Sunday 19 November 2017

The madness of King Steve

Becoming Steve Jobs: How A Reckless Upstart Became A Visionary Leader, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, Sceptre, €23

Man of vision: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs could sometimes be his own worst enemy
Man of vision: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs could sometimes be his own worst enemy
Becoming Steve Jobs cover
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Can we get enough of Steve Jobs? Apparently not. Four years after his death, the minutiae of his lifestyle, ramblings and business habits are still pored over in messianic detail. So there's no fear that another biography on Jobs is one too much.

For those who somehow missed it, Jobs moulded Apple in the early 1980s before being banished from the company and finally returning to make it huge. The book focuses principally on Jobs's business life and his career at Apple.

But whereas Walter Isaacson's lengthy 2011 tome on Jobs painted a picture of an ingenious dictator who threw tantrums and fired people on a whim, this new one - Becoming Steve Jobs: How A Reckless Upstart Became A Visionary Leader - tries to present a more rounded, sometimes sympathetic figure.

Its most memorable anecdotes include the story of how Jobs's then protege (and subsequent successor), Tim Cook, offered a portion of his liver when Jobs had been diagnosed with cancer and was waiting for a transplant in 2009. "No, I'll never let you do that," Jobs said. For Steve, we are told, this was pure selflessness.

Indeed, it is Cook's relationship with Jobs that offers some of the best examples of his humanity. Worried that he was working too much, Jobs used to call Cook's mother to register his concern.

But while Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli's book airs grievances that family friends and close colleagues had with previous biographies of Jobs ("it was just a rehash of a bunch of stuff that had already been written, and focused on small parts of his personality," Cook said of Isaacson's biography) it also doesn't shirk from reminding us of the darker side of Jobs.

The Apple co-founder could be mean, vengeful and cruel to friends and enemies alike. He is portrayed at times as a cold father and a petty egoist. And while diehard Apple fans might disagree, the book portrays a commendably nuanced context to Jobs's ousting as Apple chief executive by successor John Sculley. Jobs could be his own worst enemy, the book points out, and he went some way to proving that company founders sometimes make terrible chief executives.

The biography's credibility is bolstered by its authors' credentials. Brent Schlender was one of the few journalists to become close to Jobs over a 25-year period. (It extended to being invited to Jobs's house to watch an early cut of Toy Story with Jobs at the helm of Pixar.)

With a big Hollywood movie about Jobs on the way this October (starring Michael Fassbender and written by The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin), this isn't the last we'll hear about Steve Jobs.

But for those still interested, this is well worth reading.

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