The Wrong Guy

John Gruber, summarizing Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs:

Isaacson’s book may well be the defining resource for Jobs’s personal life — his childhood, his youth, his eccentricities, cruelty, temper, and emotional outbursts. But as regards Jobs’s work, Isaacson leaves the reader profoundly and tragically misinformed.

Gruber’s point here -- a sentiment echoed by most hardcore Apple writers -- is that Isaacson’s book is tragically flawed because of the technical inaccuracies of the book. That is to say, the geeky parts about hardware, software, design, and the like are horribly misrepresented. To paint a truly accurate portrait of Jobs, Gruber contends, Isaacson needed to get the geeky parts right because it was the geek -- Mac OS X, iOS, et al -- that really shaped Jobs’s legacy. That Isaacson utterly fails in doing so dampens the appeal and overall meaning of the book.

As someone who’s into the geeky stuff, I agree with Gruber on pretty much every criticism. That being said, however, I think a strong argument could be made that geeks like Gruber and I weren’t the target demographic for the book. Isaacson is clearly a skilled writer, but make no mistake: this book is definitely for the mainstream, “regular” (read: non-geek) crowd. Isaacson probably figured, rightfully so, that most people didn’t care to know that, for instance, the technologies Apple acquired via their purchase of NeXT would lay the groundwork for Mac OS X. Isaacson wasn’t aiming to be technically correct. But maybe he should have, but then maybe people would be annoyed the work is too bogged down with geeky, uninspiring minutia. Both sides are valid crtiques; my point is simply that Isaacson wrote this way, ironically, by design.

(I should confess that I haven’t gotten very far into the book; I’m only up to Chapter 6. But I think I’ve read enough and heard enough from people in the know whom I respect to see that Isaacson’s book is genuinely flawed. But, again, I recognize that geek appeal probably wasn’t Isaacson’s goal here.)

I recommend clicking through to read Gruber’s piece. His case for us geeks is most definitely a strong one.