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BW Businessworld

And One More Book...

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Steve Jobs, The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal is yet another book on Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who passed away in 2011. The author is a financial journalist and writes frequently for the Wall Street Journal in addition to having authored several books including "Let Me Play, The Story of Title IX: The Law that changed the Future of Girls in America", "Grande Expectations: A Year in the Life of Starbucks' Stock" as well as books on Sam Walton and the prohibition era in the US.
This book is primarily based on the author's research of Steve Jobs' life and work from his various interviews with magazines, newspapers and even YouTube videos of his presentations over the years and other sources but not a face-to-face interaction with the man himself. However that is no limitation as the author has done an excellent job of profiling jobs, including his personal life, unlike most other books on Jobs which concentrate on his work at Apple. The author does quote from various other features on Jobs including the bestselling biography by Walter Isaacson and she diligently lists her sources in a detailed bibliography. She also pays tribute to the authors of some of her sources such as the journalist & writer Michael Moritz who was one of the earliest to latch onto the Jobs' phenomenon.

The book is organized around the now ubiquitous commencement lecture delivered by Jobs at Stanford in 2005. The book is divided into 3 parts. The first part deals with Jobs' first stint at Apple and his early life. The second part deals with his years at NEXT, his involvement with Pixar, his return to Apple and its turnaround. The last part deals with his illness, the more recent successes of Apple and his legacy.

Thanks to Jobs' being present in the computer industry in its early years to his last days, a significant portion of Jobs' story and hence the contents of this book, would be familiar to his fans and others who have access to an abundance of sources on his life as the author herself notes. However the weaving of the tale as well as some special features in the book make it an interesting read.  For one, the author dwells on Jobs' unusual relationships with his parents and his siblings from both his biological parents as well as his foster parents. Another recurrent theme in the first part of the book is Jobs' personal hygiene - rather the lack of it. Despite not having access to Jobs like his biographer Isaacson did and not  having witnessed him at work first hand, the author still manages to provide nuggets of information about Jobs' life. Some of these episodes are from his personal life, which end up painting not such a pretty portrait of the man who possessed a Reality Distortion Field, a term coined by one of Apple's early employees for his uncanny ability to make people see his point, only to snap out of it later, wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Some of these are quite moving especially the incredible encounter between Jobs and his biological father as well as his relationship with his biological sister, the writer Mona Simpson who penned a tribute to him on his death.
The special sections in the book such as Apple-II's operational manual, Reed College Reading List, Jobs' iPod playlist (sourced from Isaacson's book), a graphic timeline of Jobs' life and others, lend a unique flavour catering to the curiosity of the reader.

Although the author doesn't necessarily try to poke holes in the Jobs' legend, her profile by virtue of inclusion of various unsavoury episodes from his life, ranging from his relationship with his first daughter as well as incidents from the business side such as the Apple stock option scandal and his role in some of the product failures, end up providing a balanced view on Jobs. And her focus on his personal life, especially given the breadth of topics she has covered in such a small volume, provide an otherwise uncommon peek into his life - one of which is his attempt to be a father. Among several other interesting anecdotes, the book also discusses how Jobs came to dress like he did and his encounter with Yo Yo Ma resulting in a remark eerily similar to Kurt Vonnegut's intended epitaph.

The book is never dull and is filled with several photographs from Jobs' life including a few rare ones.Fittingly, the author rounds the book off with a brilliant remark, "…ultimately, he was like his products…Each was brilliant -and also flawed. But you could overlook the very real imperfections because the rest of the package was so amazing."

If you want a detailed profile of Jobs and don't mind reading for a few days if not more, Isaacson's book is probably what you should pick up, but if you want something that you can finish in one sitting and want to still end up feeling well-informed on Jobs, this book does quite well.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-05-2012)