resistant to technology, so while everyone else was getting iPods, I still bought CDs and kept a Discman. After one summer though I relented and bought an iPod nano, and I just got my new one a couple of months ago.

    They say geniuses are bizarre, from Beethoven all the way down to Jobs, I guess. But really, I guess it just makes things interesting. I bet that no matter how Jobs acted in life, he’ll be remembered as the father of a technological revolution.

  5. Reblogged this on Chemical Fawn and commented:
    A fine review of “Steve Jobs” from the blog of Write Meg. Please visit her sire for the complete review. This book is on my reading list for this year and I can’t wait to pick it up.

  6. Woo hoo! You’re on Freshly Pressed – I love seeing blogs I love on there!!

    I bought this book when it first came out and Carl grabbed it but hasn’t gotten far into it. I will get to it one of these days.

  7. Wonderful review, Meg. I’ve been curious about this one but not enough to pick it up (like you said–huge tome). I’ve been watching your tweets about this one and even though it is a HUGE time commitment, I think that listening is probably the way to go.

    I actually didn’t realize that Isaacson spent so much time interviewing Jobs in order to create this book. Makes me doubly interested.

    It is amazing, isn’t it? The way that Jobs has affected all of our lives?

  8. I totally agree with your review. I don’t get much reading time these days, but I devoted three days at Christmas to this one. Couldn’t put it down. A tragic hero, do you think?

  9. I did like your review and it is actually persuading me to go read it. I am not a big fan of biographies, but I have always been interested in the person of Steve Jobs. Like you say, he did change the world and my view on technology.
    Thanks for sharing and congrats on the freshly pressed 🙂

  10. First of all, I know how excruciating those walks on UMD campus are. Good god. I am also a UMD alum (yay terps!) and, as an English major, had way too many classes in Susqhehanna for my own good.

    • Oh, Susquehanna . . . like you, I was an English major (can you tell?) and had many a fun afternoon schlepping up and down the hills on South Campus. But I lost quite a bit of weight during my time there!

  11. Second of all (I hit post comment way too quickly) I am going to have to try this whole books on tape thing. I imagine it’s a little surreal to listen to a biography of Steve Jobs on the piece of technology he created.

  12. I have been an Apple eater for over 16years…ooooooppppps I just calculated that….how the years fly by…..and then I read your blog on the review of Jobs….now I will buy the book…….I had been holding off….well done you and thank you for writing this review too.

  13. My husband got this book for Christmas and neither one of us has had time to read it yet, but your review definitely makes me want to hurry and begin it. I I didn’t expect it to be all that interesting, but apparently there is more to it than I thought.

  14. Congrats on FP. This was the first hard-back book I’ve ever pre-ordered, and it was a fascinating read. Walter Isaacson, who is always very readable, put together an excellent piece. I could hear his own impatience with Jobs at times being held in check. I have long avoided Apple products because of their “cultish” status, but after reading the biography I would feel honored to own one. I think you minced a few words describing Steve Jobs, but he did, indeed, change our world.

    • You know, I don’t think I’ve ever pre-ordered a hardcover — so that’s definitely saying something! It was definitely fascinating and you’re right about Isaacson seeming to keep his own impatience in check. I got that impression, too; a sense that Isaacson didn’t agree with Jobs’ decisions, especially regarding his cancer treatment, but they were his to make.

      I guess I could have described Jobs differently, but I didn’t know the guy. I tried to convey what I took from the book: that Jobs was a difficult person, very often not a likable person, but still a respected and innovative figure. I felt badly toward the end as Isaacson described Jobs’ youngest daughter acknowledging she knew her father hadn’t always been there for her, but she understood why. A sacrifice for the greater good, in a way. Sad.

  15. I think I may have read a different book then you. Before picking up the book I thought that steve was a great leader, innovator, and business minded individual.

    However, after reading that he was an ass, a liar, and weasel. Nonetheless one of the was one of the greatest leaders of our generation. He would inspire people to work harder, faster, and push the limits of their abilities. I commend Steve for that.

    • Jobs certainly had his faults, that much is clear, and I was often bothered and dismayed by the way he manipulated others to achieve his own ends. But you can’t help but be impressed by all he accomplished.

      We read the same book — and I think it was a testament to the talent of Isaacson that I finished the book still feeling impressed (and maybe even proud?) of Jobs knowing all I did about his personal life. (And all the crying — who knew the man cried so much?)

      • He only cried to get his way… manipulate… I do agree that needs to go down in the history books but not as a great innovator but as the man with the ability to do anything he wanted.

  16. I reviewed Steve Jobs today too! I agree with just about everything you have said here. I felt the same way you did about the techy aspects of the book – I was more concerned with Jobs’ personal life, and I felt that Isaacson balanced the two quite nicely. I thought the audio was done very well, I doubt I would have had the patience to finish the thing in print.

  17. Your story about your first iPod is almost EXACTLY like mine, haha. My dad bought me an iPod mini (the green version) for Christmas in 2006 and I initially questioned him as to why I would ever need something like it. How times change…

    Nice review! I’m glad to hear the book provides a fairly balanced perspective on Jobs’ life. I’ll have to pick it up soon.

  18. Good review. Thanks for being impartial. It’s refreshing to read a review such as this without being beaten about the head with prejudice and bias (in either direction). I’ve read the book and was gripped but then Steve was a hero of mine ever since my first Mac in the early ’90s.

  19. Sounds like a very honest autobiography, I am intrigued to read it- the only thing that has been off putting for me, is that I’m afraid I would not understand all the technology stuff…lol… I am such a girl. An engraved ipod?!?! Wow- nice boyfriend!

  20. serious question – do you read your books on an ipad? kindle? Or did you actually flip through 600 physical pages? I thought the book was inspiring, and its weight could sell me an e-reader.

  21. I too listened to the audio book version of the bio. I loved the story of you and your college ex. As an old woman married forever (OK just 27 yrs) I have never received anything form a significant that was engraved. No ruby necklaces either.

  22. I’m currently on page 352 of Steve Jobs. IT IS LONG! But as you’ve said, very much worth it. I am so fascinated by his eccentricities, as I am fairly eccentric myself, I have found some sort of self-identifying aspect to my read. Your review appears to have done well to contextualize the book. Perhaps I’ll check out the Dyan Baker narration.

  23. I’m a die hard Apple fan and read it a few months ago. It stopped me in my tracks and I couldn’t put it down until I finished. It was an insightful portrait of a real person who changed the way we function.

    Well done.

  24. I came across this post on the frontdoor on WordPress. I have gotten the book a while ago, I am still only a few chapters into it. I am a big history buff when it comes to the technological and corporate history of Apple, one of the ONLY companies to have the best story of both worlds.

    I am taking that you are a fan of Apple post 2001. You omitted the chapter where Jobs also created NeXT, where he created the Nextcube and Nextstep, which if it weren’t for that UNIX grade computer system, we wouldn’t had Mac OS X or the iPhone, iPod Touch or even the iPad.

    I laughed in the part about Woz’s quirks and techincal pranks like the TV jammer, lets not forget the “Blue Box” and the Cap’n Crunch whistle (a “jailbreak” in 1970s standards to get passed the Bell System’s expensive long distance network) and how he got in trouble in the local high school for another bad prank. It’s strange how those two different types of people changed our world.

    I’ve only got to 100 pages, and its a must read if you are a true Apple fan pre-2001, and the enjoyment of the corporate/Wall Street POV and the everyday geek of the technical side POV as well.

    I like the review of yours regardless

  25. I spent most of the book with my jaw dropped, shocked at the tantrums that he pulled. Sure there were some boring parts (like you said, they Pixar years…yawn), but it was a fascinating tale…and I’m not normally that into biographies.

  26. I loved reading your review – I also listened to the audio version and probably am quite a bit older than you – I bought my kids ipods when they came out and never realized the brilliance of an Apple product until I got my iphone – now I’m sold. I too, appreciated learning of all sides of Steve Jobs and think the author was so, so fair. And what to tell anyone that dismisses the book, or Jobs, that he changed THEIR world.

  27. I have to read this now: your review just pushed me over the edge, after all the mentions I’ve seen of the book!

    And my first iPod was also pink and gifted by my boyfriend (okay, husband). Though it was a year ago, not ten!

  28. I am an Apple FANATIC, using no other type of electronic products, other than Apple. I am currently reading the biography, a little more than half way through, and every bit intrigues me. I can’t imagine someone so brilliant, but almost in a flawed way due to his extreme expectations/perfectionist ways, and yet so cold towards others and introverted. This biography has yet to “bore” me. Great review and can’t wait to finish the rest of the book!

  29. Great review and its nice to hear about a biography of such an iconic individual that does not try and pander and make him too god-like or try too hard to be critical. Especially with a figure like Jobs I think most representations cannot help but have a bias.
    Thanks so much for sharing, will definitely be giving this book a try sometime soon.

  30. Great blog post. So closely mirroring my own journey with Apple products and truly what a great book Steve Jobs’ biography is.
    Thank you.

  31. Absolutely agree with your review. I read it almost non-stop over Christmas, only pausing to give my arms a rest. Now I’m reading it again. I’m relatively new to Apple products but have to agree that my iPod is “insanely great”. My first reaction to it was WOW! and Walter Isaacson has done a great job in this book in showing how much went in to giving us that Wow factor.

  32. While I’m not Apple’s biggest fan, (The only Apple product I own is iTunes, though I do lust for an iMac occasionally) I had lots of respect for Steve and his work.

    Admittedly, the book could be dry at times. It took me a few months to finally complete it, as I stopped in the middle to read 2 other books.

    Still, I thought the book revealed a great deal of Steve’s life -both good and bad- and I was surprised by some of the contributions he made. One good example was the Pixar deal. I’m a huge fan of Pixar films and I never knew how important his role was until this. His contribution to the music industry through iTunes was another one. It makes you wonder how such a simple idea of selling songs online with minimal restriction could elude the entire music industry.

    RIP Steve, you’ll be missed.

  33. Very nicely reviewed! Congrats on being FP’ed. 🙂

    The last time I went to a book store, I picked it up but by the time I reached the billing counter I wasn’t so sure I could finish those more than 600 pages.

    Also, I had read every written word I could find on Steve Jobs when I turned a Jobs fan. After having put him on a pedestal I came to know a lot of things which didn’t exactly make him very endearing. Size along with those confused feelings made me change my mind.

    After your review, I know which book I should pick on my next visit to the book store 🙂

  34. Great review. I am surrounded by Apple stuff and I have started reading this book. I am looking forward to completing the journey and finding out more about this extremely gifted man.

  35. Thanks for the review! It looks like I’ll have to move along and grab a copy, I’ve been thinking about reading it for a while but was hesitant because I hadn’t read any good reviews. Thanks for straightening it out!
    Ps. Congratulations on Freshly Pressed!!

  36. Nice post, I like Steve Jobs.
    And This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.

  37. Hi there, what a great review! I was shocked when Steve Jobs died, but to be honest, I never really knew who he was or what he was about… all I heard was what the media portrayed him as.

    Your book review has certainly made me think again and I will definately be buying the book.

    Thanks again! Mike

  38. Everything I felt while reading the book [in less than a week!], you put it all in words in this post. What can I say, the man is a genius, and genius is often far from perfect. I did feel angry for him ignoring or willing some kind of reality distortion field combined with fad diets when he found out about his cancer. It makes me wonder if he’d still be alive this day if he just had that surgery done right away. Sad… but his legacy lives forever, as I’m typing this reply on my MacBookPro

  39. I’m reading it right now and it’s really hard for me to get through. He’s kind of a prick isn’t he? I guess I myself had put Steve Jobs on a pedestal and now I’m learning that he really was and arrogant kind of regular Joe, so it’s not exactly what I expected.

    Still, I really respect Walter Isaacson’s work (if you liked this read his Einstein book, it’s amazing) and I want to get through it, it’s just hard because it’s not what I imagined and all the technology talk is really foreign to me.

  40. What an excellent review! I for one was smitten by the Apple bug back in 1986 when I got my first Mac. But until I read this book, I really had no idea what an amazing and complicated guy Steve Jobs was. Anyone who is intimidated by the size of the book should just start it. You won’t be intimidated once you are into it.

    Great post.

  41. It’s amazing how the iPod was the start of it all for most of us. It was the first Apple device for most of us, and many became devoted Apple fans such as you and I. Of course, I began reading the pages of the bio and have been exposed to all aspects of Steve. I knew he wasn’t perfect, but his genius-ness came at personal costs I suppose. I’m about halfway though and plan to finish it within my Spring Break week. Excellent review. The personal touch of the pink iPod made it very significant. 🙂

  42. I bought this book a month ago.
    Due to exams I still haven’t managed to read it I am planning to start as soon as possible.

    I LOVEEEE to reaf biographies, especially about great people. Steve Jobs was for sure one of the greatest man of this time.

  43. Definitely one of a kind! And so talented and unusual that I am not surprised that his personal life could not be a smooth, straight line.

  44. wonderfully detailed review! i’ve had the book in my possession for months (gift from my Apple-obsessed parent) but haven’t had a chance to read it. Will certainly get on that once the spring rush is over!

  45. Your final feelings that you got from the book is the exact same that I get whenever reading in it from time to time!

    Really great review also! 🙂

  46. I just wrote a rather scathing report on the Ipad3. It just seemed to take on a life of its own once I started writing. I am new here. Anyhoo, I admired Steve Jobs tremendously and we love Apple products, however my recent blog about the new Ipad3 is reminding folks to truly compare the old with the new before dishing and discarding the old product. Good Luck;.

  47. you know what
    my BF gifted me Pink iShuffle on my last b’day 🙂
    quite a coincidence
    i wanted one and he knows i’m a music freak..i caryr it everywhere i go as i want to listen to music even when i’m working if office or travelling 🙂

  48. While some people may consider Steve Jobs a jerk (or as an earlier poster stated a “prick”), at least he delivered and shot many things way out of left field like the Mac, the iPad/iPhone/iPod, seeing the potential of Pixar, which George Lucas didn’t see in 1986, and all of this wouldn’t been if it werent for the Apple II (dating way back) to go onto the market. Even though he did have misses like the Lisa, the Apple III, the NEXTSTEP operating system or that sexy NextCube that failed into general market. (again if it weren’t for the latter, we wouldn’t be spoiled with apps the iDevices or the Mac OS X ether.)

    I read several chapters last night, and about the Lisa computer, was named “for his daughter” coming from the same man who claimed Lisa “wasn’t his daughter”, that was a good read too

    I wonder after the Consumer Reports’ piece on the heating issue of “the new iPad”, what Steve would had done if he was still around. The man had a strong work ethic, and he knew what we wanted even if never known about the potential. The chapter with Jobs vs. Jef Raskin, the original man behind the Mac project and the ego clash and Steve’s demanding style won the battle. If Jef Raskin’s project came to be, we would be basically still be using terminals to do our work.

    I don’t want to spoil the book more, but its a great read if you are an Apple history buff and Steve and Apple is one of the best stories told about an American company.

  49. I never had any interest in reading this book until perusing this review of yours, but you’ve moved me and made me reconsider. I’ll be adding it to my wishlist. Thanks for the great write up!

  50. Pingback: Book of the Week: Steve Jobs «

  51. I love my little Ipod Nano, but I never thought much about Steve Jobs. My parents, only in their 30’s, had no idea who Steve Jobs is! But now I feel, because of your review, compelled to read this book. Or at least half of it.

    XoXo Radium Rollercoaster

  52. As a iphone/ipad application developer.. i really wanna read that book. you made me more thirsty for that. Kudos to you. Will definitely post into my blog how that book is once i finish that book.

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