Quite the job, we think

Published: Nov 06, 2011, 05:51 IST | Sachin Kalbag |

The biography of the Apple co-founder, who died on October 5, cuts through the chaos of all the information that came pouring forth about the 21st century icon, and arrives at a typically minimalist solution

The biography of the Apple co-founder, who died on October 5, cuts through the chaos of all the information that came pouring forth about the 21st century icon, and arrives at a typically minimalist solution

You'd half-expect a biography on Steve Jobs to be a reality distortion field, the mesmerising superpower that the Apple co-founder had mastered so well that he got hundreds, if not thousands to believe what he said even if it was an outrageously exaggerated statement or a plain lie. Instead, Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs is an honest examination of one of the most profiled geniuses of our time.

Pic/ Santosh Nagwekar

Isaacson, who had earlier written the biographies of such people as physicist Albert Einstein and scientist-politician Benjamin Franklin, is completely at ease with deconstructing Jobs, who has a demi-god status among technology enthusiasts as well as among those who haven't even used his world-changing products. He is also helped along the way by Jobs' promise that he won't interfere with the book at all, except for the cover (and what a brilliantly mininalist cover it is, just as any of Apple's products).

Instead of anointing him at the top of the technology food chain, Isaacson paints a more humble, more mature picture of Jobs, the man who made Apple, for a brief while earlier this year, the most valuable company in the world. Jobs was not the demi-god he was portrayed to be in blogs, in newspapers and gushing magazine articles. Nor was he the greatest "innovator" the world has known.

In fact, he was more human than most of us. He was self-obsessed, he was deceitful, he did not respect his (adoptive) parents enough even though he knew he meant the world to them, he did not keep promises and he did not even own up to the fatherhood of his daughter Lisa when she was born (he later reconciled with her and provided for her).

Isaacson's book on Jobs, more of personal history and a book of record than anything else, has thus removed the veneer off Jobs, the businessman and the innovator, making him just like any other person, except with a few billion dollars.

Admittedly, most of the facts and events presented in the book are already known to Jobs' fans. And, after his death on October 5 due to cancer, there was not a single newspaper, blog, Facebook page or magazine that did not describe -- in excruciating detail -- his life, his work, his relationships, his quirks and his genius.

Isaacson cuts through the chaos and arrives at a typically minimalist solution to the noise around the death of a 21st century icon. And in this effort, he praises and criticises fairly. It is this balance that makes the book a remarkable achievement. Sometimes, a photographer achieves a great picture because the subject matter is so good. Jobs, as a subject, was the best any contemporary biographer could ever have.

Yet, he could be the toughest. After all, what can you write on a guy about whom the world already knows so much? Isaacson managed to get more than 40 interviews with Jobs himself and scores more with other people who were part of his life, including John Sculley, the man from Pepsi that Jobs hired with the most dramatic pitch in business history and also the man who got Jobs fired from Apple; and Bill Gates, the sometime-friend, sometime-sworn-enemy of Jobs. And just about everyone speaks from the heart, even those who never liked him.

Ergo, for sheer depth of understanding Steve Jobs, the technologist, you could visit any one of the million blogs dedicated to him. To understand Steve Jobs, the human being, there can be no better source than Isaacson's biography.
Sour grapes or letting it slide?
Isaacson devotes a chapter to the tumultuous relationship between Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who dissed the former by calling him unimaginative and claimed he is more comfortable with philanthropy than technology because he never invented anything. After Jobs' death, Gates said, "Steve and I first met nearly 30 years ago, and have been colleagues, competitors and friends over the course of more than half our lives. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honor."

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Rs 799 (hard cover), published by Little Brown. Available at all leading book stores

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