**Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)

images-1Anyone who owns an Apple product should read this book. When I open this MacBook that I’m typing on, I feel like I know it, like it’s a person with its own biography. Its rounded corners, its disc drive with no pull out tray, its magnetically connected power cord—each of those features took months of design and discussion.  For Jobs, every decision, every detail was integral to the success of the product: to its functionality and its beauty.  He saw industrial design as art.  And those of us who use his products are the beneficiaries of his eye for perfection.  In the early 80’s, when computers were still clunky, bulky machines living mostly in university labs, Jobs hired Maya Lin, the 23 year-old artist who designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., and they talked about the personal computer as a thin laptop. That was over 30 years ago.

Jobs was a quirky, angry, brilliant perfectionist—a visionary.  He believed in people.  But only in really good people.  What he learned from his former boss is that A players like to work with A players.  As soon as you accept B players, then you’ll get more B players and some C players.  And then quality goes down.  It may be a ruthless strategy, but it works.  As a teacher working in an industry with plenty of C players (all of whom are paid as much as the A players), I understand Apple’s philosophy.  In education, no one loses their job, and no one has to be an A player.  And we wonder why so many A players choose engineering or finance or law over teaching?  If we kept the bar a bit higher—even 10% closer to Apple’s philosophy—we’d have much high quality in education.

To see the evolution of the Lisa, the Mac, a FireWire, the iPod, iTunes, and the iPhone is a fascinating journey.  And Isaacson’s writing is brutally honest.  This is not a Steve Jobs as God book.  We see his brilliance and creativity and energy, his unwitting will.  But we also see his brutality, his emotional weakness, his huge ego, and the way his family is often sacrificed for work.  We see the stress that may ultimately have caused his cancer.  Jobs is a perfectionist, but he is not perfect.  And nor are we.  There is much to criticize about him, but acknowledging that there is a limit to human capacity, I’m amazed by all that he created in his time in our world. As I silently swipe my iPhone to turn it on, I think about his insistence 20 years ago that such a device should not have a clunky on/off switch, and as my daughter buys yet another song from iTunes, I think about the hundreds of meetings he held with musicians to come to an agreement over the .99 single song. To journey through this book is to witness the emergence of products we use every day, products that are “the intersection of the humanities and technology.” It’s way cool.  (biography)

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