Archive for July 2019

Books About Apple and Steve Jobs

I’ve been reading books about Apple and Steve Jobs for two decades. I was always really into the company and its charismatic cofounder, Steve Jobs. In 2000, when I was 13 years old, I read my first full-length Apple book, The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. I kept voraciously reading Apple books and I’ve never stopped. In this post, I will try to summarize that knowledge for you by providing a very brief summary of every Apple and Steve Jobs book I’ve read. I will also categorize each book so that you can more easily find one related to your interest. At the end I’ll summarize the three pieces of media about Apple you must consume to get an introduction to the company’s history.

Early Apple History 1976–1997

I think it’s important to understand not just modern Apple, but early Apple as well, if you really want to understand the company’s values. Apple itself has its employees study Apple history through its Apple University program.

Return to the Little Kingdom: Steve Jobs and the Creation of Apple by Michael Moritz (1985, 2009)

This is the single best book about Apple’s early history from its founding in 1976 until the release of the Macintosh in 1984. The updated material in the latest edition doesn’t add much value, but if you primarily want to know about the very earliest days of Apple, this is your book.

Checkout my full Amazon review of Return to the Little Kingdom.

Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple: A Journey of Adventure, Ideas, and the Future by John Sculley and John Byrne (1987)

John Sculley was the longest serving (1983–1993) CEO of Apple other than Steve Jobs (but Tim Cook may soon take that title) and this pseudo-autobiography was written just four years into his tenure. It’s a pretty good biography, but its main value to an Apple fan is probably Sculley’s perspective on his interactions with Jobs, and what led to their falling out.

Defying Gravity: The Making of Newton by Markos Kounalakis and Doug Menuez (1993)

No book gives you a better sense of what product development was like at Apple during the Sculley era. The Newton was arguably well ahead of its time. It’s an interesting side story and it also paints a picture of Sculley as someone who desperately wanted to have the “vision” that Steve Jobs had, even if he did not.

Checkout my full Amazon review of Defying Gravity.

On the Firing Line: My 500 Days at Apple by Gil Amelio and William Simon (1998)

Gil Amelio was Apple’s CEO for just 500 days, but he pivotally made the decision to buy NeXT, which brought Steve Jobs back to the company and created the technological underpinnings for modern Apple. This book, like Odyssey, is probably most interesting to a fan for its portrayal of Steve Jobs interactions with another Apple CEO.

Apple Confidential: The Definitive History of the World’s Most Colorful Company (1999, 2004)

I read the first edition of this book. It covers primarly vignettes from the early years and the non-Jobs era of Apple (1985–1997) and came out in 1999. For that era, it’s arguably one of the most comprehensive. I have not read the newer, 2004 edition.

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith (2007)

Steve Wozniak’s autobiography chiefly focuses on his early life and his years at Apple. The writing style is very simple, almost childlike. But this is the only book written by one of Apple’s cofounders and Woz has a very positive, inspirational message.

Checkout my full Amazon review of iWoz.

Steve Jobs

Reading about Steve Jobs is really like reading about Apple because his persona, business decisions, and values are so deeply ingrained in the company. While not all of these books are about business, they all capture a different side of Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011)

The “official” Steve Jobs biography, which came out shortly after his death in 2011, is one of the most widely read business biographies of all time. It is comprehensive and required reading for any Apple fan or Steve Jobs fan. Not all reviewers felt Isaacson fully grasped or expressed all of Steve Jobs accomplishments sufficiently, nor truely captured his character. However, it still tells the general story of Steve Jobs life well and is important as a launching point for other biographies.

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (2015)

This biography was almost written as a “response” to the Isaacson book. It better covers the NeXT and Pixar years. In fact, it makes the case that those years in Steve Jobs life were critical for his later tremendous success after returning to Apple. A good book that should probably be read after the Isaacson book by any true fans.

The Second Coming of Steve Jobs by Alan Deutschman (2000)

Unlike many Steve Jobs biographies, this short biography, primarily focusing on NeXT, Pixar, and his first couple years after returning to Apple, is no hagiography. Instead, its highly critical of his management style, while still doing a good job expressing his incredible charisma and taste. However, it’s definitely biased, and I wonder if it would be so negative if Deutschman had written it just a few years later.

The Bite in the Apple: A Memoir of My Life with Steve Jobs by Chrisann Brennan (2013)

This is a deeply personal book, written by Steve Jobs high school (and beyond) girlfriend, with whom he had his daughter, Lisa. If you want to learn more about Steve Jobs early years and his personality at that time, this is arguably the best book.

Checkout my full Amazon review of The Bite in the Apple.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (2018)

This recent book, written by Steve Jobs daughter Lisa, has received literary acclaim. Lisa does come off as a bit bitter, but that’s understandable once you read the book. This book gives great insight into Steve Jobs family life.

Checkout my full Amazon review of Small Fry.

A Regular Guy by Mona Simpson (1996)

This novel by Steve Jobs biological (but with whom he didn’t grow up) sister, Mona Simpson, is supposedly fictional, but it’s well known that it was based on Steve Jobs and his relationship with his daughter, Lisa. Taking place primarly in the 1980s and early 1990s, this is a well-written novel by a literary star. Between A Regular Guy, Small Fry, and The Bite in the Apple, you can read about the relationship between Steve and Lisa from three different perspectives, and all of them are people who were involved in the situation. A Regular Guy goes out of its way to capture its main character’s (Steve Jobs ostensibly) personality.

Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney (2009)

Inside Steve’s Brain is not a bad book, but neither is it comprehensive or particularly better than the “mainline” Steve Jobs biographies. Kahney does do a good job boiling down some of Steve Jobs most important traits as a business leader into a shorter volume. This book is more Apple focused than many of the above books.

Modern Apple

The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant (2017)

If you want to understand the design process, technologies, and materials that went into producing the first iPhone, then this is a good starting point. It’s not actually particularly Apple centric, instead spending time in South American mines and with technologists that worked on various components of the iPhone. However, it is a unique book that gives you a more global perspective on Apple’s supply chain.

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products by Leander Kahney (2013)

Jony Ive recently announced he’s leaving Apple, but during his time at Apple he arguably became the world’s foremost designer and his influence on the company cannot be understated. This biography suffered from a lack of access, but it does give new insight into Jony Ive’s early years. It is mainly worthwile as the only full length biography of Jony Ive.

Checkout my full Amazon review of Jony Ive.

Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level by Leander Kahney (2019)

I was pretty critical of this biography of Tim Cook, as you can read in the link to my Amazon review below. Tim Cook frankly deserves a better biography. That said, like with his Jony Ive book, Kahney gets bonus points for being the first (and so far only) person to write a biography of this important Apple player.

Checkout my full Amazon review of Tim Cook.

Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda (2018)

This fantastic little volume by Ken Kocienda, puts you in the shoes of a software developer at Apple during Steve Jobs second stint at Apple. It’s insightful and interesting.

Miscellaneous Related Books

To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History by Lawrence Levy (2016)

This incedibly positive book about Levy’s experience working at Pixar on its financing during and after the release of Toy Story paints Steve Jobs with a very enthusiastic and positive brush. It does give some insight into Steve’s thinking at the time, during the era when he was about to return to Apple.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace (2014)

The co-founder of Pixar tells its entire story from the beginning and highlights some management strategies that worked effectively for it during its golden age. Steve Jobs makes many appearances and it’s likely he took some of the management philosophies he learned at Pixar back to Apple for his second stint.

The Silicon Boys and High-Tech Titans

Both of these books give a good overview of what the tech industry as a whole was like in the late 1990s. Both include decent chapters on Steve Jobs.

Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley 1985–2000 by Doug Menuez (2014)

Menuez had insider access at NeXT when he took the photos for this photo book. There are no great insights to be had here, but there are some great pictures of Steve Jobs and early NeXT.

Checkout my full Amazon review of Fearless Genius.

Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation by Jonathan Zufi, Forest McMullin, and Lisa Clark (2014)

This beautiful photo book is a testament to Apple’s many amazing industrial designs over the years. Take note that its solely focused on hardware instead of software. Interestingly, Apple itself put out a very similar but much more expensive book itself shortly after Iconic’s publication called “Designed by Apple in California.”

Movies

The best value you can probably get is to watch some old full length interviews with Steve Jobs on YouTube. That said, there are a few movies I would recommend.

Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999)

This made-for-TV movie telling the story of the early days of Apple and Microsoft has wonderful acting, excellent production values, and is fairly accurate in terms of history. Noah Wyle is by far the best actor to ever portray Steve Jobs. The movie is very romantic. When I saw it on TV when I was 12 years old in 1999, it solidified my interest in Apple, which I was already very into. It also solidified my interest in working in tech and specifically the business of tech. Highly recommended!

Jobs (2013)

Ashton Kutcher really tried his best. You can tell he was trying really hard and really wanted to do Steve Jobs justice. I think he largely succeeded, although he did not do as well as Noah Wyle. This movie covers a wider gamut of Steve Jobs life than Pirates, but it’s also less accurate. That said, it gets the overall arc correct.

Steve Jobs The Lost Interview (1995, 2012)

This release of old interview footage from 1995 is actually quite compelling because it was just such a good interview. Cringely really got Jobs to talk and think about the big issues in the industry.

Media I’ve Avoided

I’ve avoided consuming media about Apple that seems overtly unfactual or extremely biased from the getgo. Here are some items I’ve avoided

Steve Jobs (2015)

This movie has been cited by many who were present for the events portrayed as HIGHLY inaccurate.

Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs by Yukari Iwatani Kane (2014)

Biased right from its title, this 2014 book’s premise obviously was wrong. Apple continued to do very well and became the first trillion dollar company after its publication. Reviews were also poor.

iCon by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon (2005)

Steve Jobs himself called it a “hatchet job.” So much so that he removed its publisher’s books from Apple stores. Perhaps he didn’t like the criticism, but if it was so offensive to him, I presume it’s pretty biased given all of the other books about him before and since didn’t lead to such reactions. I’ve also heard that it just doesn’t compare favorably to The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. Either way, it just seems unnecessary given the other books available.

Where should you start?

If you’re at the beginning of a journey to learn about Apple History then I would recommend Return to the Little Kingdom, Steve Jobs, and Pirates of Silicon Valley. If you’re interested in Steve Jobs specifically, then I would recommend all of the books I mentioned in the Steve Jobs section above, plus Return to the Little Kingdom and To Pixar and Beyond. But perhaps the most value you can get is to watch and read many of the old interviews with him. Finally, if you’re interested in modern Apple, then unfortunately I do not have any great book to recommend that is not overly specific. All of the books in the Modern Apple section above are about one specific facet of the company—I think the best books about modern Apple are still being written.

One more fantastic resource is the website All About Steve Jobs. And of course there is a ton of great content on YouTube, including all of Apple’s old keynotes. Enjoy!

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