Steve Jobs: Mind, Big Mind and Brain

Publicado el domingo, 8 de abril de 2012

Book review

Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Shunryu Suzuki

Inside Steve’s Brain
Leander Kahney

In 1985 my father bought the original Macintosh computer, with 128Kb RAM. Since then I followed mac rumours in various incarnations over the years. First reading Tidbits faithfully and in the last couple of years reading the various mac rumor sites. That Mac in many, many ways shaped my love for technology, but also my expectation that technology products should ‘just work’.

I remember having to hide my dismay at the clunkiness of the first windows versions when friends proudly showed it on their computers taking more than half their student dorm desks. And I remember thinking about taking a loan to buy apple stock as a student when the bottom fell out of Apple stock. I had no mind for money back then, but the memory sticks because it was the first time I thought about the difference between what I felt a company was worth, and how it performed on the market.

With that background Silverstein´s biography of Steve jobs read like a guide to museum I had visited many times on my own. You walk past the same works on display, with the difference that there is now somebody knowledgeable with whom to pause by the highlights explaining hidden details and treasures. I enjoyed having the story told more fully and with much more context than was every available to me through the on-line channels and magazines that I read over the years.

Bar some nit picky details of a typo here and there and some repetition it is a great book to read, that covers, and to some extend closes, the history of the personal computer. Now that we supposedly are in a post-PC era, it is a timely and fun book to read. But what is does not do is give sense of understanding of Jobs as a person, entrepreneur and innovator. There is a cool distance between the writer and the subject, which to me felt like a barrier to full understanding.

So somewhat left with a wish to understand better, I picked up the first book on Zen I could lay my hands on. Zen Mind, Beginners Mind is a wonderful book that is superbly written and edited. The text flows with a calmness and incisiveness befitting it’s subject. It made me wonder why Isaacson does not report anything at all about Jobs’ practice of Zen. Saying he had a Zen teacher as spiritual advisor is only a little bit of the story, it leaves us wondering whether he took out the time to practice zazen during the day.

Jobs’ energetic expressiveness, trust on intuition and consistent display of emotion all can be construed as befitting a life centered on Zen Bhuddist values. But if it is, then Isaacson does not bring us nearer to an understanding of Jobs from that perspective. Instead he becomes annoying sometimes about the repetitions of the line “Jobs started crying” and prefers to dish up tasty tid-bits about acid dropping and hippie weirdness. Without love for the character he writes about these repetitions become trite.

Although it is a very different book, both in style, and in the willingness of his publisher to pay for a good copy-editor, there is much more love for Jobs’ and for Apple in Kahney’s book. This being the third book in the row of this reading session, I was surprised how similar this book is to that of Isaacson. Kahney clearly had no access to Jobs or to his family and family archive, so we do not have an in depth description of the personal aspects of Jobs’ life. But the amount of quotes in the business story that are one-on-one the same in the book by Isaacson is striking. With the unparalleled access and budget that Isaacson had to research his book one would have imagined he would be able bring much more meat to the bone of the business side of the story than a dedicated journalist with only an outside view.

If you are interested in how Job’s and Apple worked, then Kahney is a great additional read. Of course Ive uses sophisticated 3D printers to create prototypes and not only Styrofoam as Isaacson could have lead us to believe. Of course Job’s was only able to reduce Apple work force in the numbers required because he could build on the mass lay-offs that Amelio started. But you will still want to read Isaacson’s version to get an inside look at the deal-making with record companies that made iTunes.

Unfortunately Kahney’s book is one of those that got really short-changed by the publisher on copy-editing. And the result is a book with sometimes many typo’s and substantial repetition. However, the repetition is made up for more than a little by the content of the book itself. Kahney clearly enjoys the subject matter, has followed the historical and business processes closely and is able to bring his message across in a very clear manner. The small “What Would Steve Do” sections at the end of each chapter are short and interesting enough to be enjoyable.

However Apple came to be, and whichever way it will grow in the future, I will be among the first to order the new 15″ MacBook Pro as soon as it comes out. I expect to be as happy and inspired unpacking a new Apple computer as I have been every single time for the past 17 years.