Read time: 21 min
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson Free Book Review Summary Audiobook Animated Book Summary PDF Epub on StoryShots

Synopsis

Steve Jobs: The Biography is an unfiltered account of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ life. Isaacson was able to engage in more than forty interviews with Steve Jobs taking place over two years. On top of this, he interviewed more than a hundred people who knew Jobs well. For example, family members, friends, colleagues, and competitors. This biography invites readers into the life and personality of Steve Jobs. Steve was an intense man with a roller coaster life, but he did not want any control over this biography. He supported Walter’s choice to write the biography but put nothing off-limits and chose not to read the biography before it was published. Therefore, this biography offers a uniquely genuine portrayal of who Steve Jobs was and what he achieved. 

About Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson is a Professor of History at Tulane. He is also an advisory partner at Perella Weinberg, a financial services firm based in New York City. Walter is the past CEO of the Aspen Institute, where he is now a Distinguished Fellow. Finally, he has been the chairman of CNN and the editor of TIME magazine. Isaacson is well-known for his biographical accounts of influential people’s lives. For example, he has written successful biographies on Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Kissinger, and DaVinci.

Chapter 1: Childhood, Abandoned and Chosen

“Chosen, Special. Those concepts became part of who Jobs was and how he regarded himself.” – Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs was the biological son of John Jandali and Joanne Schieble. However, Schieble’s family disapproved of her relationship with Jandali. The reason being that Jandali was a Muslim. Hence, the two had to decide to put Steve up for adoption. Subsequently, he was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.

Paul was an engine technician who turned to car mechanics. He was the first person to introduce Steve to engineering and design. Steve was initially unsure of how he felt about having two sets of parents.

When Steve was young, his family moved to Palo Alto, California. This area included the famous “Silicon Valley.” Therefore, he was brought up during the technological boom within the technological epicenter.

Steve was often bored in school and found himself in trouble for things such as pranks. However, his parents realized that he was only playing up because he was bored. He was too intelligent for the work he was being given. The only time that Paul was ever mad at Steve was when he found that Steve had experimented with LSD and Marijuana.

High school was also when Steve found his appreciation for things other than electronics, such as music and arts.

Chapter 2: Odd couple: The Two Steves

Steve Wozniak was five years older than Steve Jobs. However, their minds were very alike. They first met in a mutual friend’s garage and worked together on technological projects. For example, their first project together was called “Blue Box.” This project used frequencies to allow people to make long-distance calls for free. When they began selling it, someone stole one right from them at gunpoint.

Chapter 3: The Dropout

Jobs’ ‘different’ personality seemed to develop significantly during late high school. Jobs tried everything from strange diets to a range of drugs.

Jobs then attended Reed College. Here, despite the ‘Hippie’ reputation, he did not enjoy college. 

Jobs met Robert Friedland while at college. Jobs initially adopted Friedland’s quirks. However, he eventually dismissed Robert as a gold-digger. Jobs dropped out of Reed after only a year but was allowed to take courses that he enjoyed as he wished.

Chapter 4: Atari and India: Zen and the Art of Game Design

A year and a half after dropping out of Reed, Jobs returned to Silicon Valley. He promptly walked into Atari’s head office and said he would not leave until he had a job. Steve was offered a job. However, most of his coworkers were quickly alienated by his personality.

Temporarily, Jobs left Atari to go to India. In India, he pursued his interest in eastern culture. Atari’s head challenged Jobs to create a one-player version of pong when he returned and offered a bonus for using little computer chips. He enlisted Wozniak to help him, and they finished the game in four days.

Chapter 5: The Apple I

While the computer revolution was being born in Silicon Valley, Wozniak saw a microprocessor for the first time. This gave him the idea for the modern computer: Keyboard, screen, and computer in one. Wozniak wanted to give the design away for free. However, Jobs found a way to make money off of it. Jobs had been walking back from an apple orchard on that day and decided that the name “Apple” stuck. Thus, Apple Computers was founded.

Jobs and Wozniak labored hard to produce over a hundred computers in one month, which they sold to friends and a local computer dealer. Apple was profitable within just thirty days.

Chapter 6: The Apple II: Dawn of a New Age

Jobs quickly realized that the Apple I computer lacked something other larger companies had: presentation and money. He used his Atari connections to find a retired 33-year old millionaire, Mike Markkula. Mike had the connections to get Apple running. Markkula even hired a publicist for Apple. When the Apple II was released, the success was astounding.

Eventually, Markkula hired Mike Scott as President of the company, mainly to manage Jobs. The two clashed on many things, but the Apple II sold over six million units in the end.

Chapter 7: Chrisann and Lisa

Jobs had been dating Chrisann Brennan on and off for five years, and they had their first child in 1978. The child was a girl and was named Lisa. Jobs, however, dismissed that the child was even his throughout the pregnancy. Jobs later expressed regret over the way he handled the situation.

Chapter 8: Xerox and Lisa: Graphical User Interfaces

Jobs moved onto other projects after the Apple II but was not satisfied with the Apple III or the Lisa computers.

Xerox was said to be the major technological innovator at the time. Jobs struck a deal with them that provided Apple with access to some of Xerox’s technologies, such as the Graphical User Interface (GUI). The GUI allowed users to see text and graphics at the same time.

Jobs applied this new technology to the Lisa, as well as the modern computer mouse. 

Despite this innovation, the management at Apple demoted Jobs by the summer of 1980. He was no longer in control of large projects due to his quirky behaviors.

Chapter 9: Going Public: A Man of Wealth and Fame

Apple went from being worth $5,309 in 1977 to $1.79 billion by the end of 1980. After Apple’s stock market launch, Jobs was worth $256 million at the age of twenty-five. Despite this wealth, Jobs didn’t show much interest in material things other than fine sports cars and German knives.

Jobs excluded even some of the earliest employees from the stock market launch to retain his stocks. Wozniak eventually gave away many of his stocks to these people.

Chapter 10: The Mac is Born

Jeff Raskin originally headed the Macintosh project. However, Jobs eventually won a power struggle by assuming full control over the project. Eventually, he strengthened his power at the Apple head offices when Mike Scott was removed as president after a round of lay-offs.

Chapter 11: The Reality Distortion Field

Jobs had a way of motivating people to do extraordinary things that his employees called the “reality distortion field.” Jobs could convince people that anything was possible by willfully distorting reality.

Jobs also only saw the world in black in white. Basically, people were either “enlightened” or an “asshole.” Also, many employees complained of Jobs stealing their ideas. Later, Apple would start giving out an award to the employee who most bravely stood up to Jobs each year. Eventually, Jobs’ coworkers realized that at the heart of Jobs’ quirkiness was an absolute commitment to perfection.

Chapter 12: The Design: Real Artists Simplify

Jobs’ perfectionism was exemplified by the Macintosh project. He wanted everything to be beautiful — packaging, interface, screens, and even inside the computer itself. This drove engineers crazy.

Jobs wanted artists and engineers to feel the same. In fact, he had the name of every engineer and artist that worked on the Macintosh engraved on the inside of the computer.

Chapter 13: Building the Mac

Jobs competed everywhere, including within his own company. He competed against the product Lisa to ship the Mac first. Lisa eventually flopped, leaving only the Macintosh as the backbone of the company.

Later in the year, Jobs was led to believe that he was named the man of the year by Time Magazine. However, they instead named his Macintosh “Machine of the Year”.

Chapter 14: Enter Sculley

Jobs believed that he was still too immature to run Apple himself, so he recruited John Sculley. Sculley was a former Pepsi marketing director who was responsible for the Pepsi Challenge campaign. Sculley was initially reluctant, but Jobs won him over.

The Macintosh was designed to cost $1,995. However, Sculley insisted on including the marketing costs for a big launch. This pushed the cost to $2,495. Jobs later blamed this decision as the primary reason Microsoft won control of the personal computer market.

Chapter 15: The Launch

Even as Apple was growing, IBM was slowly starting to win the lion’s share of the PC market. Apple’s response was the launch of the Macintosh in 1984. The Macintosh launch would set the blueprint for Jobs’ future product launches.

First, Jobs hired Ridley Scott and spent $750,000 on the famous “1984” television commercial. This was the first broadcast at the Superbowl that year. He then began giving interviews with magazines. This publicity had a significant impact on the Macintosh’s success.

Chapter 16: Gates and Jobs

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both born in 1955. However, while Jobs grew up like a hippie in California, Gates was the son of a prominent Seattle attorney and attended a private school.

Gates was soft-spoken and almost shy. He had a sense of business and strategy that eluded the more artistic style of Jobs. They first started working together when Microsoft was writing some software for the Macintosh. Despite this, their relationship soon soured when Microsoft produced Windows, which mirrored the Mac operating system.

While Gates correctly argued that both the Macintosh and Windows systems were rip-offs of a Xerox technology, Jobs never forgave Gates for this perceived betrayal.

Chapter 17: Icarus

While the Macintosh created a lot of buzz initially, sales eventually slowed as people realized some of the machine’s limitations. Also, Jobs’ personality began to clash even further within the company. He eventually decided to leave Apple after toying with the idea of running AppleLabs.

Chapter 18: NeXT

Jobs started “NeXT” with his own money and hired some of his favorite engineers from Apple. This cooled relations with his first company.

NeXT was designed to respond to the needs of educational institutions for computing power. During his time with NeXT, Jobs made some of the biggest mistakes of his career. He learned from these mistakes.

Chapter 19: Pixar

Jobs acquired a 70% stake in Lucasfilm’s animation division for $10 million and renamed it Pixar. This name was based on the division’s most important piece of hardware. Eventually, Jobs realized he should focus primarily on the animation of Pixar. The reason for this change in focus was that one of the shorts they produced was named the best of the year.

Chapter 20: A Regular Guy

Jobs waited until after his adoptive mother died in 1986 to seek out his biological mother. He eventually reconnected with both Joanne Simpson and his sister Mona. In an ironic twist, Jobs had often dined at his father’s Mediterranean restaurant in San Jose, without even realizing it. 

His daughter was very much like him in that she was very temperamental. Subsequently, they sometimes did not speak for months.

Chapter 21: Family Man

Jobs met his future wife, Laurene Powell, when he was giving a talk at Stanford Business School. This is where Laurene was a student.

Laurene got pregnant during their first vacation together in Hawaii. They got married in a small ceremony in 1991 and moved into a modest house in Palo Alto.

Jobs’ daughter Lisa moved in with them when she was in eighth grade, and she lived there until she went to college at Harvard. Jobs also had three more children with Laurene.

Chapter 22: Toy Story

Initially, Pixar lured animators away from Disney. When Disney could not lure them back, they instead partnered with Pixar to make Toy Story.

Of course, Jobs found a way to make more money off of Pixar. Jobs also struck a deal with Disney’s Michael Eisner to equally share all profits from future projects.

Chapter 23: The Second Coming

NeXT never made a dent in the computing industry because of its high cost and small software library. Meanwhile, Sculley was running Apple into the ground as he presided over diminishing profits and market share.

By 1996, Apple was openly floundering with its stock price down to around $14. They had also gone through a few CEOs before settling on Gil Amelio.

Amelio needed some fresh ideas for Apple and eventually chose to acquire NeXT. At first, it was unclear what role Jobs would have at Apple. Eventually, Amelio and Jobs settled on simply calling him an “advisor.”

Chapter 24: The Restoration

Once back at Apple, Jobs quietly began consolidating his power base by installing his favorite people from NeXT into senior Apple positions.

Larry Ellison of Oracle (the creator of JAVA) was constantly in the press, claiming he was ready to finance a hostile takeover of Apple. Plus, that he was ready to install Jobs as CEO whenever he wanted.

When it was clear that Amelio was not working out, Apple offered Jobs the CEO position. However, Jobs refused. He insisted on remaining an advisor. Jobs started demanding the repricing of stock options for top employees. He also argued that the entire board should resign. Finally, Jobs managed to strike a partnership with Microsoft. This partnership ended a decade of litigation and sent Apple’s stock price soaring.

Chapter 25: Think Different

Jobs was also given the reigns of the company but remained as the “Interim” CEO. Jobs canceled all licensing deals and decided to focus on making fewer but greater projects. However, working so hard meant he had less time for family. Plus, when he did have time, he was too exhausted.

Chapter 26: Design Principles

Steve Jobs had an eye for talent. When he realized how talented a designer Jony Ive was, he made him the second most powerful person at Apple. They both understood the importance of packaging. Subsequently, both of their names are listed on the patents for various innovative packages for Apple products.

Chapter 27: The iMac

The first product that Jobs and Ive designed together was the iMac. The iMac was a desktop computer priced around $1,200 and designed for the everyday casual user. Jobs and Ive made bold changes to the idea of what a computer should look like. They chose a blue, translucent case that gave the computer its signature look. Jobs launched the iMac in May of 1998, and critics raved about the computer’s novel look. The iMac sold 278,000 units in its first six weeks and 800,000 by the end of the year.

Chapter 28: CEO

Jobs eventually accepted the title of full CEO, dropping the “interim” from his title. Jobs immediately began cutting inventory and striking favorable deals with suppliers. On top of this, he brought in Tim Cook to head operations.

By this time, Jobs had been running Apple for two years while only taking a dollar a year in compensation. This unsettled the board.

The board also offered him 14 million stock options. Instead of accepting, Jobs asked for 20 million options instead. The board reluctantly accepted.

Chapter 29: Apple Stores

Jobs believed in his products but hated the idea of someone else selling them. He believed that the features that made Apple products unique could be lost in a big box retail store. Hence, Jobs began making plans for Apple retail stores. The board hated the idea of retail stores since Gateway had failed miserably by investing in stores. However, Jobs still put a team together to get stores up and running.

Apple’s stores were averaging 5,400 visitors a week by 2004. Jobs added the Genius Bar to his stores and eventually opened the flagship Apple Store in New York City. This store would eventually become the highest-grossing store of any store in New York.

Chapter 30: The Digital Hub

Jobs wanted Adobe to write video editing software for the Mac, but Adobe refused. Jobs saw this as a betrayal. This experience further convinced him that he needed control of the entire user experience, from hardware to software to the retail store.

Jobs decided that portable music players would be the next great Apple product and acquired SoundJam to begin designing Apple’s music player.

Critics were skeptical that people would buy a $399 music player. Still, consumers soon made the iPod so successful that it would change the entire music industry.

Chapter 31: The iTunes Store

Around 2002, record companies were having major trouble with piracy. They came to Jobs for help. Jobs convinced the music companies that they needed to compete directly with piracy by offering an affordable, seamlessly integrated way to purchase music. This process needed to be more convenient than stealing music.

iTunes was a huge success. Eventually, Apple’s top management even convinced Jobs to provide a Windows version of the iTunes store.

The iTunes Store sold seventy million songs in its first year. By January 2007, iPods were half of Apple’s revenues.

Chapter 32: Music Man

Jobs was such a fan of Bob Dylan that he eventually struck a marketing deal where Dylan would appear in an iPod commercial. Dylan experienced a large wave of success after this commercial. Therefore, appearing in an iPod ad became something most artists would do for free.

Chapter 33: Pixar’s Friends

Jobs’ main role at Pixar was to structure the company’s deals. The deal Pixar had with Disney was running out. Bob Iger had recently replaced Michael Eisner as the head of Disney. Bob and Jobs saw eye to eye. Hence, they were able to strike a deal where Disney acquired Pixar. A fair number of Pixar employees landed in high-level roles in the animation division at Disney.

Chapter 34: Twenty-First-Century Macs

The Power Mac G4 Cube, designed for serious professionals, was so beautifully designed that it won a place in the Museum of Modern Art. However, it did not sell as well as Jobs thought it would.

Jobs was still learning from his mistakes and decided to focus on making the iPod better. He switched from a Motorola Chip to an Intel Chip, which made the iPod much faster. Bill Gates even commented that he was impressed with this move by Jobs.

Chapter 35: Round One

Jobs first learned of his cancer during a routine urological exam in October of 2003. However, he refused surgery for nine months. Instead, he tried to cure himself with vegan diets and acupuncture. Of course, his condition only got worse. This meant he had to get major invasive surgery to remove the tumor.

Removal of this tumor reminded Jobs of his mortality. Subsequently, he was willing to accept an invitation to give a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. This speech is said to be one of the greatest commencements ever given.

Jobs and Gates eventually found a grudging respect for each other. This culminated in a joint interview they gave to The Wall Street Journal in 2007.

Chapter 36: The iPhone

Jobs saw how cellphones with cameras were killing the digital camera market. He anticipated that the same would happen once cellphone companies started adding music players to their phones. Therefore, he decided to tackle this dilemma earlier rather than later. Jobs originally created a partnership with Motorola. He broke off and created a team specifically for this project.

The iPhone was made possible by multi-touch. Multi-touch allowed devices to sense more than one finger. Plus, gorilla glass was an incredibly strong glass introduced to protect the phones from scratches and damage.

Again, critics believed the price point was too high. However, Jobs and consumers proved them wrong yet again.

Chapter 37: Round Two: The Cancer Returns

Jobs’ cancer returned in the spring of 2008. Jobs eventually got a liver transplant in Memphis that year, but not before a concerted effort by everyone around him to go through with the procedure.

Jobs also struggled with the fact that he may no longer be indispensable to Apple. The company’s stock price had risen from $80 to $140 by the time he announced his return.

Chapter 38: The iPad

Jobs had wanted to make a tablet computer since the early 2000s. Once the iPhone was launched, Jobs moved onto the iPad and launched it in January of 2010. Apple sold over a million iPads in the first month, and fifteen million in the first nine months.

Jobs was unhappy with most of the ads developed for the iPad but eventually settled on emphasizing all the different things people could do with an iPad. Jobs also opened up app-creating to third-party developers, which created its own industry overnight.

Chapter 39: New Battles

Having successfully launched the iPad, Jobs now moved on to fighting Google. Google had recently launched its Android mobile operating system.

Jobs was not pleased and is even quoted as saying: “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android because it’s a stolen product.”

Jobs still maintained that a closed, tightly integrated system produced the best consumer experience. In comparison, companies like Microsoft and Google believed that open systems and natural competition should determine the winner.

Chapter 40: To Infinity

Many consumers complained that the iPad was just a large music player. Jobs responded to this by adding major creative tools such as GarageBand. He also began working on two long-term projects at Apple. The first was iCloud, a cloud storage system that would become the future of computing. The second was the redesign of the offices of Apple. Jobs hoped these would become the best office building in the world.

Chapter 41: Round Three

One of Jobs’ greatest accomplishments was staying alive long enough to see his son, Reed, graduate from high school. Jobs continued to struggle with his cancer and his eating disorders, much to his family’s dismay. He would be one of the first twenty people in the world to have their DNA sequenced, although this was an effort to save his life that fell short.

Jobs met with Barack Obama in 2010 to discuss schooling in the US. Specifically, they spoke about how there were not enough engineering schools. He later made a special dinner for large technology-company CEOs to meet with Obama to offer insight.

In the final year of Jobs’ life, he had expressed an interest in mentoring some new-age CEOs. This included Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Google.

Jobs resigned from the CEO position at Apple in August 2011. He appointed Tim Cook as the new CEO. 

Chapter 42: Legacy

At Steve Jobs’ core was his incredible intensity. Apple surpassed Microsoft as the most valuable tech company in the world shortly before Jobs’ death. The book ends with Jobs’ own words on what drove him:

“I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how — because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.”


If you have feedback about this summary or would like to share what you have learned, comment below.

New to StoryShots? Get the audio and animated versions of this summary and hundreds of other bestselling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, The Guardian, The UN, and Google as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.

To dive into the details, order the book or get the audiobook for free.

Related Book Summaries

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

The Trillion Dollar Coach by Alan Eagle, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg

Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster by Darren Hardy

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Good to Great by James C. Collins

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap