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Steve Jobs biography -- Isaacson blew it (daringfireball.net)
73 points by pmattos on Nov 15, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 103 comments

The complaints are not that the book isn't nice enough towards Jobs, but rather that Isaacson doesn't know enough about technology to make this interesting or insightful, nor did he try to educate himself before writing this book.

Isaacson is at his best when he dives into the more human and social aspects of Jobs's life. As soon as things get remotely technical, the book begins to fall a part. He misquoted Bill Gates as saying that the problem with the NeXT computer was that the optical drive had too low latency. Either Gates didn't say this and Isaacson got it backwards because he doesn't know any better, or Gates had a momentary slip of the tongue that Isaacson should have known enough about to correct.

Isaacson asserts that Apple did not use NeXT for the basis of OS X, which is just patently false (Isaacson also refers to OS X as OSX). He claims that Apple evolved the existing Mac OS into something NeXT like. The truth is that Apple took the NeXTStep operating system and added some classic Mac OS APIs and features to it. OS X wasn't a complete break from the past, but it's entire core and its Cocoa API (and objective-C) are pure NeXT.

Because Isaacson doesn't understand this distinction, he completely glosses over the importance of OS X to Apple's revival. Without OS X, Apple would probably be dead today or maybe just making portable music players. Classic Mac OS was not going to cut it and it was falling behind Windows.

Classic Mac OS was significantly worse than NT-based Windows OSes, and would have been completely crushed by XP. OS X, on the other hand, provided a viable alternative to XP and it successors. Apple has gained market share because of OS X and how good of a modern OS it is. The Classic Mac OS was about to sink the entire company.

There are plenty of other examples like this in the book. Isaacson also doesn't ask many followup questions or do in-depth research. The best researched parts of the book are the beginnings chapters which are based on previous books by other authors.

This is a good biography for people not that into technology, but for anyone remotely interested in the technology, it's not that good. I'd still give it a 6 or 7 out of 10, but it could have been so much more. This is the only guy who ever got this kind of access to Steve and the people close to him and he botched it.

I haven't listened to the podcast, but it sounds like one of the biggest nits they picked was that "Isaacson asserts that Apple did not use NeXT for the basis of OS X". Looking back through the book, I can't find that assertion, but I can find the following, at location 6379 of the Kindle version (the Kindle app tells me it's page 366):

"At the January 2000 Macworld in San Francisco, Jobs rolled out the new Macintosh operating system, OSX, which used some of the software that Apple had bought from NeXT three years earlier. It was fitting, and not entirely coincidental, that he was willing to incorporate himself back at Apple at the same moment as the NeXT OS was incorporated into Apple’s. Avie Tevanian had taken the UNIX-related Mach kernel of the NeXT operating system and turned it into the Mac OS kernel, known as Darwin. It offered protected memory, advanced networking, and preemptive multitasking. It was precisely what the Macintosh needed, and it would be the foundation of the Mac OS henceforth. Some critics, including Bill Gates, noted that Apple ended up not adopting the entire NeXT operating system. There’s some truth to that, because Apple decided not to leap into a completely new system but instead to evolve the existing one. Application software written for the old Macintosh system was generally compatible with or easy to port to the new one, and a Mac user who upgraded would notice a lot of new features but not a whole new interface."

Reading that, it seems to me he got it right, except for misspelling "OS X".

No, there is more than that. I don't have the Kindle version, so I can't easily search through the book. But he talks a bit about Avie Tevanian and that essentially that is what NeXT gave Apple.

If I get some more time, I'll try to find the exact passage, but it's different from the one you are citing. I'm fine with that one.

this is probably the other quote you're thinking of. it all seems to be from Gates' perspective, however. Isaacson fundamentally did not understand the relationship between nextstep and mac os x, that's for sure. it really is a dreadful book. i think some of these criticism are overblown tho. i doubt Isaacson is using "kernel of the NeXT technology" in the operating system sense, but who knows given how muddled it all is.


After informing Gassée that Apple was buying NeXT, Amelio had what turned out to be an even more uncomfortable task: telling Bill Gates. 'He went into orbit,' Amelio recalled. Gates found it ridiculous, but perhaps not surprising, that Jobs had pulled off this coup. 'Do you really think Steve Jobs has anything there?' Gates asked Amelio. 'I know his technology, it’s nothing but a warmed-over UNIX, and you’ll never be able to make it work on your machines.' Gates, like Jobs, had a way of working himself up, and he did so now: 'Don’t you understand that Steve doesn’t know anything about technology? He’s just a super salesman. I can’t believe you’re making such a stupid decision. . . . He doesn’t know anything about engineering, and 99% of what he says and thinks is wrong. What the hell are you buying that garbage for?' Years later, when I raised it with him, Gates not recall being that upset. The purchase of NeXT, he argued, did not really give Apple a new operating system. 'Amelio paid a lot for NeXT, and let’s be frank, the NeXT OS was never really used.' Instead the purchase ended up bringing in Avie Tevanian, who could help the existing Apple operating system evolve so that it eventually incorporated the kernel of the NeXT technology. Gates knew that the deal was destined to bring Jobs back to power. 'But that was a twist of fate,' he said. 'What they ended up buying was a guy who most people would not have predicted would be a great CEO, because he didn’t have much experience at it, but he was a brilliant guy with great design taste and great engineering taste. He suppressed his craziness enough to get himself appointed interim CEO.' """ Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (pp. 302-303). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

That's the passage. How could he not challenge Gates on that? Or clarify it. I'm not sure if he gets 100 percent what Gates is saying. This passage is just not accurate.

OS X's importance to Apple can't be understated. Apple, the company that kicked off the personal computer revolution and gave us the GUI, was behind technologically in the mid-1990s. Apple was in such bad shape that they had to buy someone else's OS. Can you imagine the current Apple allowing iOS to get into such bad shape that they have to buy someone else's mobile OS?

There is a big story there, and Isaacson doesn't touch it because he doesn't see the story. And this doesn't have to be a technical story.

It's a story that anyone can understand: Here is a tech company that didn't have good tech anymore. How did this happen and how did Jobs and NeXT save Apple with modern tech?

I haven't read the book, but is the thesis of this discussion that the book is fatally flawed because Isaacson didn't challenge Bill Gates on the details of how NeXTStep evolved into OS X? This doesn't really seem like THE crucial moment in the entire life of Steve Jobs.

It's an important part of Apple's story. It shows that Isaacson didn't get the important of NeXT to Apple and how the NeXT purchase saved Apple. It was more than just getting Jobs back.

A big question I'd have is, why did NeXT have so much better technology than Apple?

Updated with the entire quote. He seems to have a decent handle on it there.

I disagree. They kept just about all of NeXTSTEP, apart from the UI (but keeping browsers in the Finder, etc) and Display Postscript.

They kept the Mach stuff. They kept the Unix stuff. They kept Terminal.app so you could access the Unix stuff. They kept the Cocoa frameworks, Project Builder, and Interface Builder. They retained applications as file packages. They retained file extensions in favor of app/creator codes. They replaced interpreted DPS with Quartz. They changed the menu bar from floating tear-offs to a single menubar. They got rid of the Shelf on Finder windows.

What did they not use from NeXTSTEP/OpenStep that was of any significance? About all I can think of is YellowBox on Windows.

Where exactly does he say that they didn't keep that stuff?

"There’s some truth to that, because Apple decided not to leap into a completely new system but instead to evolve the existing one."

That's not really true. What they decided to do was build copious backwards compatibility with OS 9 into what was essentially NeXTStep and then re-skin the OS so it looked Mac-like. All the backwards compatibility stuff was essentially new, I believe, and not ports of the OS 9 internals.

You can maybe squint at that quote and say it's not really false, but it certainly doesn't get it right at the technology level.

I think it comes down to, which matters? I wrote code for OS 9 (via PowerMops, of all things), and for OS X (I shipped two major Cocoa apps), so I'll vouch for the fact that you are technically 100% correct. On the other hand, what became OS X had a radically different design than Rhapsody: even comparing OS X 10.0 to OS X 1.2, the former could run apps natively that could also run on OS 9, the former could read HFS+ filesystems, the former had apps like QuickTime, the former ran Classic apps that couldn't legitimately run natively right alongside the newer Cocoa/Carbon apps, the former had legacy APIs like OpenTransport that the latter lacked. You can argue, correctly, that, technically, OS X is more NeXTSTEP than Mac OS. But I'll give Isaacson some space. His misunderstanding is well within the bounds of what I experienced within the non-Apple programming community at the time. I'd cut him some slack.

"His misunderstanding is well within the bounds of what I experienced within the non-Apple programming community at the time."

Yeah, but you didn't have access to Steve Jobs. And Isaacson probably could have also talked to Bud Tribble, Avie Tevanian, Ali Ozer, etc.

Frankly, I'm not even sure why anyone would expect Gates to have any particular authoritative insight into OS X. Microsoft's concerns would have largely involved the effort of porting Internet Explorer and Office from Mac OS to OS X. Anything new in OS X that didn't require changes in their software could be ignored.

Does he, though? He's sort of saying that they evolved the existing system instead of jumping to a new one, but AFAIK OS X was NeXT with a compatibility layer, prettier GUI and some other changes. Saying that anyone upgrading from OS 9 would not see a whole new interface seems wrong to me.

I believe the confusion arises from the use of the term "existing one". That could be construed as referring to NeXT, so it would mean they decided to evolve NeXT by making changes to it over many years, instead of switching to it at once.

If you read "existing one" as Mac OS 9, then that sentence would mean a completely different thing.

Well, the text talks about NeXT first, and then suddenly talks about MacOS. When he says that Apple used _some_ of NeXTs software and goes on to talk about the kernel, it seems like he gets it wrong and doesn't really understand what OS X was.

If he had, he would have realized its significance. For instance, I can't recall that he mentions how iOS relates to OSX, and the advantages this brings to Apple. He never mentions that NeXT was compatible with PowerPC and Intel and that Apple would have a working, parallel release running on Intel hardware internally.

>Some critics, including Bill Gates, noted that Apple ended up not adopting the entire NeXT operating system. There’s some truth to that, because Apple decided not to leap into a completely new system but instead to evolve the existing one.

Is there somewhere where Bill Gates said "none of the NeXT code made it into OS X".

That's the impression I got the other day from this comment:


Quoting the relevant part:

>One example of this is Jobs talking about how NeXT's software gave the Mac new life. Isaacson says this is a lie, and then goes on to quote Bill Gates who says none of the NeXT code made it into OS X. Now, this is an obvious and bald faced lie on Gates' part, but Isaacson doesn't know any better. He's decided that Jobs is a liar, and therefore , whenever someone says anything that disagrees, it must be evidence that Jobs was lying.

>Reality is, OS X is NeXTSTEP with the Mac UI put on top of it, and at this point another 10 years of evolution. Gates was lying for whatever reasons Gates lies (and gates really is pathological in this regard).

From your quote from the book, Bill Gates seems to have said a very different thing, not sure one could call him a liar on that(even not allowing that people try to put a bad light on rivals).

> Is there somewhere where Bill Gates said "none of the NeXT code made it into OS X".

You're twisting Isaacson's words. He said:

> noted that Apple ended up not adopting the entire NeXT operating system

This doesn't mean none of NeXT's code made it in, it means not all of it.

But, putting aside the nitpicks, I, as a technical person, do not care much for the technical details. I'm much more interested in Jobs' hippie counter-culture history and his philosophical view than the technical details of which system was the more important precursor to OS X.

The book says Apple opted to evolve its existing operating system, which was OS 9. This strongly implies that NeXT's contribution was negligible, but even if you don't see it that way, there is just no reasonable way you can read it to make it true. Mac OS X was an evolution of NeXTSTEP, full stop. Even if OS X contained twice as much OS 9 code as it appeared to, it would still basically be NeXTSTEP.

To wit: Foundation, AppKit, the BSD underpinnings, Mail, TextEdit, Preview, the Dock and countless other components — even that silly beachball wait cursor! — were refugees from NeXT. Even Finder, which borrowed its name and some of its appearance from OS 9's Finder, was essentially a Carbon rewrite of NeXT's Workspace Manager.

I am not the one doing the purported twisting. Read the linked comment in my post above. My impression after reading that comment(written by someone else) was Bill Gates was quoted as saying that somewhere in the book(could be elsewhere for all I know).

I agree about NeXTSTEP, but it doesn't matter. Only geeks care about that stuff. Do you think Isaacson's goal was to simply tell Apple geeks what they already know?

The real value and insight that the book provides is the access to Jobs during the last years of his life, as well as the people who played important roles in Apple's resurgence during the last 10 years. To nitpick the minor technical details in the book is to completely miss the point.

> To nitpick the minor technical details in the book is to completely miss the point.

Which is why the criticism of those details appeared in the section of the podcast that Siracusa labelled as "minor nitpicks that didn't make the book necessarily bad, but which Siracusa was going to point out because this podcast is, after all, called Hypercritical".

The main thesis of the podcast is that the biography is bad because it's so facile.

You write:

> The real value and insight that the book provides is the access to Jobs during the last years of his life, as well as the people who played important roles in Apple's resurgence during the last 10 years.

But I disagree. It doesn't actually provide much of any value or insight, and does almost nothing with its access to Jobs.

Siracusa picks out a couple of the many good examples of where it completely just glosses over an interesting story that could have been combined with the unprecedented access to Jobs to develop some real insights.

One is the whole arc of Apple being involved in the founding of ARM, starting a mobile initiative with the Newton, divesting their shares of ARM, and eventually relying heavily on them in their new mobile technologies. What does Jobs think of this arc? Was the divestiture of their investment in ARM a mistake, looking back?

This book sure as hell doesn't know, because none of this even occurred to Isaacson. He merely writes that "Apple uses ARM chips in their mobile devices".

Isaacson writes of Apple "buying PA Semi and using them to build the A4 chips". Facile overview fluff. They bought them years prior to the mobile stuff. Why were they purchased? Was there a plan to roll their own PPC chips when they first bought them? How did the transition to Intel impact their role in the company, and what expertise are they bringing to mobile? Unexplored.

"Antennagate". Isaacson gives it a one sentence "engineers were worried that the housing might interfere with antenna operations". He doesn't use his access to Jobs to dig into the story. Why was the decision made to go ahead with it? What was Jobs thinking in the run up to the press conference? How did they decide to take the tone they did in dealing with the issue?

Isaacson doesn't dig into this because Isaacson doesn't dig into anything. He just lays out facile overviews of events that could have been gleaned from any publicly available tech coverage. He completely squanders the unique position he was in with respect to unprecedented access to Apple and Jobs.

> Was the divestiture of their investment in ARM a mistake, looking back?

Do you think there's an even remotely interesting, non-obvious answer to that question? And do we really need Steve Jobs to answer questions about PA Semi? Is that how you would spend your limited time with Steve?

Antennagate. Isaacson chose to focus on Jobs's the response to the problem, and I thought he did a great job. It is a book about Jobs after all, and for the most part I found it fascinating.

I can recommend better books about Apple history, but there are none better about the man himself.

> Do you think there's an even remotely interesting, non-obvious answer to that question?

I'm sure of it. The answers to those kind of multi-faceted, tradeoffs no matter which direction you favor questions are precisely what provide real insight into someone's character and decision making, and precisely what Isaacson failed to pursue.

> And do we really need Steve Jobs to answer questions about PA Semi? Is that how you would spend your limited time with Steve?

Getting answers to questions that no one else could answer about what his thoughts and motivations were for making moves that still aren't really understood by many observers? Absolutely.

It would be so much better than a 600 page mess of regurgitated material from folklore.org and fluffy, uncritical overviews of the last ten years.

Take the App Store. Isaacson devotes all of a couple of sentences to mentioning that Jobs was initially against it, but was talked around to the idea. He completely squanders a fascinating exploration of Apple, Jobs, the myth of Jobs as font of all of Apple's good ideas, and the dynamics of one of Apple's most critical successes in the last few years. What were his objections then, and what are his thoughts on it now? Who talked him into it, and how did that play out? How did they approach the idea once Jobs was convinced?

We get no investigation, no insight, nothing of value. Just a declarative sentence from Isaacson stating the obvious, and it's on to the next facile overview.

Each one of these decisions involved numerous other people; these stories are still out there ready to be told. I would ask Siracusa why he, as a tech journalist, has not run down more of these stories himself.

I disagree. If Isaacson can't get these details right, which other details are wrong? And if he doesn't know the facts, does he know the right questions to ask?

I'd argue that because Isaacson doesn't understand OS X and how much different it is than OS 9, he doesn't understand how important it is to the company. Without OS X, there is no iOS. I'm not asking him to write a technical book, but I do feel that if he understood some of these points better, he might have asked Jobs about them and pushed him more on these topics.

The end of life stuff is certainly interesting. I do wish on that front as well that he would have asked more questions of professionals about whether or not it would have made a difference if Steve Jobs didn't act like Steve Jobs. It's sort of implied that Steve's diet (and at times lack thereof) may have inhibited his ability to fight the cancer. Isaacson doesn't really push Steve on this or consult with professionals on it either.

I disagree. The book could have been a seminal historical document of a major actor in business and technology of the late 20th century and start of the 21st century, the sort of thing that people could turn to for decades.

But if it's barely better than a celebrity bio, and didn't ask the relevant questions, then it's an opportunity missed.

Let's face it: yeah, the 'human interest' story of Jobs' fight with cancer is interesting and will sell books, but it's not what was of value for history.

If you read about George Washington, generally you want to know about the Revolution and the founding of the US, not his final illness and the bleeding treatments he underwent that may have killed him.

Too bad Jobs didn't pick someone a) more technical, and b) more experienced writing bios of living people.

OSX vs OS X is an editorial failure. Unless Isaacson self-published the book and let no-one view it beforehand, of course.

OS X is technically correct, but it's 202M hits on Google for OS X vs 82M for OSX. As far as I'm concerned both are widely used by technical and non-technical people and mean the same thing. It's a tiny mistake that could be fixed in one second, why are we even mentioning it in the context of Isaacson allegedly blewing the biography?

A Google search is hardly the way to resolve that. OS X searches for anything with OS or X whereas OSX only searches for things with OSX so of course the former has more hits.

I mean you're right that it's technically "OS X", but your methodology for proof is flawed.

a search for:

os x

does what you say, but a search for

"os x"

does what the GP says, and matches with the numbers cited, too.

While Jobs didn't have any direct control over the biography, he did spend hundreds of hours with Isaacson and certainly would have mentioned things that he would have wanted in the book, technical and otherwise; and Isaacson certainly would have included more technical details if Jobs had mentioned them over and again during interviews.

The fact of the matter is, though, that the nitty-gritty technical details are just not part of the picture for Jobs. Jobs picked at tiny details only when designers and engineers did something wrong or did something didn't lend itself to Jobs' greater artistic vision. If you're interested in exceptional technical detail, Jobs just would not have been your man.

And let's face it, if you're interested in the technology. there will be dozens of engineers and a limitless number of other writers that can write about those matters later. Gross technical detail is just not seeing the forest for the trees; and if you don't realize that fact, then you are someone that would have probably have been met with Jobs' scorn.

The title of the book is "Steve Jobs", not "Apple". I think Isaacson did a good enough job of capturing Steve Jobs the person. Missing some technical details about Apple isn't a huge deal to me. I already know them and if I didn't, I don't think I'd care.

I was much more interested in getting some perspective on Jobs the person, how he acted, how he thought, and why he behaved like he did, not some rehashing of resent technical history that is already well known.

Much like Apple's products, this book was created for the masses, not the engineers.

It sounds like some people were looking for a hagiography. I for one very much liked the biography - the fact that Isaacson made efforts to present all sides of the story is greatly valuable even though it makes the book a bit depressing to read.

I think the other issue is that the book being a bit too factual and multifaceted doesn't go well with the opinionated audience.

This is not at all what the criticism Gruber linked to is about. At all. Not even a tiny bit.

To be fair, this discussion isn't about that link. It's about Gruber's post, which is almost content-free. When you start a discussion with a link to a blog linking to a blog, you need to be prepared for things to get a little far afield.

And I'll admit: I'm detecting (both in Gruber's post and in the discussion here) an awful lot of simple anger at Isaacson coming out as needless nitpicking (c.f "He mispelled OS X!" above. Seriously?).

I don't think anybody was expecting a hagiography; Jobs has too many failures and flaws for any biographer to write that book. But just because Isaacson captured how Steve Jobs could be both terrible and compelling doesn't mean Isaacson succeeded. He didn't. He missed the point entirely about why people want to read about Jobs. We didn't buy the book to learn about Jobs' strained relations with his children or what he remembers about ex-girlfriends from 30 years ago. We bought it to find out how he managed to be the right guy in the right place at the right time, time and time again, realigning entire industries to his interests.

Isaacson had a chance to uncover what made Steve Jobs tick. To understand how Jobs made the company that made the iPhone, the iPad, the Mac, and put giant footprints on the PC, music, filmmaking, and telecom industries. Instead we got armchair psychology and a rehash of "he's demanding to the point of being unbearable but he usually makes good calls." Why could Steve Jobs create Apple and not anybody else? He's not the only visionary in Silicon Valley and certainly not the only asshole. So why, with unprecedented access to Jobs and everyone he's worked with, could Isaacson not tell us anything new?

Maybe if you think Jobs wasn't anything special, just a fortunate narcissist, you'd be satisfied with the book. Obviously he'd be nothing without people, like Woz, Hertzfield, Tribble, Tevanian, Ive, Catmull, Lasseter, and many others who did incredible work that he could never do himself. But even that perspective leaves the question of why so many geniuses did their best work when they worked with Jobs.

Isaacson doesn't even address how Jobs learned how to run companies. I'd argue that the pivotal moment for this occurs during the NeXT days, covered by Isaacson only superficially. But NeXT is clearly the turning point of Jobs' career. Everything he did up till and including NeXT ended in flames. But after, it's success after success. How then did he finally manage to not alienate everybody and go down in a blaze of glory? How did he hang onto his team from NeXT use them to remake Apple? Not to mention Isaacson failed to understand that how NeXT's system became the foundation of everything important Apple has done since (OS X and iOS are both direct descendants of NeXT's OS).

Nor do we learn about how he worked with any of his trusted lieutenants besides Ive, like Tim Cook, Avie Tevanian, Phil Schiller, or Scott Forstall. We don't even get a sense of why they stuck by him or bought into his vision. We get some insight into the Woz relationship, but still not why they succeeded when others failed.

Isaacson had the chance to tell the story of a remarkable life in business, but he demurred. Judged against the life it chronicles, Isaacson's book is a failure.

So you come in with a preconceived notion of what the book should be about, and then complain that it isn't that. Don't judge a book by it's cover! Most people do buy a biography to learn "about [their] strained relations with their children" etc. The business side of his life has already been covered endlessly by so many people- a book about that would uncover nothing new.

It is a biography. Not a special book dedicated to helping create Steve Jobs clones. Biography by definition is an account of someone's life written by someone else. So that means it has to include Jobs' relationships along side other things.

And you are asking for too much in the rest of your comment - give me a break. Has anyone ever succeeded in duplicating someone great by copying what the person originally did? Isn't it all about originality, opportunity, luck and other intangible stuff? If I were to ask why did Einstein "get" theory of relativity and not someone else - what would be the answer to that kind of question? How would you even begin to answer it? It's ridiculous - no offense though.

And I guess you forgot that Jobs emphasized "intuition" over rationalism several times in the book. Are you now going to ask Isaacson missed asking him "how to have intuition" or "how to be at the right place at the right time"?

You aren't going to get those sort of answers - if you did, and if that sort of thing was actually useful, everyone would be Steve Jobs and everyone could be Einstein. Life and achievements are not imitable as much as you would like to think so.

For a biography the book does a decent job - if you are asking for something entirely different from a biography it's hardly the author's fault.

Your strawman argument here against everyone in the world besides you is almost adorable.

False Dichotomy. Isaacson didn't present "all sides", he only presented one side, which was his uninformed and ignorant opinion. Often he would quote Steve saying something and then say "but that's a lie" or "that's the reality distortion field talking", or "even Steve seems to believe the reality distortion field", as if he (Isaacson's) opinion of the truth was sacrosanct and what Steve (The guy who was present for the events) was saying was obviously false because Steve is "well known" to have a "reality distortion field". At best, Isaacson quotes people who are uninformed or being dishonest in "proving" that Jobs is wrong-- most hilarious example was quoting Bill Gates claiming that none of NeXTSTEP made it into OS X. Apparently Isaacson wasn't aware enough hot the issues to realize how absurd that claim is.

IF the book had presented all sides, say, quoted Steve, and then Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld on an issue and then gotten Woz's or Raskin's opinion of who was right, and Steve, Bill and Andy disagreed in what they said, and the reader was given the opportunity to decide for themselves what the truth was... then that would be "presenting all sides." However, I can not think of a single incident where Isaacson quoted more than one person, and in most cases he just asserts that Steve is lying.

The truth is, there is no "Reality Distortion Field". The term itself is a joke. The claim that Steve can get away with lying is a piece of propaganda that has ben perpetuated for decades by Apple haters. (and they have to, because the people who hate Apple are jealous because Apple produces better products, they can't really bash Apple for being better, so they have to resort to smears.)

I've paid close attention, and in every case of Steve Jobs saying something that people claimed was a lie, I've yet to find one where he publicly tells a flat out lie. He's been wrong in his opinions, but that's quite different than lying.

For instance, he was quoted as saying that "people don't read anymore"... haters claim this means that he claimed Apple would never make a kindle competitor, but that's not what he said. He identified a core problem that the kindle, and later Apple, were trying to solve. That's not a lie-- people don't read anymore, compared to how much they used to read in the past.

People lying about Steve Jobs-- as Isaacson does-- does not change the facts about what Steve Jobs said and did.

I know that's the strategy. For decades haters have been lying about the PARC visit, and claiming that Apple "Stole" from PARC. They simply ignore the fact that Apple got a license agreement from Xerox, paid Xerox in pre-IPO Apple shares, and that the whole thing was on the up and up. They feel that if they just repeat this lie, over and over, and in every context, even when places where it isn't relevant, they win every argument. In fact, it has gotten to the point where some apple haters really are completely ignorant-- they've just heard the lie that Apple stole the GUI from Xerox (impossible since there was no GUI at Xerox at the time, in fact) enough time that they think they can repeat it and not be held accountable. Here on Hacker News, one actually said to me "Its widely accepted that Apple stole the GUI from Xerox, why do you even bother disputing this fact?" .... when it is not a fact at all.

Now these same people are spreading the lie that Google is Open while Apple is closed. Truth: Both Apple and Google release the operating system as open source, and both Apple and Google keep as closed source the application layer where their proprietary apps live. For Apple, that's the UI, for google that's the Google Apps. The Lie: Touch screens have existed for years before the iPhone: The truth: Multi-touch is a new, non-obvious, and very innovative invention.

You can't change reality be repeating a bunch of lies over and over and over and over and over.... but you can make a lot of uninformed people believe it. And that's the goal.

Unfortunately, Isaacson's book perpetrates many of these lies, despite having access to the sources of truth.

I don't think Isaacson is an Apple hater... I just think that he felt there was more profits for himself by feeding the myth of Steve Jobs, rather than biographying the real Steve Jobs.

Edit: Whoops. Bill Gates was "claiming", not "flaming"!

Apple stole from PARC the same way MS stole MS-DOS: even though it was above board, they got such a good deal that it might as well have been theft.

Do we really need to bring up "Apple stole from Xerox" and "Google vs. Apple"? It isn't like we are in need of hearing more about either issue. I like your points about that book, but it get derailed by weird asides that don't really add much.

Edit: And if you really need proof of a single lie, here is a fairly baldfaced one: http://imgur.com/DsBxN

Like cooldeal, I really can't tell if this is a troll or not, so I'm not going to even bother picking apart the dozens of inaccuracies.

FWIW, I too refrained from replying because of the same reason - felt too much like trolling to fall for the trap.

Not sure if I am replying to a troll(plus much of the above is copy/paste or very similar to an earlier comment from you).

>they've just heard the lie that Apple stole the GUI from Xerox (impossible since there was no GUI at Xerox at the time, in fact)

The Apple haters also seem to uploading fake videos of a old Xerox GUI on Youtube! /sarcasm



> Both Apple and Google release the operating system as open source, and both Apple and Google keep as closed source the application layer where their proprietary apps live. For Apple, that's the UI, for google that's the Google Apps

Sorry, Google Apps is not an application layer, however you wish it would be.

They had no real GUI in the 70ies, it was a terminal with mouse control. The GUI comes at the end of the 70ies, beginning 80ies and the guys from Apple came over, at that time, to see the concepts and prototyps.

From there, they started their own GUI metaphor.

I like the part in the video, when the guy inserts this big magnetic storage :D

As for Apple, the kernel is open source, but the whole Cocoa layer is closed. As for Android everything must be open, apart from the Google applications. Or not?

>they've just heard the lie that Apple stole the GUI from Xerox (impossible since there was no GUI at Xerox at the time, in fact)

I have always thought Xerox had a GUI at the time and didn't know I was being misled.

Someone help with more info or references on this?

My complaint about the bio is that Isaacson had exclusive access to Jobs for at least a dozen multi-hour sessions, and yet there's actually very little content in the bio that hasn't already been retold through other sources. What I hadn't already heard could have probably filled one chapter. It doesn't matter that Isaacson isn't tech-minded; any competent reader can deduce the correct meanings from his mistakes. Nor is it being too positive or negative toward Jobs, as the reader can make their own conclusions from other sources anyway. It's that he seems to have squandered the only opportunity anyone had to obtain more information about Jobs' life.

Maybe media's access to Jobs was bigger than everyone thought, after all.

Maybe. I don't really know, I'm just hypothesizing.

I read the other comments here and found them lacking significantly. It seems that many folks did not actually listen to the full podcast (available here: http://5by5.tv/hypercritical/42).

Personally, I am usually extremely skeptical of Gruber and about as far from an "Apple fanboy" as you can get. I also approached the show very skeptically. However, the critique in the podcast was very good. The technical and factual errors and the shallowness and the retelling are all things that many others have pointed out and they are all good points. But the critique makes a bigger point:

Namely, that Isaacson did not do his job of actually giving us important new insights into what and how Steve Jobs "ticked." There are some great examples of that point towards the end of the podcast. For instance, the point about the ad hominum fallacy is fantastic and I really wish Steve was called on that and we had a deeper understanding of what he really thought. Or the various examples of Apple building its strategy from the ground up rather than the image that the media likes to paint of Steve Jobs as the all-knowing ship captain who knows and foresees everything.

It's all too bad because I think we as a society and of course Silicon Valley in particular could have benefited tremendously from a deeper exploration of Steve Jobs.

My main complaint from the book is that Isaacson injects his own opinion too strongly and too often. He writes it like a novel, with him guiding us to the conclusions he has prepared for us. Instead I would have preferred it be written like a well-written wikipedia entry, with numerous sources presented and the reader being granted the freedom to come to his own conclusions. This bothered me much more than any technical inaccuracies.

I think this touches on a larger social issue. I believe that the younger generation is more sensitive to being manipulated about what to think and feel. Before the internet, we relied on experts to present us with the facts and the conclusions; there is now greater awareness that there are always multiple sides to any story, and we prefer hearing all of them before making up our minds.

As an example, I recently watched an investigative journaling television show with my parents about the dangers of laser eye correction. I was struck by how unaware they were of the different methods that were being used in the show to guide their opinions (music, poor-quality hidden cameras, etc). To me, I wasn't given nearly enough objective facts to come to any sort of conclusion, but to my parents, the conclusions presented by the experts were enough.

Isaacson writes like an expert, but we don't want an expert, we want a fact-gatherer.

I thought it was a bit too fawning. Isaacson's thesis is exactly the one Jobs wanted to build: that Steve was at the intersection of technology and humanity and succeeded. This theme is ever-present and is included at the end with Steve's own words. A more critical book might have investigated more whether that is true rather than rehashing a lot of stories that I had already read.

I loved the book anyway.

Really? While I have high regard for Jobs' many accomplishments, after reading (or more accurately, listening) this book, I didn't end up with nearly as much regard for him as a human being.

The gist of the complaints seem to be that the bio is about Steve Jobs and not more about specific Apple events (maybe they missed the title?) and that Isaacson's editors didn't catch a few typos in their rush to publish soon after the death of Jobs.

I think the gist of it rather seems to be that the lack of technical knowledge means that there's a lot of insights into Steve Jobs thinking that isn't there because Isaacson doesn't know which questions to ask and what stuff to research. After all, that is part of what made Jobs noteworthy. The book is full of detailed examples from early Apple history, but that's only because they've been well documented by other people.

Likewise, he barely touches on Jobs personal beliefs and his connection to Zen Buddhism. Wouldn't it be interesting to ask Jobs more about that? We only get a few quotes, the most substantial is lifted from his graduation speech.

Yes true, but I suspect publishing was rushed forward due to his untimely passing, and thus there was not adequate time to elaborate on some of the personal things we'd all like to know more about. I am satisfied with the book, but I do hope that Isaacson publishes his notes or better yet, his recorded interviews, down the road.

I know that a lot of people state Isaacson's lack of knowledge in the technical area as a failing but I must disagree fully with the fact that the book is anything but a revelation.

For weeks afterwards, Hacker News and pretty much every other news resource on the internet was full of posts about how Steve Jobs had affected people, almost all were positive.

This book, although at times, the design genius of Job's shines forth, paints a very realistic picture of this demanding, hurtful person who painted a picture of how he wanted his own life to be, and never erred from that. Although said like that it seem's like a very driven goal, he neglected those he was supposedly close to, while again and again putting his need for perfection in front of everything including his own flesh and blood.

I completely disagree with the post, and think Isaacson unveiled the true person behind the visionary and wonderful facade.

I finished this bio a few weeks ago, and I remember just a sense of wanting more. There were a few parts I found very painful to get through, and I felt that some of the early apple II/Lisa/Macintosh stuff paraphrased from Folklore.org. I also kind of feel that Isaacson kept his analysis and insight into Steve very superficial. I wanted to know more about how he thinks than was presented. More about his creative process, more about his philosophy on design. While these subjects were addressed to some extent, they were very superficial and high level. I also recognize that I may not be the typical person who reads this, as I have spent time reading folklore.org and other sources. On the whole though, I just feel that it did miss they mark a bit.

I think he's being "hypercritical" literally, I also think that Gruber and Siracusa are more like jealous that they didn't get to write the book (not that they qualify for that job).

The book is not perfect but we (the tech community) are not the target.

I haven't finished listening to the podcast highlighted in this post but a point to note is that the book was rushed into print which may have affected the Isaacson's writing quality.

It's written in the bare prose of a journalist. It's not bad writing, but it's not the kind of writing that is enjoyable to read for the sake of how well it is written. It reads like a string of a newspaper or magazine pieces strung together.

I suspect the many typos and small errors were caused by the book being rushed, however.

Ah, god. Please stop posting this garbage. He says barely anything (usually a rant with little details or insight) and people eat it up. Gruber is a dramatic fanboy.

I'm reading and it's good so far, what is everyone complaining about? So far it seems unbiased, instead of the typical heroic novel you get in most other biographies.

I listened to the podcast over the weekend.

In a nuthsell, Isaacson doesn't understand computing, or the computing industry, and so he let a lot of errors in (OS X contains no NEXT code) and spends a lot of time focussing on things that don't matter.

It's more important because he was the one and only guy that was given that much access and he blew it. He didn't ask hard questions, he didn't perform a lot of research; all the bits in the book that seem extensively well researched were cribbed from other sources (hello folklore.org!) and for everything else he takes people at their face value.

He didn't ask hard questions, he didn't perform a lot of research; all the bits in the book that seem extensively well researched were cribbed from other sources (hello folklore.org!) and for everything else he takes people at their face value.

I think you've just summed up modern mainstream journalism.

This is really it. For a journalist, I would have expected him to ask my questions, push back at Steve more and do more research.

I actually found the first half of the book more engaging than the second half. I think part of it was that the second half felt rushed - Isaacson covered too many things without going into much detail for any of them and he made more grammatical mistakes.

My main stylistic gripe, however (which Gruber mentioned on The Talk Show), was that you couldn't tell if Jobs' quotes from the interviews or from the time the events were taking place.

The book was originally scheduled to come out early next year, I believe, and was moved up to late October around the time Steve resigned. The publishers wanted the bio to coincide (read: cash-in on) with Steve's death and we got a rushed product.

"Hypercritical" is a great name for that podcast. Over an hour of nitpicking was more than I could stomach. I haven't finished the book, but what I've read wasn't that bad.

Is there a transcript? Or, alternatively, can anyone recommend some speech recognition software that could facilitate transcription?

>Isaacson blew it, a one-time opportunity forever squandered.

I wish someone had given Jobs the fizzbuzz test and reported the results.

Looking forward to reading this book but thought the podcast was interesting.

Gruber blew it. This is a bunch of nonsense.

With all due respect, I disagree. This book was widely anticipated and given the unprecedented access that Isaacson had to Jobs' family and Apple execs past and present, this book was mediocre at best.

Personally I was really looking forward to it, when I started reading the book I kept making allowances, thinking that maybe I was expecting too much. I don't read many biographies, so perhaps this is how it's done, after all, the Author wrote an apparently well regarded biography on Einstein.

But Siracusa nails it, when he says most people don't understand theoretical physics, so a biographer can get away with not understanding the stuff that Einstein is famous for (paraphrase). The same is not true for tech, it's forgivable to not know this stuff, but it is unforgivable that seemingly he didn't even try, as evidenced by his obvious lack of insight into the motivations of the man he was writing about.

I would love to see someone like Gruber or Siracusa write the definitive biography of Steve Jobs, because the Isaacson biography isn't that book.

Any transcript of the podcast available so that people at work can actually read what he's talking about?

Siracusa's chief complaint is that Isaacson doesn't have enough insight into the tech world, or technology in general.

The book also just not outstandingly written. The first half is also stuff that's pretty much known from other books or sources, so if you've read a lot about Apple or Steve Jobs, there's nothing really new.

Siracusa's chief complaint is that Isaacson doesn't have enough insight into the tech world, or technology in general.

I'm just speculating, but maybe that is the reason why Jobs chose Isaacson.

In the same way Apple products are designed not for nerds, but the "rest of us", perhaps Jobs wanted the same for his biography.

Brilliant reply. Most people don't want to read about technical pieces and when they are presented with them, they will most likely flip past.

It's not much of a complaint to say that a biography about a famous man about whom a great deal has been written contains some well-known stuff.

Except that the other half, the less know, was lazy and shallow.

5by5 doesn't have transcripts. However, here's the links to the two podcasts Gruber is referring to:

Hypercritical 42 - http://5by5.tv/hypercritical/42 The Talk Show - http://5by5.tv/talkshow/66

Careful when you listen... the entire network of podcasts is highly addictive (if you're into podcasts).

I'd suggest that the podcast is worth listening to.

It's slow moving, but once Siracusa gets rolling, you can taste his frustration with the crappy job that Isaacson did with it.

edit: typo.

Can't find a transcript, but on the podcast (http://5by5.tv/hypercritical/42) the biography talk starts at about 18:00

I think you guys are blowing it.. ISaacson blew it not because he goofed on tech details.. but because he put forth a failed thesis that a human being that fails at enjoying and passing on humanity to others somehow succeeded at device items to change humanity..

In comparison, the founder of Be Inc and MS come closer to matching Isaacson's thesis than Jobs does..

TLDL; Jobs biography not fawning enough for Apple fanboys.

The complaints include that Isaacson used "spike it" in reference to killing a story, without explaining it, and that Isaacson wrote "ATM machine" in the book - which if not originally correct, is clearly in popular use today (see also "PIN number").

Clear, penetrating, insightful grammar criticism from Gruber.

Did you listen to the podcast?

The main complaints were:

1) Isaacson doesn't know anything about the tech industry.

2) Despite knowing he doesn't know anything about the industry he's writing about, he didn't even try to learn anything about it, and it shows.

3) Because of 1) and 2), Isaacson solely focuses on everyday stuff that any lay-person can relate to; this is all fine and well and the anecdotes add color to any biography, but when it is the sole focus of the biography of a man who is interesting precisely because of what he did in and to the tech industry, it entirely misses much of the point of what people find interesting about his life.

4) As the only guy who ever had direct access to Jobs, he should have used that privilege to dig into more of the reasoning of why Jobs did many of the things he did in the industry, not to write some People-magazine style fluffy personal interest story.

5) On a nitpickier level, what little technical detail it contains is often flat-out wrong, like the claim that OS X didn't use or contain any of the software developed at NeXT.

You cherry picked two minor quibbles – both of which the quibbler (John Siracusa, not Gruber) admitted were minor – which were part of a litany of complaints about the book. He has so many problems with it that he didn't even finish in a single sitting.

Clear, penetrating, insightful criticism, indeed.

Maybe I'm just a slow reader but according to amazon the book is 656 pages long, I've never read a book of that length in a single sitting.

He didn’t finish his complaints in one seventy minute podcast.

It’s actually a great and hilarious podcast – independently of what you think about Jobs. Siracusa is in his element.

Ah, that's reassuring! I was worried I would be relegated to the HN 'slow readers class' :)

I'll try and listen to it later, although I've never read the book. Reading stuff about people usually doesn't interest me, besides the obvious computer stuff is jobs really a particularly interesting guy? I know he did allot of drugs but so have about half the people I know socially.

If you want to listen to the podcast skip to 18:00. That’s when Siracusa starts with the book review. All the other stuff can be safely ignored if you are a first-time listener.

It may have been Siracusa's finest hour. He should start a book review podcast series called "OCD Book Reviews."


Perhaps it is not good form to comment on a podcast you didn't listen to...?

edit: As a response I take TLD[R|L] to mean "it was too long so I didn't bother", however I have also seen it (more recently) as a summary to one's own long text. I took the above comment to mean the former.

A "TLDR" is written by someone who HAS read something for the benefit of those who haven't. Thus, TLDL, when followed by an explanation (as in this case) is implied to be written by someone who HAS listened.

(Note that there is a difference between posting "TLDR." to mean "I have not read this" and posting a "TLDR:" or "TLDR;", which means "I have read this long thing, and am trying to be helpful." It is, understandably, a confusing distinction.)

tldr is 'too long, didn't listen', not 'too long, don't listen'. It means that the person didn't finish reading it, not that they're exhorting you do not read it. Some people even put tldr summaries at the end of their own longwinded passages

Oh man, this is beautiful!

A clear cut demonstration that it’s sufficient to write Gruber on anything and some people will completely irrationally hate it, hate it, hate it.

It's funny, you can put "Yegge" at the top and people will complain about it being too long. Even his tweets are over 6000 words.

  > TLDL; Jobs biography not fawning enough
  > for Apple fanboys.
FYI, that book is anything but fawning.

The person you are replying to was suggesting that since the book "is anything but fawning," as you say, the "fanboy" critics are upset. The OP, in other words, already knows what you are telling him; in fact it was the basis of his comment.

(I don't even necessarily agree with the OP, but there seems to be some rushed reading/lack of comprehension in this thread [not just you!] and I thought I'd correct this one.)

The book is very gossipy and does a decent job with Jobs messy personal life, but he completely failed to capture Jobs' and Apple's impact on the industry.

My favourite bits of the book were the bits dealing with his personal life. It's a side of Steve that was never really revealed before.

That book is still being written, no?

I think it is time to move on with the critique of Jobs' bio and life.I read the whole bio and the net net I got out of it is that

1)Awesome design not just has aesthetic value but also a lot of practical business value

2)Focus Focus Focus on a few things to make them as perfect as possible - may be expensive in the short run but generally pays off in the long run

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