Spring Reading: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

The pile of recently-read-but not-yet-reviewed books in the living room has grown in the past couple of months and the text messages from amazon.com remind me there are new books coming later this week. It must be time for me to pass along my seasonal reflections on the “serious” books I’ve been reading. I pretty much keep to myself any thoughts on the mystery novels the Centerville Public Library replenishes each week in hard copy and now on my iPad.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson deserves the attention is has received in the national media. Isaacson is a terrific writer who is captivated but not overwhelmed by his captivating and almost overwhelming subject. The story of Apple’s founding and rise is familiar and already the subject of legend but Isaacson gives us more than the history of a company or a biography of its founder. Steve Jobs the book also provides perspective on the time and place in which both rose to prominence. Isaacson is convinced that Jobs and Apple, the person and the products he inspired, were interrelated.

Because I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about Leadership, especially in faith communities and religious systems I was drawn to Isaacson’s attention to Steve Jobs as a leader. Jobs was a difficult personality and Isaacson pulls no punches in writing about the damage he did to those around him. At the same time, he was driven, even obsessed by the need to get things right. Essential to his success in product development was the creation of a “reality distortion field.” As a member of the Macintosh team put it, “In his presence, reality is malleable.” Again and again Jobs was able to bend reality in ways that would make new technological advances possible.

That’s an important insight about leadership. From time to time people come along who are able to distort/bend/re-describe reality in ways that make change possible. Think Jesus. Think Gandhi. Think Mandela.

I would add Isaacson’s book to the reading list of first-year seminary students, not because I’d want them to model themselves on Steve Jobs but because they need to know something about both the promise and the dangers of reality distortion.