Are You Reading "Steve Jobs"?

Raise your (virtual) hand (maybe through DISQUS comments) if you are reading (or have read) Isaacson's Steve Jobs.

November 13, 2011

Raise your (virtual) hand (maybe through DISQUS comments) if you are reading (or have read) Isaacson's Steve Jobs.

My bet is that the our simultaneous readership of Steve Jobs tops any other simultaneous reading in the reading history of our IHE community. The book is just so topical, and the previous lack of solid information from inside the life of Steve Jobs and Apple, makes Isaacson's book a must read.

I went into the biography somewhat skeptical about the potential value of the book. How much is there really left to know or say about Steve Jobs and Apple, given the obsessive manner that the press and the blogosphere write about Apple. This is why I was surprised at how much I learned from reading Isaacson's book, and how I finished the book with some changed opinions about Apple and Jobs.

Isaacson does an excellent job untangling the roots of Jobs aesthetic perfectionism and technical vision, as well as his tendency towards cruelty. Taken apart, none of the individual events in Jobs life or the history of Apple can explain how the products that Apple created have had such a large impact on how we work, learn, create, consume and play. Taken together, however, the weaving together of Jobs personal narrative with the history of Apple adds up to a rich an nuanced story, one that brings into focus how both Jobs and Apple came to dominate such large sectors of computing, media, music, publishing and music. 

The overriding theme of Jobs' creations at Apple and Pixar has been products (and experiences) that reside at the intersection of technology and the humanities. Jobs was neither a pure technologist nor an artist, but a translator and connector between these two often separate and opposing worlds. 

This intersection between technology and humanities is where, I think, many of us believe that we also need to situate our institutions of higher learning. We understand that the skills, knowledge, and ethics embodied by the liberal arts constitute an essential skill-set for thriving in a rapidly changing, technologically driven information economy.

Jobs succeeded so spectacularly at Apple in large measure because of his ability to create a corporate culture that was uncompromising in its quest to achieve the highest possible results in both art (and design) and technology. In Isaacson's telling, the creation of products like the iPhone or the iPad or the iPod or the MacBook Pro (that I'm typing on now) become inseparably intertwined with the experiences, world-view, and management practices of Steve Jobs.

The value of Isaacson's biography rests on three elements: 

1. The extraordinary access that Jobs and his family gave to Isaacson when writing the book.  

2. The lack of other sources of information about Jobs life and the inner workings of Apple.

3. Isaacson's consummate skill as a biographer.

Each of these elements come together in an extraordinary work of biography.

What are you reading?


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