Remembering a legend: The book of Steve Jobs


2 May 2011
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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs smelled so foul that none of his co-workers at Atari in the seventies would work with him. Entreating him to shower was usually futile; he'd inevitably claim that his strict vegan diet had rid him of body odor, thus absolving him of the need for standard hygiene habits. Later, friends would theorize that he had been exercising what would prove a limitless capacity for sustained and gratuitous lying that came to be nicknamed the "reality distortion field."

Jobs originally learned the "reality distortion field" from Bob Friedland, an enterprising hippie he met by chance one day when he returned early to his dorm room and found Friedland having s#x with Jobs' girlfriend. Bob was four years older than Steve, and had taken two years off to serve a prison sentence for LSD trafficking. Like Steve, Bob would eventually become a billionaire, just in the mining business. His followers would often invoke his old drug dealer nickname "Toxic Bob."

Steve Jobs needed no nickname. As the title of his definitive biography reminds, Steve Jobs speaks for itself. His name was his essence, what set him apart even among greats like Einstein and Kissinger, iconic figures with whom he shared a biographer, Walter Isaacson (though not the cheesy, descriptive subheads Isaacson used in his books about the other two subjects).

* Photos: Steve Jobs over the years

* 15 reasons why Steve Jobs will stay alive for ever

* Steve Jobs: 11 business secrets to know

Steve Jobs, the book, is very much a product of its time, which is to say, a product of its subject's fastidious narcissism and the broader culture's limitless capacity for nurturing it. With any luck future generations will saddle Steve Jobs, the brand, with the blemish of all the jobs (small "j") a once-great nation relinquished because of brand-name billionaires like Jobs. But we are not there yet.

Arriving in stores all of a fortnight after his death, the book was instantly deemed by the New York Times as "clear, elegant and concise enough to qualify as an iBio."

In truth Steve Jobs is the antithesis of concise, but words have a way of inverting meanings in the reality distortion field. Surely Isaacson might have dropped one of 92 references (according to Kindle) to Bob Dylan.

Sometimes the repetition serves a purpose: The drug LSD, referred to 33 times, is clearly important to Jobs. (The FBI thought the same, according to documents released this month.) "How many of you have taken LSD?" Jobs taunts an audience of Stanford business school students. "Are you a virgin? How many times have you taken LSD?" he demands of an Apple interviewee. Bill Gates would "be a broader guy if he had dropped acid." Tripping was "one of the two or three most important things he'd done in his life." People who had never dropped acid "would never fully understand him." The generations that followed his own were more "materialistic" and less "idealistic" for not having tripped; also, they all looked like "virgins." In the binary world within Steve's reality, having consumed LSD was the key determinant of whether a colleague or employee was deemed "enlightened" or "an a**h0le."

To iSummarize: Steve Jobs had a litmus test for evaluating workers: It was a lot like a literal litmus test.

Steve never learned to program computers, but he was far too skilled at manipulating people. He wooed all manner of women who were too good for him - such as Joan Baez, who was good enough for Bob Dylan to neglect in the sixties-only to discard them so thoughtlessly it seems like a joke. According to Baez, he experienced a "fervor of delight" while demonstrating a computer programmed to play a Brahms quartet and explaining that future generations of computer orchestras would sound better than humans, down to the innuendo and cadences. This filled Baez with "rage," she recalled later on with evident amusement; it reinforced Jobs' growing suspicion that she was "antiquated." Later, Baez brought him to a dinner party at which he met a 20-year-old who became his new girlfriend.

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