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The Jobs book
By Dave Winer on Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 10:44 AM.

I'm having a tough time reading the Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson#

A picture named jobs.jpgThe reason is pretty simple, it's personal and painful and repetitive. Like Jobs, I was born in 1955, and up until 1979, there are a lot of parallels in our lives. I dropped out like he did, and did a lot of the same stupid stuff. There may even be some overlap in our personalities. But after 1979, when I moved to California, determined to be a software star, his story and mine overlap a lot. I was an Apple II, Apple III and a Mac developer. I've heard the stories of how wonderful Bill and Andy et al were and I know that a fair amount of of that is bullshit (actually a lot of it). This is one of those stories that is so big, so close to home, so well-rehearsed, so often repeated and over time has become fairly divorced from the realitiy that I lived.  #

The early years of Apple were hard years for everyone involved. We were young and stupid, and the world told us we were the super-exceptional people that Jobs apparently believed he was until he died. That's what makes this so hard to read. We weren't that special. It's just that the reporters had no clue how we did what we did, and to them, that made us geniuses. But what were doing is what any good engineer or marketer does. (One thing Isaacson does get right, is that it's the ability to combine tech and the humanities that's where the power is in this business. This is a very powerful and mostly unappreciated idea. A great book could be written about just that idea.) #

The ladder we chose to climb was a very short one, unlike the ones the reporters climb. To get to the top meant convincing one or two people we could make a contribution. And there were, at the time, so few people who knew how to create commercial software, that anyone with any skill at all could get employed. That meant there were a fair number of bozos working at Apple, for Steve. Even though he was supposedly such a great judge of character. And some of the people he threw away were actually pretty good, and as humans, deserved better than he gave. Their stories will not be told in such an exalted manner, but they might have made a difference, had Steve not been so Steve. #

A picture named bozo.jpgThe story about Dan Kottke is a heart-breaker, for example.  #

Also, while Isaacson is a good writer and a good reporter, he doesn't really understand how this stuff works. And you might think that's what it takes to explain it to someone who doesn't understand it, but I don't think so. So much of the Jobs story is how he related to people who actually made the products. If one doesn't understand the substance of those relationships, it's impossible to tell the story, imho. It would be like writing a romance without having ever experienced love. #

It's 2011. Surely there are reporters who go deeper into tech than Isaacson. Hopefully his source material is available for other authors to approach writing a biography of Jobs from a different perspective. #

I also don't support the author's belief that Jobs' life was strictly a net-plus for the human race. I think he stopped a lot of good things from happening. I once heard, second-hand, Jobs say of a developer who wanted to create software for the NeXT box that "We can't let just anyone develop for this machine." Even if Jobs didn't say those exact words, it's very consistent with the way he expressed himself. #

Anyway, the book, for me, is a combination of boring, frustrating and naive -- from my very insider point of view. I may put it down and hope that I live long enough to see those days as worth remembering. At that point I might enjoy reading this book. Right now I have work to do. :-) #

PS: I'm looking forward to the new Stephen King book that's coming out in a couple of weeks.  #

PPS: On Twitter, the question came up of who would I recommend to write a great Steve Jobs bio. I actually have a few ideas. 1. Robert X. Cringely. 2. Randall Stross. 3. Farhad Manjoo. 4. Ryan Tate. All of them write insightful must-read pieces about tech. Stross has the advantage of having already written a Jobs bio, while he was still at NeXT. It's the best tech book I've ever read. Also, 5. John Siracusa, who writes definitive reviews of Apple products, in some sense is already a Jobs biographer. The best Microsoft book I've read was by 6. David Bank. Great reporting, he really got to the core of what made Bill Gates tick, unlike most of the other books about Microsoft. I might also tap 7. Paul Andrews or 8. Dan Gillmor. There's probably also someone who writes for Tim O'Reilly who would be up to it.  #

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