I checked out the new book Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli because there had been some interesting excerpts published to the web, and apparently those closest to Steve didn’t like the Walter Isaacson book, with Jony Ive saying “My regard [for Isaacson’s book] couldn’t be any lower.”
Along with about a million other people I bought and read the authorized biography, and didn’t think it portrayed Jobs in a way that made me think any less of him, but there must have been some things in there that someone who knew him closely felt were so off that as a group they decided to coordinate and speak with a new author to set the record straight, as Eddy Cue said of the new Becoming book, “Well done and first to get it right.” I will never know who Steve Jobs really was, but it is interesting to triangulate and learn from different takes, especially Isaacson’s biography that Jobs himself endorsed but might not have read and this new one promoted by his closest friends, colleagues, and family.
As an independent third party who doesn’t know any of the characters involved personally, I must say that I felt like I got a much worse impression of Steve Jobs from Becoming than from the authorized biography. It was great to hear the direct voices and anecdotes of so many people close to him that haven’t spoken much publicly like his wife Laurene — he was a very private man and his friends respect that. But the parts where Schlender/Tetzeli try to balance things out by acknowledging some of the rougher parts of Steve’s public life, especially the recent ones around options backdating, anti-poaching agreements, book pricing, (all overblown in my opinion) or even when trying to show his negotiating acumen with suppliers, Disney, or music labels, they make Jobs look like an insensitive jerk, which seems to be the opposite of what everyone involved was intending.
The direct quotes in the book could not be kinder, and it’s clear from both books that Jobs was incredibly warm, caring, and thoughtful to those closest to him, but Becoming tries so hard to emphasize that it makes the contrast of some of his public and private actions seem especially callous. The personal anecdotes from the author are the best part: one of the most interesting parts of the book is actually when Jobs calls Schlender to invite him for a walk, as one of the people he reached out to and wanted to speak to before he passed, and Schlender — not knowing the context — actually chastises him for cutting off his journalistic access and other trivia, and then blows off the meeting, to his lifelong regret.
It’s tragic, and it’s very human, and that’s what makes for great stories. No one suggests that Steve Jobs was a saint, nor did he need to be. His legacy is already well-protected both in the incredible results while he was alive, and even more so in what the team he built has accomplished since his passing, both periods which actually amaze and inspire me. Becoming Steve Jobs tries harder and accomplishes less to honor the man. It is worth reading if, like me, you gobble up every book around the technology leaders of the past 40 years and want a different take on a familiar tune, but if you were only to read one book about Jobs, and get the most positive impression of the man and his genius, I’d recommend Isaacson’s Steve Jobs.