Zac's Reviews > Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
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May 03, 2013

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Read from May 03 to June 09, 2013

In a way, I regard this book as a balanced biography. Even though Walter Isaacson is apparently unsatisfied with having gotten all of Steve Jobs's shaft into his mouth and spends a lot of time sucking on Jobs's balls, his recounting of Steve Jobs's behavior left me unavoidably with the impression that Steve Jobs was a world-class asshole. Jobs is presented as so much of a whining, pathetic bully that I find myself glad that he died of pancreatic cancer, and I also find myself regretting that he did not die sooner.

[paragraph listing instances of Jobs's assholish behavior]

In Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the sentence "Glanton spat." appears almost like a refrain in a song. Glanton does a lot of spitting. In Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the clause "Jobs cried" appears with the same frequency. Jobs does a lot of crying. Jobs would cry any time he didn't get his way. His tendency to cry makes me wish I--as technically inept as Jobs himself--could bully someone cleverer than I into building a time machine, so I could use it to go back in time and beat the crap out of Steve Jobs.

He fucked over Woz.
He continually told people that they were shit.
He was duped by John Sculley.
He held people in contempt when they didn't behave like assholes.
He demanded that a machine in a factory be painted. It fucked up the machine.

On The Subject of Jobs's 30th Birthday Party
"Many people had picked out special gifts for a person who was not easy to shop for. Debi Coleman, for example, found a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Last Tycoon'. But Jobs, in an act that was odd yet not out of character, left all of the gifts in a hotel room."
page 189

For contrast, on my 30th birthday I bought myself a dog toy in the shape of a plush shotgun shell. It squeaked when you squeezed it. My sister's then-boyfriend did some repairs on my car, which was really nice of him. My point is that Steve Jobs is an inconsiderate asshole.

It's kind of fun to read this book if you think of it as a drinking game where you drink every time Steve Jobs is an asshole. You'd be dead of alcohol poisoning by page 10 if you actually drank every time Isaacson reported an instance of Steve Jobs being an asshole. But it's kind of fun to be surprised on every page by a new way in which Jobs is an asshole. Jobs is an inexhaustible genius of finding ways to be an asshole. Look at this shit, from page 188:
[...] Andy Cunningham, from Regis McKenna's firm, was in charge of hand-holding and logistics at the Carlyle. When Jobs arrived, he told her that his suite needed to be completely redone, even though it was 10 p.m. and the meetings were to begin the next day. The piano was not in the right place; the strawberries were the wrong type. But his biggest objection was that he didn't like the flowers. He wanted calla lilies. "We got into a big fight on what a calla lily is," Cunningham recalled. "I know what they are, because I had them at my wedding, but he insisted on having a different type of lily and said I was 'stupid' because I didn't know what a real calla lily was." So Cunningham went out and, this being New York, was able to find a place open at midnight where she could get the lilies he wanted. By the time they got the room rearranged, Jobs started objecting to what she was wearing. "That suit's disgusting," he told her. Cunningham knew that at times he just simmered with undirected anger, so she tried to calm him down. "Look, I know you're angry, and I know how you feel," she said."

"You have no fucking idea how I feel," he shot back, "no fucking idea what it's like to be me."

I'll tell you what it feels like to be Steve Jobs: it feels like you're a fucking asshole.

[All of page 462 should be included here, to show what an asshole Jobs is, even after he has had cancer.]

This book could also have been called The Crying Asshole. See for yourself:

Page 197: "Then he began to cry."

Steve Jobs, a cause of crying in others as well as himself: "After Jobs stalked out, Sculley turned away from the glass wall of his office, where others had been looking in on the meeting, and wept." (page 199)

Page 202: "He went back to his office, gathered his longtime loyalists on the Macintosh staff, and started to cry."

Page 206: 'It finally sank in. Jobs realized there was no appeal, no way to warp the reality. He broke down in tears and started making phone calls--to Bill Campbell, Jay Elliot, Mike Murray, and others. Murray's wife, Joyce., was on an overseas call when Jobs phoned, and the operator broke in saying it was an emergency. It better be important, she told the operator. "It is," she heard Jobs say. When her husband got on the phone, Jobs was crying. "It's over," he said. Then he hung up.'

See? Crying and callously breaking into someone else's expensive overseas phone call because you couldn't hack it.

Page 208: Years later Jobs's eyes welled with tears as he recounted the story [...]

Page 442: They all hugged, and Jobs wept.

Part II of this Review

Isaacson's biography is soft and untechnical, and that's a real shame because it's the anointed-by-Steve-Jobs-himself biography that, at least for the moment, is the Steve Jobs biography of record.

Isaacson is not up to the task of explaining what Jobs did when he was at NeXT. That's a shame, because Jobs's work at NeXT forms the basis for everything that Apple is today.

There are a couple of reasons an author might want to avoid trying to explain what Jobs did at NeXT. The main reason is that it's fucking complicated. The other reason is that it's boring for most people to read about. (Take it from me, a paid technical writer.) I suspect that Isaacson does not have the technical understanding necessary to explain why the NeXT years were important. It would have taken months and possibly as much as a couple of years for Isaacson to develop the understanding he would need to explain how NeXT was different, and what it made possible that wasn't possible before. Clearly Isaacson didn't find that appealing. Also, probably most of the reading public doesn't want to read a highly technical explanation of the innovations that went into the NeXT operating system.

But that means that this book fails to describe the major achievement of Jobs's life. This is probably going to be the biography of record for Steve Jobs. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine how shitty this is.

For comparison, Isaacson spends five pages (411-415) describing the contents of Jobs's playlist. Isaacson even talks about how he and Jobs sat around listening to the music on Jobs's iPad2, and reports things that Jobs says about the songs he's listening to. Except for when Jobs is yelling at people for stupid bullshit, he never seems more common in this biography than when he is saying dumb wistful stuff about Boomer music on his iPad2.

Here's Jobs, bloviating about The Beatles while listening to the recording sessions for "Strawberry Fields Forever":

It's a complex song, and it's fascinating to watch the creative process as they went back and forth and finally created it over a few months. Lennon was always my favorite Beatle. [He laughs as Lennon stops during the first take and makes the band go back and revise a chord.] Did you hear that little detour they took? It didn't work, so they went back and started from where they were. It's so raw in this version. It actually makes them sound like mere mortals. You could actually imagine other people doing this, up to this version. Maybe not writing and conceiving it, but certainly playing it. Yet they just didn't stop. They were such perfectionists they keep it going and going. This made a big impression on me when I was in my thirties. You could just tell how much they worked at this.

They did a bundle of work between each of these recordings. They kept sending it back to make it closer to perfect. [As he listens to the third take, he points out how the instrumentation has gotten more complex.] The way we build stuff at Apple is often this way. Even the number of models we'd make of a new notebook or iPod. We would start off with a version and then begin refining and refining, doing detailed models of the design, or the buttons, or how a function operates. It's a lot of work, but in the end it just gets better, and soon it's like, "Wow, how did they do that?!? Where are the screws?"

So there's Steve Jobs, convincing himself that he invented iterative design because he heard the Beatles do something like it. It's kind of like how Eddie Van Halen says that he realized he could tap when he was at a Led Zeppelin concert and he saw Jimmy Page play the open G string and then hammer on the A on the second fret over and over again. Except in this case, it has nothing to do with guitar playing and everything to do with Steve Jobs convincing himself that he invented iterative design and then cramming his own cock into his throat. The only real consolation to be had in this story is that pancreatic cancer is eating him.

Part III of this Review

Isaacson has an easier time of explaining the end of Jobs's life, because he stays away from technical material and focuses on easy-to-understand numbers that tell easy-to-understand stories. Here's an example, from the part of the book describing when Jobs convinced Disney to buy Pixar:

The deal the proposed was that Disney would purchase Pixar for $7.4 billion in stock. Jobs would thus become Disney's largest shareholder, with approximately 7% of the company's stock compared to 1.7% owned by Eisner and 1$ by Roy Disney. Disney Animation would be put under Pixar, with Lasseter and Catmull running the combined unit. Pixar would retain its independent identity, its studio and headquarters would remain in Emeryville, and it would even keep its own email addresses.

This story's pretty straightforward: Jobs is rich, and then he gets richer. That's a lot easier to understand than the technical innovations of NeXT. And it's in the book, unlike the technical part of the NeXT years.

When discussing Apple's decision to dump the PowerPC and move to Intel microprocessors, Issacson gets about as technical as he ever gets:

Bill Gates was amazed. Designing crazy-colored cases did not impress him, but a secret program to switch the CPU in a computer, completed seamlessly and on time, was a feat he truly admired. "If you'd said 'Okay, we're going to change our microprocessor chip, and we're not going to lose a beat,' that sounds impossible," he told me years later, when I asked him about Jobs's accomplishments. "They basically did that."

I want to make sure to point out some examples of Isaacson sucking the cock of Steve Jobs, to bolster my claim that this is less a biography and more an advertisement for Steve Jobs. So here's a paragraph lifted verbatim from a part of the book where Isaacson is reporting on Steve Jobs's 2005 Stanford commencement speech:

The artful minimalism of the speech gave it simplicity, purity, and charm. Search where you will, from anthologies to YouTube, and you won't find a better commencement address. Others may have been more important, such as George Marshall's at Harvard in 1947 announcing a plan to rebuild Europe, but none has had more grace.
(page 457)

Slurp, slurp, slurp.

---UPDATE 09 Feb 2014---
Virtuous men, busy in the affairs of life, and occupied continually in the saying of virtuous words and the doing of virtuous deeds, are apt to lose track of one lone expression of virtue, however excellent and meritorious, amid the endless succession of righteous and virtuous actions of which their admirable and praiseworthy lives consist. And so it is with unfeigned gratitude that I greet the comment of Hazem Bayado, who, upon seeing my excellent review of Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, was moved to express this:

How can one hate a review here!! While the reviewer mentioned some important points, in particular the NeXT years, or the absence of them actually, I found his continuous sexual analogies to be juvenile, distracting and generally degrading for the review. Ok so Steve Jobs was an asshole in your mind, but what do you call someone who is happy and satisfied about the fact that cancer is eating another human alive? Asshole is an understatement!!!

Hazem Bayado's comment brought again to my attention the nearly-forgotten review of Steve Jobs that I composed last May, and thereby afforded me the opportunity to be pleased and delighted by my assessment of the character of Steve Jobs, and to marvel at how correct I was at so tender and green an age, when my judgment was much younger and less-tried than it is today.

I should like to take this opportunity to dedicate myself anew to the proposition I articulated here eight months ago to the amusement and enlightenment of so many, that Steve Jobs is an asshole. Why, just the other day, Mark Ames reported that Steve Jobs was involved in a conspiracy to drive down the wages of developers in Silicon Valley: Truly, this is a genius asshole, a Tupac of assholery, to continue from beyond the grave to give reporters material for new reports of assholery of kinds heretofore undared. What fool, having been presented with this information, would gainsay the proposition that Steve Jobs is an asshole? What depravity could give rise to such foolishness?

I am sorry that Hazem Bayado found my "continuous sexual analogies to be juvenile, distracting, and generally degrading for the review", but I do wish him well.

Is it too much to hope that Hazem Bayado will be able to suck greater command of the English language out of a dick? I do hope it isn't, because all people of parts, with their faculties keen to the happenings of the world, can not fail to mark, and can probably not refrain from remaking upon, just how very much he sucks dick. I hope that he manages to suck greater command of the English language out of one of the endless parade of dicks that marches down his throat, so that he may be less a target of sport for those of us with greater command of the tongue.

In closing, I can see nothing to alter my earlier judgment, and it is with a great sense of pride that I sustain that earlier judgment and re-dedicate myself to the proposition that Steve Jobs is an asshole. Thank you, Hazem Bayado, for allowing me to spend time in the company of my former self, admiring his courage and revelling in the wisdom of his superior judgment.

23 Oct 2015

In writing Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson has created a long, posthumous public-relations-style press release for Steve Jobs. In doing this, he has done one of two things. (1) Isaacson has acquiesced to becoming a part of Jobs's strategy to draw attention away from substantive and historical questions that show Jobs in a negative light and worked to draw attention toward easily-understood narratives that show Jobs in a positive light and that are accessible to the average reader. (2) Isaacson has cluelessly been manipulated by Steve Jobs into becoming a part of the strategy to show Jobs in a positive light, giving attention to popular matters of little substance at the expense of substantive technical questions and historically important business dealings. Neither option increases Isaacson's credibility as a biographer.

Episodes 42 and 43 of the podcast "Hypercritical" by John Siracusa and Dan Benjamin discuss the technical shallowness of Isaacson's biography of Jobs:

Mark Ames has covered "Techtopus", a wage-fixing scam orchestrated by Google and Steve Jobs. Whatever Isaacson has written in his biography about Jobs's appreciation of The Beatles or his having dating Joni Mitchell or his white-boy, tourist love of India, whatever he has written is simply public relations, and will remain hopelessly so for as long as he adds no examination of Jobs's role in wage-fixing:

Randall Strouss's Steve Jobs and The Next Big Thing remains the book of record for getting a foundation in the innovations of NeXT. The absence of substantive examination of NeXT in Isaacson's book combined with the attention given to Jobs's musical preferences demonstrates the unseriousness of Isaacson's biography. Here's Strouss's book, which as a kind of bonus has the best single-chapter introduction to the innovations of Xerox in the 1970s at the Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC):
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer This is pretty much the most amusing book review I've ever read.

Himanshu He surely had some personality disorder. The much acclaimed "reality distortion field" in my opinion is classic case of pathological lying given a good name simply because it worked

message 3: by Mateo (last edited Sep 02, 2013 09:47PM) (new)

Mateo This is basically a fine review, but it did leave me wondering: was Steve Jobs an asshole? On balance, I would have to say yes.

Unfortunately, it begs the question of whether Steve Jobs was, concurrently, a self-important fucktard. On balance, I would have to say yes.

Which is kind of hard for me to say, as Jobs--as he mentioned in that famous Stanford commencement speech--attended my alma mater, lasting about a semester before dropping out to scam free calligraphy lessons. Jobs's death engendered a plethora of enconmia from my fellow alums, none of which, sadly enough, started out with the phrase "Steve Jobs was to interpersonal relations what Caligula was to public administration."

I saw an interview with Isaacson in (I think) Smithsonian magazine, in which Isaacson said something very close to "A lot of people are assholes, but very few of them create something really worthwhile," which, in addition to being juuuuuust stupid enough to merit a gentle garroting, is also an unfair temptation for readers everywhere to succumb to Godwin's Law.

The same article, if I remember right, had a quote from Oracle's Larry Ellison--no slouch himself in the human turd department--about how Jobs had purchased the exact same private jet as Ellison, but had redone it inch by inch to Jobs's exacting specifications, which showed (to Ellison) what a keen eye Jobs had for detail. Whereas most of us would have concluded that Jobs had a) too much money and b) the ego of Galactus on a coke binge. And that Larry Ellison should start trimming his beard at the shoulder blades.

Jobs (along with others) is indirectly responsible for the toxic levels of self-regard and entitlement that have flooded the high-tech industry, and Silicon Valley specifically. He made it okay not just to send back the salad, but to reduce your waitress to tears for having the temerity to bring you a salad where THE FUCKING CROUTONS ARE THE WRONG FUCKING SIZE. The only difference is that most of these tech douchebags actively enjoy humiliating minimum-wage workers, while Jobs probably couldn't care whether the waitress lived or died, as long as if she did die, the blood that spattered on his arugula was AB negative and NOT FUCKING O POSITIVE. (begins crying)

Hazem Bayado How can one hate a review here!!

While the reviewer mentioned some important points, in particular the NeXT years, or the absence of them actually, I found his continuous sexual analogies to be juvenile, distracting and generally degrading for the review. Ok so Steve Jobs was an asshole in your mind, but what do you call someone who is happy and satisfied about the fact that cancer is eating another human alive? Asshole is an understatement!!!

Hazem Bayado How can one hate a review here!! While the reviewer mentioned some important points, in particular the NeXT years, or the absence of them actually, I found his continuous sexual analogies to be juvenile, distracting and generally degrading for the review. Ok so Steve Jobs was an asshole in your mind, but what do you call someone who is happy and satisfied about the fact that cancer is eating another human alive? Asshole is an understatement!!!

message 6: by Ruediger (new)

Ruediger Landmann With respect, I feel that Bayado does not really grasp the review.

I find that the sexual imagery underscores the vehemence of the reviewer's position. As readers, we are left with no question as to the sincerity or depth of his feelings.

Even more interestingly, the earthy, basic imagery creates a point of tension with the work under consideration, which is a paean, no matter how sterile, to a god of the tech industry. The contrast of high and low, of elevation and debasement, makes this review a work of art in its own right.

message 7: by Kay (new) - added it

Kay First off: I did not finish this review. I get the drift - the reviewer hates Steve Jobs. The intensity of the response makes me wonder if the reviewer used to work in Silicon Valley? Had some terrible experience with their home computer or tech support...? Work for Bill Gates...? Remember, less is more. Long, vociferous reviews are a tough read. Most people will not take the time.

message 8: by Zac (new) - rated it 3 stars

Zac Hey Kay, fuck you.

Alex Gregory The Beatles? "Boomer music?"

Get out.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I think it's very unfair - you referring to Steve Jobs as an "asshole". At least assholes have a useful function...

(Still, "Jobs" is a funny name, isn't it? It's almost poetic that his name is Jobs and he turns out to be an asshole.) Oh, the humanity!

message 11: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark TL;DR. Holy shit, where's the Tylenol?

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