I’ll start by stating the obvious. Walter Isaacson did a fine job chronicling the life of Steve Jobs. I don’t think it remotely possible for for any other biographer to have delved further into Jobs’ psyche. The book itself is a riveting read—all 571 pages. Growing up an Apple geek, to read the stories of how each piece of culture-transforming piece of technology came to life is indeed a treat.
At the same time, and maybe because I read this with the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno scandal as a backdrop, I felt forced to contend with this—can a man be lauded as a truly wonderful human being and still be a jackass? Can you separate the personal from the professional? And when you meet your maker, which matters more? That you made the iPod or that you were a kind and gentle soul?
Jobs is hands down, one of the premiere innovative, creative, change-the-way-the-world-operates kind of guys. There’s no refuting that. But at the expense of what? Here’s a guy with that swathes himself in complete assiness—and he’s willing to acknowledge, if not embrace it.
Think of the worst boss—the biggest blowhard—you’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with and times that by 100. For better or worse (I vote better), Jobs’ impact on the world we live in is nothing short of mesmerizing, and the book goes to great lengths to capture all of it. Jobs is not unaware of his douchey personality, but it doesn’t stop him from winning just about every argument he takes part in. Nor does it keep him from being right 99 percent of the time (Can you imagine a world where we still had to use key prompts instead of a mouse?).
And, it seems, most people Jobs’ interacted with realized the hand they were dealt—either learn to handle how he treats you, or get out. So I certainly don’t pity the people who put up with his narcissistic behavior.
But with all that in mind—Jobs’ willingness to admit he can be a jerk of monumental proportions, his family, friends’ and co-workers’ willingness to embrace that as part of the package, and the simple fact he did change the course of the computer, movie, music, and retail industries—do those accomplishments buffer the fact he denied his oldest daughter his self for so long, that he kept family at emotional bay, that he threw people under the bus in the name of success?
I would be lying if I wasn’t glad he got his way, that he created the things he did. But I struggle with the expense. At the end of the day, I guess it’s really none of my business. His family and friends are at peace with his behavior, and I do believe Jobs loved them all. But it was this line that disturbed me most:
“This is who I am, and you can’t expect me to be someone I’m not.”
It smacks of cop out. It says,” Yes, I’m a dick. Deal with it. I’m not changing for anybody. Even you.” I guess, Steve. Not exactly the Zen-like existence you craved, but whatever works, right?
I just wonder, as Isaacson did, how much further kindness could have taken him.