Updated: October 25, 2011 03:36 IST

Steve Jobs' autobiography: a chronicle of a complex genius

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In this 1998 file photograph, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is seen holding an iMac computer.
AP In this 1998 file photograph, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is seen holding an iMac computer.

“Steve Jobs” (Simon & Schuster), by Walter Isaacson, takes off the rose-coloured glasses that often follow an icon's untimely death and instead offers something far more valuable: The chronicle of a complex, brash genius who was crazy enough to think he could change the world and did.

Through unprecedented access to Jobs with more than 40 conversations, including long sessions sitting in the Apple co-founder's living room, walks around his childhood neighbourhood and visits to his company's secretive headquarters, Mr. Isaacson takes the reader on a journey that few have had the opportunity to experience.

The book is the first, and with his Oct. 5 death at age 56, the only authorised biography of the famously private Jobs and by extension, the equally secretive Apple Inc. Mr. Isaacson uses anecdotes from friends, family, colleagues and adversaries to illustrate sometimes deep contradictions in Jobs.

“I'm one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline,” Jobs tells Mr. Isaacson .

These longer interview excerpts pepper the book like rare gems. In them, Jobs offers eloquent, no-apologies explanations of why he did things the way he did and what was going on in his mind amid decisions at Apple and in his own life.

The intimate chapters, where Jobs' personal side shines through, with all his faults and craziness, leave a deep impression. There's humour, too, especially early on when Mr. Isaacson chronicles Jobs' lack of personal hygiene, the barefoot hippie who runs a corporation. And deeply moving are passages about Jobs' resignation as Apple's chief executive.

India, intuition

Jobs' wandering across India for seven months looking for spiritual enlightenment turned out “not be a waste of time” as he came back having learned intuition.

“The main thing I've learned is intuition, that the people in India are not just pure rational thinkers, that the great spiritual ones also have an intuition.”

“Likewise, the simplicities of Zen Buddhism, really informed his design sense. That notion that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Mr. Isaacson said in an interview.

When he returned from his trek to India in the 1970s, Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve “Wozniak started building and peddling a primitive computer for hobbyists. With a $1,300 investment, they founded Apple computer in his parents' garage”, Mr. Isaacson recalled.

Asked how somebody who was a hippie, a college dropout, somebody who drops LSD and marijuana goes off to India and comes back deciding he wants to be a businessman, Mr. Isaacson said: “Jobs has within him sort of this conflict”. “But he doesn't quite see it as a conflict between being hippie-ish and anti-materialistic but wanting to sell things like Wozniak's board,” he said. “Wanting to create a business. And I think that's exactly what Silicon Valley was all about in those days.”

“Let's do a startup in our parents' garage and try to create a business,” Mr. Issacson said about Jobs' who had taken leave from his job as technician at video games manufacturer Atari to go to India.

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