Steve Jobs — Celebrate or Vilify

We can’t leave well enough alone, can we?

The man that Steve Jobs was seems to come up often (as it probably should, considering he built a company that is one of the most profitable ones of all time), but it always seems to be a point of constant debate. It seems that nobody, despite what they believe to be true about his character, can stop thinking about his impact on the world and whether or not people should emulate his behavior. It’s almost embaressing to see the amount of back-and-forth there is on this topic, and the man has been dead for 3 and a half years now. You’d think that the man that released his biography (with Steve Jobs’ consent), Walter Isaacson, would have a pretty good account of who the man was in a nutshell — but apparently you’d be wrong.

I’m writing this after beginning to read the most recent biography of Steve Jobs, entitled “Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader”. This biography is fully endorsed by pretty much all of the senior leadership at Apple Inc., and is regarded by Tim Cook as “the first one to get it right”. It is front page news on the iBooks store, as well as getting plenty of on all of influential Twitter feeds. I’m going to reserve my judgement on the book until I read it, but it seems like all of this press is just a way to recuperate some of Jobs’ “good name” that was seemingly tarnished by other people’s interpretations of Jobs.

Walter Isaacson, as I mentioned earlier, was commissioned by Jobs to write his biography. Jobs (according to Isaacson) was adamant that the account that was written was the truth, not just some ego-inflating piece of work that could be written by anyone. Isaacson’s biography of Jobs is not exactly a flattering approach to who Jobs was, but I think that is the point. Biographies are not meant to tell everyone about the good things you did and just stop there. Autobiographies are notorious for this, simply because when people look back on their own lives, they tend to cast themselves in a light that shows off what they accomplished. Biographies are sometimes incredibly insightful in this manner. They can take a person and expose them for what made them tick. And unfortunately, more often than anyone cares to admit, sometimes the greatest influential people of our time are kind-of jerks in their personal lives.

Jobs was perfectly comfortable with people viewing him in an unflattering light. He openly criticized work, ranted about whatever was bothering him that particular day or situation, and generally spoke his mind when it came to pretty much anything. He was not the kind of person to be put off by someone telling the truth (although sometimes he would take the truth and twist it in his own way). I’m not exactly sure why Apple seems to be on the defensive about Jobs’ personality and what he was like, which is exactly what these endorsements come off as. I’m going to read this new biography, but with a skeptical mind. Of course it seems like “the first one that got it right” to Cook and company — friends always view the people they are close to much more fondly, taking open criticism as an afront to their own memories (which may have been tainted by their reverance for Jobs).

I like Apple’s products, the culture that Apple has created, and I like the things that Jobs was able to do for the world. I don’t have any horse in this race, because I admire people from many different backgrounds and don’t think that Apple is the center of the universe. Jobs’ legacy will never be truly tarnished, simply because the things he did are so influential that they are impossible to refute or ignore. Becoming Steve Jobs is definitely going to be a great read, and if you want to know about the people Steve interacted with on a constant basis, definitely give it a shot. However, Jobs is the exact kind of person that deserves an unbiased biography — and I’m not sure if will be the one you want to look for to get a definitive account of his life.

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