My life, and yours, no doubt, has been significantly impacted by a company named after the most famous fruit, and it was probably this reason that caused me to pick up the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson of Time magazine.
(I purchased the book from Audible.com, and listened on my iPod, appropriately.)
Jobs was an enigma to me, shrouded in mystery, and I, like many others, wondered what was going on with him in the last few years as he looked gaunt and emaciated from the havoc created by pancreatic cancer. Isaacson conducted over 40 interviews with Jobs in the last years of his life, as well as numerous interviews with those who loved him and hated him. The result is a compelling picture of a man who, by wedding arts and technology, changed our lives and along the way, created the world’s most profitable company.
He was a contradiction in so many different ways – Jobs’ adoptive parents took him to a Lutheran church growing up, and one day he was impacted by pictures of emaciated children in a third world country and he brought these to his pastor, who apparently gave him a totally inadequate answer to the greatest philosophical question of all – “Why is there evil in the world?” Jobs said that he could never worship a God who allowed this kind of sadness to go on. It’s too bad that this pastor could not have given him a better understanding of the Fall, but the thing I found so fascinating is that Jobs did not become a humanitarian shaped by this experience. Instead, the picture emerges of a man who was often incredibly cruel and mean, and who didn’t seem to care about the underprivileged that he accused God of turning a blind eye to.
Even when he made his first billion with the IPO of Pixar, Jobs never became a philanthropist like his nemesis/friend Bill Gates. He pretty much kept his money to himself, although his wife, the love of his life, Laurene Powell, did establish an after school program for underprivileged kids, though Jobs himself never took an interest or visited the program.
He was a lifelong fan of Bob Dylan, and listened to bootleg concert recordings as a boy, and so it was fun to see how Jobs ended up dating Joan Baez, a former love of Dylan. Indeed, the cameos of famous people in the book made it a fun read, from the Beatles to Bono to Gates to Obama (whom the liberal Jobs pleaded with to become friendlier to US businesses).
In light of this bootleg history with Dylan, I enjoyed hearing about the development of ITunes and the iPod, the two Apple products which have most touched my life. I found it fascinating that if any company should have come to rescue the music industry from illegal downloads, Sony should have been the company, with its hand in both the music industry and technology, yet Apple leapfrogged over Sony and literally saved Music with its 99 cents songs.
Jobs’ need for control in everything is arguably what made Apple and Pixar great, but it could also be argued that it resulted in his eventual death. Most forms of pancreatic cancer are incurable, but he was diagnosed with a rare and curable kind; and yet the Vegan Jobs refused to go under the knife to have the cancer removed, instead looking to a wholistic foods diet to solve the problem. His wife and others pleaded with him to have surgery, and a full 9 months after diagnosis, he finally gave in. But it was too late, and the cancer would eventually take his life.
So there was sadness to the book, compounded in one of the last interviews when Isaacson wondered why he had asked for the biography to be written, and Jobs responded that his kids hadn’t really known him, and he wanted to tell his story to them. Indeed, I was almost moved to tears thinking about this creative genius who changed the world in so many ways, from the personal computer to the music industry to the animated film, but who, in the end, never came to know his own Creator.