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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs: the genius rebel who saw the world – computers included – differently from the rest of us.

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Beyond wealth, he attained celebrity. For a while, he dated protest singer Joan Baez, who was not only smart and attractive but carried the distinction of being the former lover of Bob Dylan, who was a lifelong hero to Jobs.

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At 23, Jobs fathered a child, Lisa, with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan. He mostly ignored Lisa, with late but lasting regrets.

“I didn’t want to be a father, so I wasn’t,” Jobs said.

It is hard to remember, but there was a time when computers were intimidating instead of coveted. They were also confounding, shaped like clunky boxes with lousy screens and fonts, no graphics and an irritating, blinking cursor.

Jobs changed all of that with the Macintosh, then helped start the company on a downward spiral before being ousted in the mid-1980s.

From flops to smash hits, Isaacson offers a breezy but detailed account of what Jobs achieved – and the prideful, arrogant mistakes that led first to his ouster and then to his amazing Apple encore beginning in 1997.

Braun appliances and Cuisinarts – examples of the Bauhaus aesthetic of simple, clean design Jobs adored – inspired much of what came to be the classic Apple motif. Constant revision and demands to simplify the experience for the user became mantras, completing an extraordinary push that took computers from baffling to wistful and fun.

After launching the Mac and becoming a multimillionaire many times over in his 20s, Jobs wandered through his 30s before he added an incredible burst of creative wizardry during his 40s.

The latter period began with Pixar, a company he fell into but nurtured after buying it from George Lucas. In 1995, after the company had dabbled in computerized animated short features as well as hardware and software, Pixar released “Toy Story,” the start of a string of successes that would eventually make the company a trusted brand name as big as Disney. It also made Jobs even richer and allowed him to leverage a sale to Disney while Pixar retained creative control of its movies.

Two years after bringing Buzz Lightyear into the world, Jobs engineered the ultimate comeback and convinced Apple to bring him back into the fold. After initial hesitancy, Jobs became first interim CEO and then the company’s permanent leader.

When Jobs returned, market share had plunged to 4 percent, but, soon enough, Apple would develop a string of hits that made it the most valuable – and beloved – technology company in the world.

Again and again, Isaacson shows how Jobs took constant risks (board members, for example, thought the idea of opening Apple retail stores was awful and analysts agreed), demanded perfection, and narrowed the focus to several projects to ensure top-notch design.

By 2010, Apple stores alone accounted for $10 billion in annual sales, with no end in sight.

Friends and rivals spoke of Jobs' “reality distortion,” an ability to will things to happen, or not. In a similar vein, Jobs often ignored things he didn’t want to believe or consider. Isaacson suggests that this trait could have played a role in the recurrence of the cancer with which he was diagnosed eight years before his death.


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