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Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review - Steve Jobs: an Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs: an Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson is a well-researched life history of a rare icon of the software industry. The author has interviewed hundreds of people -- ranging from Jobs' relatives and friends, to colleagues and competitors -- for this book, and not surprisingly the book has lots of details about Jobs: the person and entrepreneur.

My knowledge of Jobs was all picked up at random from articles on him, especially a surfeit of them that appeared when he passed away four years ago. But nothing to beat this book in terms of the depth of details.

The book is worth reading because of the innumerable anecdotes and quotes that reveal who the real Steve Jobs was.

I found Jobs a paradox. Because, he had traits that were quite conflicting. He had plenty of negative habits in his personality, that we all associate with sure disaster. But probably because of the strength of his positives, Jobs was able to not only get away with all that, but even reach commanding levels of success.

In many ways, Jobs isn't the typical role model. Rarely showered, and had a strange belief that if you are a vegetarian the body kept itself clean. He had erratic food habits -- sometimes he starved himself, sometimes he indulged in a few chosen food which he abandoned altogether later.

He had a fiery and unpredictable temper; and was very bad at managing people. Very often he was curt and rude. He could easily make people dislike him rather than like him. He curtly rejected new ideas for no rhyme or reason, but accepted them later when it came from someone else. Worse, he sometimes appropriated as his own, some ideas of others.

What made him successful in spite of all these, was his sharp focus and determination to achieve his goals. He wanted his creations to be different, and he was obsessed with details, with a sharp eye for design.

He was a shrewd businessman, and knew which side of the bread was buttered. He was fiercely protective of his products which he wanted to look good as much as efficient. He had near contempt for anything other than Apple. He wanted the users of his products to get everything from the Apple ecosystem. He hated to let anyone else in to the Apple Store.

Jobs differed with Microsoft's route of licensing Windows. He also had contempt and strong hatred for Google's philosophy of open source. That in fact laid the groundwork for one of the most intensely fought software battles. The world is divided on those lines: to be open and accessible to everyone, or be protective, exclusive and privileged.

The book also deals at length with Jobs's struggle with cancer. Even while he was losing the battle there was only one thing that brought a sparkle in his eyes: Apple.

Jobs was a completely complex personality. Definitely one of a kind. He knew often he wasn't being fair in the way he was dealing with people but he didn't know any other way to deal with people.

But at the end of it all, he created products that achieved cult status, products that dramatically changed the way people read books, listened to music, communicated with each other.

Isn't that a great legacy?

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