steve jobs book

Book Summary: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The Book in Three Sentences

This biography focuses on the life of Steve Jobs. From Apple’s humble beginnings to the creation of the iPhone, the iPad, and the Mac, this book follows the life of Steve Jobs from a personal and professional perspective. The book was based on a series of interviews with Jobs over the course of two years.

Steve Jobs Summary

Chapter 1: Childhood

Steve Jobs was born on February 24th, 1955 to a Muslim man named Abdulfattah “John” Jandali and a catholic woman named Joanne Shieble. Her family disapproved of the marriage, especially her father. Steve was put on adoption and was supposed to go to a college-educated family. He ended up with a high school dropout named Paul and a bookkeeper named Clara who promised to fund Steve’s college. Since Joanne’s father was dying, Steve’s biological parents hoped to get the baby back eventually. They eventually got married and had another child, Mona Simpson, who eventually became a novelist. Steve’s adopted parents were honest about where he came from. Jobs would later abandon his own child.

Jobs’ parents adopted another child, Patty, and moved to the San Francisco suburbs. His father was a repo man in Mountain View, near Palo Alto, where he designed things in his house and repaired and resold cars.

At the time, there were many changes taking place in the realm of technology. In 1938, David Packard worked with his friend Bill Hewlett in his garage in Palo Alto. By the 50s, HP was making tech instruments and the industry was growing. In 1965, Moore developed a law that said that the speed of integrated circuits would double every two years.

As Steve grew older, he realized he was smarter than his parents and he felt separate and detached. They also knew this and they were willing to do anything for his education. Jobs was special from an intellectual standpoint and got bored with school easily which got him into trouble. The school suggested he skipped two grades, but his parents decided he’d skip just one. He was socially awkward and had to go to a different school.

Jobs started working for HP after calling Bill Hewlett and asking for spare parts for a project. At age 15 Jobs started smoking marijuana. By senior year he was doing LSD. He also started defying authority.

Chapter Two: Woz

Jobs became friends with Stephen Wozniak who was five years older and more knowledgeable about electronics. Wozniak, or Woz, was more “hardware” than “software”. Both Jobs and Woz bonded over electronics and music (such as Bod Dylan). They also enjoyed pranks, such as the blue box: Jobs and Woz created a device that allowed them to bypass the phone company’s restrictions and make long-distance calls which they used to make pranks. 

Chapter Three: The Dropout

When it was time to choose a college Jobs decided to go to Reed, an art college located in Portland, Oregon He chose Reed because he was into zen, meditation, and Eastern spirituality. He also started experimenting with a variety of diets, including vegetarianism. He quickly got bored of the classes and only took the ones he found interesting, such as calligraphy which combined art and technology.

Chapter Four: Atari and India

After going back home to Los Altos, Jobs found a job at a video game company named Atari. Nolan Bushnell became his boss and role model. At that point, Jobs was a fruit vegetarian, he was hard to deal with at work and he refused to take showers or use deodorants. Due to his confrontational personality and lack of personal hygiene, Jobs was sent to the night shift and continued being rude and disrespectful to others. The people who knew him back then described him as charming yet arrogant. In 1974 Jobs wanted to make money to travel to India to go on a spiritual journey, something that changed his life.

Chapter Five: The Apple I

The first personal computer kit, the Altair, caught the attention of people like Jobs and Gates. It proved people could build their own computers. Wozniak designed his own computer with cheap parts, the machine that was later named the Apple I. Jobs and Woz founded Apple. The company received that name because Jobs was on a vegetarian diet and he had just come back from an apple farm. At the same time, Apple represented both friendliness and simplicity.

Jobs and Woz were different but complemented each other. Jobs was charismatic but cold. Woz, on the other hand, was socially awkward, but childish and sweet. Apart from having different, but complementary personalities, they had a similar relationship when it came to running a company. Jobs was the business driving force and Woz had the technical wizardry to make the actual computers. When the Apple I was finished, Jobs and Woz offered $50 circuit boards and the owner would have to piece together the rest of the computer. They had to assemble computers themselves which would cost $500 per machine. When the Apple I was finally put on sale, it was available for $666.66.

Chapter Six: The Apple II

For the next computer, Jobs wanted the “complete package”: a big case, keyboard, power supply, and software. The case was to have a simple and elegant design and the power supply was to be fanless because Jobs thought fans were distracting. Jobs developed a passion for perfection, even in parts the user couldn’t see.

At the time, Jobs developed the Apple marketing philosophy which had the following maxims:

  1. Empathy: understand the needs of the consumer
  2. Focus: eliminate the unimportant
  3. Impute: people form an opinion about a company based on the signals its products convey.

One of the most important aspects of Apple is that its products, inspired by Japanese Zen Buddhism, had a minimalist design. Jobs thought that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

Apple soon moved to Cupertino and Jobs became even more temperamental.

Chapter Seven: Crisann and Lisa

Brennan and Jobs were in and out of relationships for five years and she got pregnant in 1977. He ignored the situation by saying he wasn’t the father. He wanted her to get an abortion, but she refused. The baby girl was born on May 17th, 1978” Lisa Nicole Brennan and she didn’t receive his last name. A year later Jobs agreed to have a paternity test. His results said that he had a 94.41% of probability of paternity. He got visitation rights but didn’t use them.

Jobs changed yet again: he stopped using drugs, he wasn’t a strict vegan, spent less time on retreats, got haircuts, bought suits and shirts, and started a relationship with Barbara Jasinski.

Also, he bought a house in Los Gatos. The house had a painting, a coffeemaker, and knives. There were no beds, chairs, or couches. Jobs’ bedroom only consisted of a mattress, pictures of Einstein and Maharaj-Ji, and an Apple of II sitting on the floor.

Chapter Eight: Xerox and Lisa

By 1977 the Apple II sold 2500 units. In 1981, it sold 210,000 units. Jobs was desperate to build a machine of his own, after all, the Apple II was Wozniak’s creation. Jobs shipped the Apple III in May 1980 and it flopped. It displayed 80 characters instead of 40, it had more memory, and it displayed both lower and uppercase letters. Unfortunately, the board had bad connectors that often failed.

Jobs hired two engineers to make a new computer: The Lisa. This was a $2000 machine with a 16-bit processor instead of an 8-bit one like the Apple II. The Lisa team hired Atkinson, a student in neuroscience who created a high-level programming language in six days. Apple was also working on another project, an inexpensive computer for the masses that was a self-contained unit: it featured a keyboard, monitor, and software with its own graphical interface.

Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) approached Jobs. They had two maxims that Jobs quickly adopted himself: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it” and “people serious about software should make their own hardware”. Jobs allowed Xerox to invest in Apple if he was allowed to see the tech they were developing at PARC. They showed him the Smalltalk language which allowed computers to be networked, had object-oriented programming, and had its own graphical interface.

In 1981, the Xerox Star was introduced: it had its own graphical user interface, a mouse, a bitmapped display, windows, and a desktop metaphor. It was clunky and extremely expensive (it cost $16,595) and aimed at the networked office market. It flopped and sold only 30,000 units.

Both Jobs and Atkinson wanted a white background. This was called “what you see is what you get” since what you see on screen is what you’d get printed out. Atkinson also created the illusion of overlapping windows, like papers in an office.

Chapter Nine: Going Public

In 1977, Apple was valued at $5,309. By 1980, it was valued at $1.79 billion. In 1981, the Apple team decided it was time to take the company public. Before the shares went public, Wozniak sold a lot of his shares cheap to mid-level employees so that they’d buy houses. At 26, Jobs was worth $256 million.

The author refers to Jobs as an “antimaterialistic hippie who capitalized on the inventions of a friend who wanted to give them away for free”. Jobs had a love for beautifully designed objects, such as BMW motorcycles, Porsche cars, Henckels knives, Braun appliances, Bosendorfer pianos, and Bang and Olufsen audio equipment. Despite all this, Jobs’ house was simple, he wouldn’t have security protection and he always drove his own car.

Chapter Ten: The Mac Is Born

Jeff Raskin studied computer science and argued that Apple should have graphical rather than text-based interfaces He wrote the manual for the Apple II for $50 and became the manager of Apple’s publications department. He proposed the new project to be called the MacIntosh after his favorite type of Apple. This became the Macintosh and it was a $1000 all-in-one computer with a 5-inch screen and keyboard and a cheap Motorola processor. Jobs wanted a great machine that was going to be transformative. Raskin wanted a cheap machine that was going to be just another computer.

Chapter Eleven: The Reality Distortion Field

The Reality Distortion Field is a Star Trek term. In the presence of Jobs, reality was malleable and he could convince anyone of anything. Jobs felt some people were enlightened, such as Einstein, Gandhi, and himself.

Chapter Twelve: The Design

Jobs always wanted Apple products to be clean and simple. Simple design and simplicity of use. For Jobs, package, and presentation were extremely important even if most people were going to throw away the box as soon as they opened it. He also cared deeply about the components inside, like the board. He said: “A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”

The signatures of all members of the team were engraved inside each Macintosh.

Chapter Thirteen: Building the Mac

Jobs wanted a closed system and a controlled experience. You couldn’t open the Mac and play with its insides, therefore, hobbyists and hackers didn’t like it.

The Mac was delayed, shipping 16 months behind schedule. About the delay, Jobs said “Better to miss than to turn out the wrong thing”, “it’s not done until it ships” and “the journey is the reward”. He thought people didn’t know what they wanted and continued thinking about laptops.

Chapter Fourteen: Enter Sculley

John Sculley was president of the Pepsi-Cola division and Apple wanted him. He arrived in California in May 1983.

At this point, Jobs added a Tiffany lamp, an antique dining table, and a laser-disc video with a Sony Trinitron to his house. He refused to get a sofa and chairs though and used foam cushions instead.

Jobs thought he was going to die young so he wanted to accomplish things as quickly as possible. He behaved erratically, had mood swings, and showed signs of bipolarity.

Chapter Fifteen: The Launch

The Mac violated the “hacker’s code”: it was overpriced, it had no slots, special tools were needed to open it and it was a closed and controlled system.

Jobs had $750,000 for a Ridley Scott-directed ad that was going to premiere at the Super Bowl. This became “1984”, an ad that became viral before viral even existed. 96 million people watched it.

Chapter Sixteen: Gates and Jobs

Gates came from a rich family. He went to a private school, then Harvard. He dropped out to start a computer software company.

Jobs and Gates looked down on each other. Jobs wanted Microsoft to develop software for the Macintosh. For a while, Jobs and Gates made a deal and forged a bond. Microsoft was working on DOS. Jobs thought Gates was ripping Apple off and was furious. Gates demoed Windows to Jobs and the latter thought it was garbage.

Windows 1.0 launched in 1985, It was a shoddy product that received poor reviews from critics and consumers. Microsoft made Windows much better over time. Jobs was still mad about Windows 30 years later.

Chapter Seventeen: Icarus

The Macintosh was an impressive yet slow and underpowered computer. It got hot because it didn’t have any fans. Apple released a new ad that was poorly received.

A few people left Apple, including Wozniak. The Mac kept doing poorly and Jobs kept blaming others for his mistakes. Jobs was asked to step down as head of the Macintosh division. He was offered a new position and toured the world to promote the Apple II.

Chapter Eighteen: NeXT

Jobs became interested in making a machine that could be used for science and the higher education market. He pitched this machine (which he named the Big Mac) but was turned down. Apple removed Jobs as Chairman and he was forced to resign Apple. He created a new company and took a couple of employees with him.

He founded NeXT, their first computer was going to be a cube and so was the logo. The layout of the boards had to be rearranged constantly because Jobs wanted a perfect cube. Jobs custom-designed the computer’s chip and wanted his own factory.

He also struck deals so that the NeXT would have Shakespeare plays, dictionaries, and a thesaurus. This was one of the first examples of ebooks.

Jobs also wanted to lure Gates into making software for the NeXT, but Gates was unimpressed and said the machine was “ridiculous”.

Jobs was was all about hardware and software integration and Gates wanted software that could be used in other’s hardware.

Chapter Nineteen: Pixar

Jobs got a chance to meet Ed Catmull, who was running the computer division of Lucasfilm. At the time, George Lucas was going through a divorce and Jobs wanted Apple to buy Lucasfilm. Apple didn’t want it, so Jobs made an offer himself. After investing, Jobs owned 70% of the new company which they called Pixar after the Pixar Image Computer.

Chapter Twenty: A Regular Guy

Jobs eventually got to know his biological parents and sister Mona. He also started visiting his daughter, but while he was playful with her at times, he was also cold.

He was involved in several romantic relationships. One of them was with Redse who thought Jobs was brilliant but was hurt by how uncaring he was. “Neglect is a form of abuse,” she said.

Chapter Twenty-One: Family Man

Jobs married Laurene Powell in 1991. He bought a two-story house in Palo Alto with no furniture: he only owned a bed, drawers, a card table, and folding chairs. Jobs bought a fancy washing machine from Germany and a painting. He had no security, left the back door unlocked, and had no servants.

Jobs owned a mansion he used for parties which he rented from the Clintons. When the Lewinsky incident happened, Jobs encouraged Bill Clinton to tell the truth.

Jobs had a baby in 1991: Reed Paul Jobs. He had another baby in 1995: Erin Siena Jobs. Finally, Eve was born in 1998.

Jobs learned from Buddhism that “material possessions often cluttered life rather than enriched it.”

Chapter Twenty-Two: Toy Story

Jobs admired Disney’s obsession with detail and design. Toy Story was made because Jobs and Pixar co-founder, John Lasseter believed that products have an essence to them.

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Second Coming

The NeXT was failing, but Apple was interested in buying it for the software. Jobs came back to Apple as an advisor.

Chapter Twenty-Four: The Restoration

Jobs was offered to be CEO of Apple but refused. He was happy being CEO of Pixar, was enjoying life as a family man, and didn’t want to be CEO of two companies. He eventually changed his mind and accepted the temporary title while he helped hire a new CEO.

Jobs thought in binary terms. A product was either “amazing” or “shit” and a person was either a “hero” or a “bozo”.

Apple wanted to reinvent itself like HP. HP started as an instrument company, then made calculators and then developed computers.

Jobs invented keynotes as we know now them.

In 1997, he announced a partnership with Apple. Microsoft would license the Apple GUI for Windows 1.0 and Microsoft would make Excel exclusive for the Mac for two years. In 1988, Microsoft announced Windows 2.0, and Apple sued.

They made a new deal in 1997. Internet Explorer was the default browser on the Mac. Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple. As part of this announcement, Bill Gates appeared on a giant screen which made Jobs and Apple look small in comparison. It all worked out in the end because Apple’s stock skyrocketed.

Chapter Twenty-Five: Think Different

Jobs created the only “lifestyle brand in the tech industry”. Apple users defined themselves as anticorporate, create, and innovative rebels. This happened because of the “Think Different” ad campaign. Jobs soon became permanent CEO and started having health issues due to the demands of being CEO of both Apple and Pixar. He’d go to work at 7 am, get back at 9 pm unable to speak to his family.

For a while, it was debated if Apple should have licensed its OS to other computer manufacturers. Two Mac clones got the OS in 1994: Power Computing and Radius. Motorola was then added to the list. Jobs strongly refused this idea. He believed hardware and software should be integrated. He killed the clones as soon as he rejoined the company.

Jobs knew how to focus. “Deciding what to do is as important as deciding what not to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

He banned PowerPoints. He thought slide presentations replace thinking. Jobs said, “People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” 

Apple was making several products with confusing names. Jobs asked, “Which ones do I tell my friends to buy.” If he got confusing answers, he’d kill the product. He cut 70% of projects, including the Newton which Jobs hated. He also laid off more than 3,000 people.

Jobs wanted to have four products. One for each of the following quadrants:


This translates into:

  • Pro: Power Macintosh G3
  • Pro Portable: PowerBook G3
  • Consumer Desktop: iMac
  • Consumer Portable: iBook

The “i” behind some of the names of the products indicated that the devices would seamlessly integrate with the internet.

Chapter Twenty-Six: Design Principles

Jobs didn’t want money, he wanted to design great products. He wanted less but better. He followed Leonardo da Vinci’s maxim that said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: The iMac

The iMac was released in 1998. This was an all-in-one that featured a keyboard, monitor, and computer and was ready to use. It cost $1200 and had no floppy disk which was a bold but ahead-of-its-time move. The machine featured a translucent design that wanted to transmit a connection between the outside and the inside since the circuit boards were visible. When Jobs saw a CD tray instead of a CD slot, he lost his mind.

The iMac went on sale in 1998 for $1299. It sold 800,000 by the end of the year. 32% of sales were from people who were buying their first computer.

Jobs eventually added the CD slot but missed the opportunity to get a drive that would burn and rip CDs instead of just play them.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: CEO

Tim Cook was a supply chain manager at Compaq. He made changes to the production process, making everything faster. Cool left his position at Compaq when he was hired by Jobs

Jobs developed his own signature style by wearing a uniform. He started using black turtlenecks every day. He went from being an interim CEO to a full-time one. In January 2000, Jobs unveiled the OSX operating system which was based on the same OS Apple bought from NeXT.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Apple Stores

Something Jobs couldn’t control was the experience people had when they bought an Apple product, so he came up with the idea of Apple stores. These stores were designed to have one entryway only and placed in areas with lots of foot traffic, such as malls and main streets. The stores were big because the bigger the store, the bigger the brand. The stores were a success.

Jobs’ passion project, Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue store, opened in 2006. It was a celebration of minimalism and beautiful design. At the time of the writing of the book, the tallest Apple store was located in Tokyo and the biggest in London.

Chapter Thirty: The Digital Hub

Jobs would take his top 100 employees to a retreat. In the end, he would choose ten projects and write them on a whiteboard, he would then cut seven.

As part of a retreat, Jobs came up with an idea: the computer would become a digital hub that would coordinate devices such as cameras, music players, and so on. To do so, he went back to FireWire, a high-speed serial port to transfer digital files. Apple started developing software for specific functions: iDVD for burning video and music to DVDs, iPhoto for managing pictures, Garage Band to create and mix music, iTunes to manage music, the iTunes store for buying music, Final Cut Pro for editing video, and iMovie for editing video too, but the latter was an even simpler version of Final Cut.

Before iTunes, people were downloading music illegally through Napster and burning it into CDs. iTunes allowed users to rip, mix and burn. With the promise of having “a thousand songs in your pocket”, the iPod was born, a device with a click wheel design. The simplistic design prohibited anyone working on the iPod to click more than three times to perform an action. There wasn’t even an on/off switch since the device would go dormant if it wasn’t used. The iPod was unveiled on October 23rd, 2001 and it cost $399.

Chapter Thirty-One: The iTunes Store

When iTunes launched, it sold 6 million songs in 6 days. It was cheap ($0.99 per track), fast (1-minute downloads), easy to use, and legal. iTunes was eventually ported to Windows in 2003. In 2006, Microsoft responded with Zune, a clunky device that failed in just a few years.

The iPod killed the Walkman. At the time, Apple worked cohesively and had synergy. Sony was fragmented into divisions. Sony was afraid to cannibalize itself. They thought that making it easy for people to share songs might hurt record sales.

The iPod was soon revised. In 2004, Apple launched the iPod mini. Jobs soon killed it, since he saw the device as “pay the same for less”. In 2005, Apple released the iPod Shuffle which was small, inexpensive, and let you randomly select songs.

Chapter Thirty-Two Music Man

Jobs liked Bob Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles. He was friends with Bono.

Chapter Thirty-Three: Pixar’s Friends

Disney bought Pixar. The former was making poorly-received animated films and the latter was making hit after hit.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Twenty-First Century Macs

The Power Mac G4 Cube was on display at MoMA in New York City. It was a perfect cube with no power button, fans, or CD slots.

Chapter Thirty-Five: Round One

Jobs was diagnosed with cancer. He thought the disease was caused by running both Pixar and Apple at the same time, though there was never proof that physical exhaustion causes cancer. A tumor was detected in Jobs’ kidney. It could be removed via surgery, but he refused. He tried other treatments instead, such as a vegan diet, acupuncture, and herbal remedies.

Jobs ignored this problem because he didn’t want to deal with it. He eventually underwent surgery. At that point, the tumor had spread and grown. His diet was a problem (he was fasting and purging). Doctors encouraged Jobs to eat more frequently and varied. He wouldn’t do it.

Cook was in charge of Apple while Jobs was absent. Cook was mercurial, a negotiator, he didn’t seek attention, he was steady and soon became COO.

Chapter Thirty-Six: The iPhone

The iPhone was an iPod that made calls. When Apple started developing the iPhone, phones were terrible and Jobs brought several innovations. Jobs thought “As soon as you have a stylus, you’re dead”, so that was out of the question. Other innovations included “swipe to open”, a sensor that knew when you put your phone to your ear, Jobs wanted a tablet with a multi-touch display. In the iPhone, the icons were rounded rectangles just like in the first Macintosh.

The iPod had plastic screens, but for the iPhone, Jobs wanted glass. He researched different types of glass and found out about a chemical exchange process from the 60s that resulted in a kind of glass he called gorilla glass.

For Jobs, “thinner is always better”. He wanted the thinnest phone, laptop, and tablet. The iPhone was available for $500 and was a resounding success.

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Round Two

Jobs’ cancer was spreading. He was also having eating problems and losing weight. He eventually agreed to go on medical leave. Again, Tim Cook took over. Cook said, “We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us”.

Jobs got a liver transplant in Memphis. While recovering, he hallucinated and complained about the poorly designed medical equipment. He refused to eat properly and was always in a bad mood.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: The iPad

The first iPad was unveiled in 2010. The iPad filled the gap between phone and laptop and it was useful for web browsing, email, photos, video, music, games, and ebooks. Apple sold more than 1 million iPads in a month.

Chapter Thirty-Nine: New Battles

iOS and Android were competing operating systems. The former was a closed system and the latter was open. The former was integrated and the latter was fragmented.

Apple eventually got the digital rights to The Beatles.

Chapter Forty: To Infinity

For the iPad 2, Jobs wanted a magnetic cover that would attach to the device without covering the back. It would also “wake it up” when the user opened it. He also wanted Garage Band and iMovie support.

On his iPad, Jobs had three films: Chinatown, The Borne Ultimatum, and Toy Story 3. He only had one book: The Autobiography of a Yogi.

Jobs worked on a new service called iCloud, a way to sync everything the users owned digitally.

Chapter Forty-One: Round Three

Jobs and Obama met for 45 minutes. Jobs criticized America’s education system and the fact that was easier to build factories in China.

His health was deteriorating rapidly. Jobs lost weight, lost his appetite, had mood swings, and became depressed. Bill Gates visited Jobs while he was sick. They talked for three hours.

Jobs wanted a book written about him so that his kids could get to know him.

Chapter Forty-Two: Legacy

Jobs maintained laser focus, created great products, and ignored everything he considered unimportant. Jobs started a company in his parent’s garage. Apple eventually became the world’s most valuable company.

Some of the projects Jobs was involved with include the Apple II, the Macintosh, Toy Story, Apple Stores, the iPod, the iTunes Store, the iPhone, the App Store, the iPad, the iCloud and Apple itself.

Jobs wasn’t exceptionally smart, but he was, in fact, a genius. He prioritized products over profit, he recognized that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them and he strongly believed that hardware and software should be integrated.

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