The book of Jobs

  • Books
  • Sunday, 06 Nov 2011

If you’re a fan of the man, you’ll probably get this book. But even if you’re not, consider getting it because it’s simply a good read.

Steve Jobs

Author: Walter Isaacson

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 656 pages

STEVE Jobs invented the Mac, iPad and iPhone. And then he died. Everyone is sad now. The end.” That’s what my 12-year-old told me I should write when he found out I was reviewing Walter Isaacson’s book about the Apple front man.

From his point of view, that about sums up everything everyone really needs to know about the man. And that’s my son, from whom we have to pry the iPad away if we want him to eat, bathe or sleep. For him, it’s the gadgets and not so much the man behind them.

There are a kazillion Jobs fans who wouldn’t agree with him, I am sure. But it’s interesting to note that while we have the TV, radio, light bulb, microwave, and portable game consoles, there isn’t the same hullabaloo about the people who helped bring all these marvels to us. So what makes Jobs different? With this question in mind, I opened the cover to the Book of Jobs. By the end of it, I hadn’t learnt the secret to his success but I understood what makes him the enigma that he is to so many.

The book is chockful of details about the man, and it is an enjoyable read. It’s a bit slow going because there’s so much information to digest, but it’s not overwhelming. I’ve been an IT journalist for almost two decades, and I now know more about Jobs thanks to Isaacson than I learned in the course of my job.

My closest personal experience with Jobs was when I was standing about five metres from him at a press conference during one of the Macworld shows a decade or so ago. A foreign journalist asked a question but his accent was so thick that Jobs had a hard time figuring out what he wanted. He became so impatient and irritated that he ended the conference although it had only just begun. So its no surprise to me to read in the biography that Jobs could sometimes be arrogant and wasn’t afraid to tell people to their faces exactly what he thought of them.

The book also talks about Jobs’ showmanship and his skills as a salesman, which I can also vouch for from personal experience. When I watched Jobs onstage during that particular MacWorld, I wasn’t an Apple fan. But even I got caught up as he worked his magic; and I wasn’t alone, the other journalists were whooping and clapping along with the fans. Wow.

That’s just two instances that help describe the kind of person that Jobs was. Isaacson’s book has so many, and much of these run quite deep. The man certainly is complex, judging from the stories of his childhood, college years, and working life.

In the early chapters, I’m appalled that Jobs could think of his biological parents as mere “sperm and egg banks”. He must have really hated them for abandoning him. Then I read about how much he loved his adoptive patents, and looked up to them, especially his dad for teaching him to love tinkering with stuff.

A couple of chapters later, I’m cackling out loud as the book deals with the things Jobs got up to as an adolescent, especially the pranks he and his friends would pull. The one that sticks with me is when they set off an explosion under a teacher that left her with a nervous tic.

One other memorable nugget of information that I found out about Jobs through the book is that he was a strict vegetarian from early in his life. But the problem was that he believed that eating only fruits and vegetables meant he didn’t need to bathe. He told people that his diet kept his body free from mucus and odour. He was wrong, of course. And there are instances where his friends and workmates had to show him the door when they couldn’t stand the stink.

His other quirk was his penchant for walking about in his bare feet. Thankfully, all this had changed by the time he became the famous person that everyone knows. He stayed a vegetarian, but started bathing and wearing shoes.

Isaacson’s book does a good job of charting Jobs’ life. There are 42 chapters in total and all the milestones are covered; everything from The Blue Box to the Apple I to Macintosh to NeXT computer to iCEO to the App Store to iPhone and the iPad.

Then there are the bits about his interactions with the people in his life, including Steve Wozniak, his close friend and one of the two Steves who founded Apple; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; and John Sculley, a former CEO of Apple; to name a few. There are just too many to name them all here.

If you want to know a whole lot about the man behind Apple and its cool products, this is the book to get. No Apple fan would be without the Book of Jobs. But even those who aren’t fans should pick it up because it is a good read.

We should all be so lucky that the tale of our lives could each fill 600 pages in a book and be as interesting. Or that the things we do in life could touch so many people in the world.

> Ronald Byrne is the editor of Bytz, the information technology pullout of The Star.

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