Isaacson, Innovators, and Becoming Steve Jobs

I was late to the party with Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. What prompted me to read it was the release of The Innovators. Of course, the story is fascinating, but even more fascinating to me is how fascinating it is to everyone else. What is the about the products and the brand that creates this deep and worldwide interest in Steve Jobs? My interest is primarily an intellectual journey that began more than a year ago – how do you manage innovation? How do you think outside the box, but still keep the trains running on time? At the risk of disappointment, I haven’t  found an answer that would fit in a blog post. What I have done, however, is make a dent in several books both by reading and via I’ve found that I enjoy listening to an opening chapter before bed, and if I get hooked, then I get the print version, and ultimately review it.

I haven’t finished these, nor reviewed them yet, but I’ve read enough of each to summarize my reactions here:

Becoming Steve Jobs: This new book is a bit more fun to read (or listen to) than the Isaacson book, but just as thorough in its own way. The growing consensus is that Jobs reads less like a jerk in this one. Beyond the fact that I’ve had my fill of reviews where this whole “jerk” thing is emphasized, I think it is an oversimplification. Becoming Steve Jobs focuses on the later half of Jobs’ life more than Isaacson. I think most of us can relate to becoming a different person in midlife than we were in our 20s. By emphasizing that time period, it is natural that a wiser, more gentle Jobs emerges, at least compared to the Isaacson book. Apparently Tim Cook did not like the official biography very much, which comes through in some quotes from the new book. This interview with the authors seems to do a pretty good job of summarizing the controversy surrounding the first book: Fox Interview: Authors of Becoming Steve Jobs

The New York Times has a pretty thorough review.

Isaacson’s Steve Jobs: Unless you’ve been off the grid, and on sabbatical, you’ve had your chance to check out this book. Since I listened to the audiobook first, I recently found that there are tons of gently read used hardcovers out there. I think reflects the worldwide enthusiasm as well as the fact that many of us don’t always read the books that we buy. It is a good book. I didn’t leave the experience of listening to this book thinking any less of him. He had regrets. He was tough on those around him. He wasn’t always likable, but another intellectual hero of mine, Frank Lloyd Wright, exhibited just horrible behaviors at various points in his long life. I don’t praise their behaviors, but their accomplishments are just too interesting, and I want the whole story. The whole story, in the case of the Isaacson book includes much more on the very young Steve Jobs as a youth and high school student as well as his college years. That whole period, importantly, includes his friendship with Steven Wozniak. I enjoy a peak into the psychological side, so the first part of the book was of great interest to me. If you are more interested in Steve Jobs’ ultimately triumphant return to Apple, then the more recent book seems to cover than ground a bit more thoroughly in no small part because the Apple team rallied to ‘correct the record’ as they perceived it.

The New York Times reviewed it shortly after it coming out, but for an always fascinating perspective check out Gladwell’s review.

Also, the full hour 60 Minutes was dedicated to Jobs after the book’s release.

You can’t beat Charlie Rose who interviewed Isaacson about the Jobs biography as well as The Innovators.

The Innovators: Am I the only one that was a little disappointed with this one? Isaacson has gotten so much attention from the official biography that all of his books are getting attention, and deservedly so. However, my interest in the inner psychology of the biographical subject leaves me wanting here. There are so many characters in this historical narrative – literally dozens – that no one story gets enough. For instance, the unsatisfying scraps and tidbits on Turing prompted me to leave The Innovators sitting on the end table while I rushed to my laptop to get a better Turing biography. Obviously, his intent was not depth on each subject, but again and again I found myself looking for more. Alan Hodges’ Enigma, which was the basis for the recent film The Imitation Game, was much more to my liking. My disappointment with The Innovators actually prompted me to read the Isaacson’s Steve Jobs on the presumption that his many Isaacson fans can not be wrong, and, sure enough, I preferred the full biography to the short overview of the Apple story in The Innovators.

I recommend this interview. In it Isaacson acknowledges that he didn’t think he could get away with a longer book. I think that he suspects that a longer book could have been justified, but that his readership wouldn’t be patient with it. I wish he had gone the route of a longer book. I think that folks can handle an 800 page book if the subject matter is compelling.