Steve Jobs – Book Review – and a Little More

This man was a genius. He was also an asshole. Eccentric to the max.

Never have I felt so compelled to really not like someone, yet have an unprecedented amount of respect for them.

You know if you read this post that I am a tech geek. I love all things tech and have been having a love affair with Apple for years now.  I have had several iPods, am working on my second iPhone, and am a huge fan of the iPad.  For the time being, it has taken the place of a personal computer in my house.  I have Mac envy, and especially with the release of the latest generation Macbook Pro, I am saving my pennies more than ever.  I NEED one of these machines.

I love Apple, their products, their philosophies, and have sat captivated watching many keynotes from product launches, WWDCs, etc. watching them work their magic.  I like Tim Cook, and all the folks at Apple, for their passion and dedication to their products, but watching Steve Jobs take the stage at so many of these events, and watching his charisma take over the entire room, led me to develop a huge respect for him and a real desire to learn more about his story.

On October 5th 2011, we were at a party at a friends house, and I had the rare opportunity to chat with a few folks about techie things.  This was amazing.  We talked quite a bit about about Apple, their  products, and the announcement about the iPhone 4S the previous day.  We discussed Steve Jobs, his resignation from the position of CEO due to health reasons, and the impact he had made on the company.  When Joe and I got in the car to go home, I pulled out my phone to check Twitter, and was devastated to see that my stream was clogged with the news that Jobs had died.  I found it so ironic and yet fitting that we should be sitting and having a conversation about Apple and its products at the very time that his death was being announced to the world.  Many people will always remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, when Elvis died, when Princess Diana died.  I add to my list Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Steve Jobs.

Naturally, when it was announced that his biography would be published, it went to the top of my to-read list.  I don’t usually go out and buy hardcover, so I was delighted to find it under the Christmas tree last year.  I was very excited to read it, but it is 571 pages, plus notes, acknowledgments and index, so I wanted to read it at a time where I would be able to dedicate large chunks of time to reading it.  What better time then when I have a weeks vacation??  So it sat unopened until last week when I hardly had any time to read.  I was determined to finish it though and spent quite a bit of time reading over the long weekend to finish it.

What an amazing read.  Walter Issacson, a known biographer, shows a no-holds-barred account of Jobs’ life.  There is no sugar coating here, and from what the book says, Jobs and his family wanted it that way.  Jobs encouraged him to interview people, and encouraged those people to be open and honest with him.  That I think is why this book was so good.  It was honest.

All geniuses are eccentric.  All you have to do is look back through history to see that the most brilliant minds are all a little “off” to a certain extent.  Steve Jobs was no different.  He was an LSD dropping hippie type dropout that didn’t shower much, had bizarre eating habits, tended to cry a lot, and had quite a knack for ignoring things that he didn’t want to deal with.  He basically abandoned his eldest daughter, denying responsibility for her for years.  He would walk up to something that someone had been working on for weeks, months, etc., and declare it “a piece of shit.”  He worked his people to the point of exhaustion to get a product launched within a time frame that he thought was acceptable, and was definitely not above losing it on a regular basis – sometimes for no apparent reason.

What he also possessed though, was an uncanny knack for knowing what worked.  He took one look at what Steve Wozniak was developing and knew that it was the start of something great.  A true minimalist, he appreciated beauty and simplicity in devices.  As most people who know about Apple know, he believed in a “closed” system, where the software and hardware are tightly linked.  In other words, Apple does not license it’s software to other companies like others (Microsoft, for example) do.  So if you want Apple’s software, you’re buying an Apple machine.  You’ll never see Apple’s software running on “some other company’s crappy machine.”  Personally, I prefer this, and believe that Apple makes beautiful devices.  Open platforms are advancing and many say that the gap between Apple and Android has been officially closed with the release of Android’s latest – Jellybean.  I’ve never had the opportunity to play with a device running Jellybean, so I can’t weigh in honestly.  Jobs though, had the idea that in order for the user to fully enjoy each device to its full capacity, Apple must have full control over the experience, from the software to the hardware, to the apps, etc.

It was so interesting to read about Jobs.  How his erratic behaviour and disagreements with various individuals got him ousted from Apple, and his journey back, his experiences with Pixar and Disney, and how he took a company that was basically 90 days from insolvency to being the most valuable company on the planet.  It is an amazing story, and from someone who owns these devices, such a wonderful opportunity to see the thought processes and the development that went into them.  It’s unbelievable to me that they were getting ready to launch the iPhone when they suddenly decided that it wasn’t right, and scrapped the whole design to start over.  Or that the iPad was actually already in the works before they launched the iPhone.

If you’re even remotely interested in tech and the life of Steve Jobs, I highly recommend this book.  It is a truly honest look at the man, the father, the husband, the friend.  It’s also a huge insight into the company that was the true love of his life – Apple.

I first saw the video below after Jobs had passed away.  It is from 2005, and it is a commencement address that Jobs gave for Stanford University.  The story behind how this speech got written is very cool and outlined in this book.  It is truly one of the most inspiring speeches I have ever heard and if you’ve never watched it before, I urge you to take the time to do so.

One of the most brilliant things Steve Jobs ever said was that he never did any market research. “The consumer doesn’t know what they want until we show it to them.  Henry Ford once said – ‘If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have told me they wanted faster horses.’ ”  True innovation – that’s what he was all about.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Book Review

I’ve asked people – have you ever heard of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot?  For every time I have asked that question, I get looked at like I’ve got three heads.

When I first heard about this book, I thought it was fiction.  I had no idea about what HeLa cells were or how they have changed the face of modern medicine.  Now I do, and I’m so glad I’ve read this book.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor mother of five, a black tobacco farmer from the south, who died in 1951 of cancer that started in her cervix, and ended up spreading throughout her body, taking over and killing her very quickly.  Of course at that time, the radiation treatment that was used was brutal, and the last few months of her life were horribly painful.

Unbeknownst to Henrietta or her family, before she died, some of her cells were taken from her cervix.  This was back in the time before it was necessary to tell patients that they were using their cells for research.  Before Henrietta’s cells, they were not able to make any stay alive for more than a few days.  With hers, not only did they stay alive, but they thrived, growing and growing, and allowing scientists to use them to do huge amounts of research on several diseases, including cancer and AIDS, as well as create the polio vaccine.  Her cells have been in outer space as well, taken up with astronauts.

All this went on without the knowledge of her family.  This book covers the life and death of Henrietta, as well as the authors discovery of HeLa cells, what they were and the fact that there was a woman behind them with a family.  It goes through the research process and the meetings she had with the family, particularly Deborah, Henrietta’s younger daughter, who longed to learn more about her mother and her older sister Elsie, who was sent away to an institution and died shortly after Henrietta did.

The family story is actually quite sad, and there is quite a bit of emphasis on how they never received any compensation for the use of their mothers cells.  It’s actually quite sad that the family of the woman who unknowingly changed the face of medicine, is unable to afford to go and see a doctor.

Very interesting, an enjoyable, fairly quick read.

Here We Go Again (Betty White) – Book Review

The book for June for my book club, the “Book Mistresses” was “Here We Go Again” by Betty White.  I have long been a very big fan of Betty White, having mostly known her for her role as Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls.

This book had some personal details surrounding her life, including her three marriages, two divorces, and the untimely death of her beloved Allen Ludden.  It mostly though, centered around her career, which makes sense as it was plugged as her life in television.  I found it interesting as she was basically around for the beginning of television, and has seen it evolve from a series of live, 10 minute programs, to what it is today.  She has seen the rise and fall of the sitcom as well.  As I said, I knew her mostly from The Golden Girls, so it was interesting for me to read about The Betty White Show (One through four) and her appearances on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show.

There were lots of pictures to look at, which were interesting, but all in all, I didn’t find that I heard her voice come through in the story.  It was there a bit, but it seemed more like Betty White telling a story as opposed to Betty White getting into the nitty gritty that is her life.  I was also a bit disappointed as there was not as much about The Golden Girls as I expected there would be.

Interesting, and if you’re a fan, worth reading.  I gave it 3/5 stars.