Compelling and touching biography inside the mind of a truly unique man. A must read for anyone interested in design, music, management, computers, re...moreCompelling and touching biography inside the mind of a truly unique man. A must read for anyone interested in design, music, management, computers, retail, art and in making "insanely great" products. Jobs touched -- and for the most part made a huge dent in -- all those fields, like noone else ever did.
After reading this book it becomes clearer how Jobs was able to make his products superior to anyone else's: the passion and dedication he put into them often reached the realms of obsession. Even I, one who claims to know Apple's history fairly well, had underestimated how much time and effort he was willing to spend on a product. The first iPhone is a good example. They had a fully designed prototype based on a case much different from the one that actually got released. They were close to be ready to ship, but Jobs -- who had approved such design initially -- realized there was something wrong about it, and had the balls to say to his employees (paraphrasing), "sorry guys, we failed at this, and we have to redo it." And sure enough, many month later the "real" iPhone came out and took the whole world by storm. That blew me away. I can't imagine a single company today that would not compromise a bit and just sell what they had made after all that hard work. I did know he didn't settle for anything less that excellence but I didn't know he could go this far.
Jobs' tendency to divide everything in a manichean fashion comes out a lot from this biography. Infinite Loop made it clear that that was the case for the products he was involved with, but it was interesting (horrifying, at times) to see that facet of his personality spread to every aspect of his life, often with terrible consequences for the people around him. Which brings me to another point. Even if many people perceived him as a selfish dick, it seems pretty clear to me that it was more akin to an autistic person being unable to behave like most people. This is a constant theme that emerges from all over this book and I didn't realize it before reading it here.
The role of Laurene Powell particularly comes to the forefront, also. Her calmimg influence and support had a much bigger impact than I could imagine. She filled a void in Jobs' life and provided a baseline of serenity that prevented (e.g.) the iPhone project to become another NeXT. And speaking of NeXT, I particularly enjoyed its chapter as well as the many mentions around the book. I always loved the insanity instilled inside that computer, that's what made me understand (way back then in my teens!) that computing could actually be a form of art, just like any other. Noone has ever created a computer more perfect, absurd and beautiful than the NeXT cube, and reading about it just made me smile at how much crazier than I thought its development was. The story of the logo is just priceless.
Isaacson reveals some of the fucked up things that Jobs did, too. Some of them were completely unknown to me. One in particular had no redeeming quality whatsoever: I'm talking about how he screwed Daniel Kottke, his long time friend, when Apple went public. That was pretty sad to hear. It was uncalled for, and totally unneeded.
What i didn't like about this book is that a little too often it just feels like a history of Jobs' professional achievements. I understand you can't avoid that, but I wish there were more chapters like "Music Man," for instance, where his passion for music is discussed. Incidentally, that's perhaps the most intimate chapter in the book, and one of my favorites. You can say a lot about a person by looking at its record collection (or iPod contents) and Jobs is no exception. You can feel the excitement he must have had speaking with his hero, Bob Dylan. And Isaacson does a particularly great job at narrating his music listening session with Steve. I think that chapter alone makes the book worth reading.
Despite my criticism above, Isaacson is very well researched and overall portrays this one-of-a-kind man in his brilliancy as well his dark sides. I enjoyed his writing style very much, a weird balance of intimacy and detachment that I think it's kind of hard to achieve. For instance, the already cited Infinite Loop often sounded too informal, either too enthusiastic or needlessly polemic at any given time. Isaacson, instead, has a more authoritative cadence that is also able to break down to warmer tones when needed, without sounding cheesy.
I think there was a reason why as a kid I was mesmerized by the elegant black and white graphics of the first Mac, seen on some random Italian computer magazine. Or why I still remember the excitement in the eyes of a teen-age friend who had actually seen the NeXT in action, the bastard, at a show I couldn't go to. Those products were just dreams back then, but that's it: they were so good you could just stare at them and admire them like works of art. And twenty something years later I did, at the MoMA in SF. It doesn't happen frequently, I gotta say.
If this book was supposed to make me a better designer, it failed. It's a collection of thoughts on design taken from a more abstract/holistic point o...moreIf this book was supposed to make me a better designer, it failed. It's a collection of thoughts on design taken from a more abstract/holistic point of view. This wouldn't be a bad idea in itself, if only these reflections were a little more insightful. For some (most?) of them I failed to read between the lines. Example: What good is to explain how the TAB key works and how powerful it is in organizing data? Or forcing gratuitious acronyms upon your readers and pretending they'd remember them?
Speaking about acronyms: what do they have to do with design anyway? The author discovers new ones in every page, and it gets annoying quickly.
However, I liked the idea of "laws," or abstract guiding principles. I think it would have been better to be more schematic and simply discuss examples of each one. When Iwata does so he's pretty good, for example explaining the iPod UI evolution across the years. What's wrong with keeping it... simple and just do that?(less)
If advances in design should take inspiration from natural phenomena, this is a great book.
While the author meant it as a photographic compendium of...moreIf advances in design should take inspiration from natural phenomena, this is a great book.
While the author meant it as a photographic compendium of fluid-dynamics, I think its hidden value is in observing the figures that fluids make when they move -- be it at crawling or supersonic speeds -- as works of art. Some of the images are of great beauty: in a way it's surprising to discover it, but from another point of view we "know" these shapes intuitively because we have observed them or thought about them already in the past.
Plus, while I am no designer, I do think there's something to be learned in how nature spaces things, how it draws curves and creates angles, how it brings order to total chaos, and how it adds back the excitement of chaos to boring blandness.(less)