It’s nearly impossible to shrink down Steve Jobs’s legacy into mere sentences, but Walter Isaacson’s comprehensive biography of the Apple chief somehow manages to do so in 571 pages. Isaacson (TIME’s former managing editor) weaves together the story of a brilliant but heady, innovative but volatile leader. Here are Isaacson’s 10 best brushstrokes in his painting of Steve Jobs.
“It was not merely intelligence that [Jobs’s fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Hill] saw. Years later she liked to show off a picture of that year’s class on Hawaii Day. Jobs has shown up without the suggested Hawaiian shirt, but in the picture he is front and center wearing one. He had, literally, been able to talk the shirt off another kid’s back.”
“Jobs’s craziness was of the cultivated sort. […] He learned to stare at people without blinking, and he perfected long silences punctuated by staccato bursts of fast talking. This odd mix of intensity and aloofness, combined with his shoulder-length hair and scraggly beard, gave him the aura of a crazed shaman. He oscillated between charismatic and creepy.”
(PHOTOS: The World Mourns Steve Jobs)
“Jobs did not wear his growing responsibilities gracefully. He had always been temperamental and bratty. At Atari his behavior had caused him to be banished to the night shift, but at Apple that was not possible. ‘He became increasingly tyrannical and sharp in his criticism,’ according to [Apple’s first chairman Mike] Markkula. ‘He would tell people, ‘That design looks like s–t.’”
“Jobs had been referring to computers as a bicycle for the mind; the ability of humans to create a bicycle allowed them to move more efficiently than even a condor, and likewise the ability to create computers would multiply the efficiency of their minds. So one day Jobs decreed that henceforth the Macintosh should be known instead as the Bicycle. This did not go over well.”
“Another of Jobs’s maxims […] was ‘It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.’ He wanted to instill a rebel spirit in his team, to have them behave like swashbucklers who were proud of their work but willing to commandeer from others.”
(PHOTOS: The Creative Vision of Steve Jobs)
“Ever since he left the Apple commune, Jobs had defined himself, and by extension Apple, as a child of the counterculture. […] ‘Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,’ Larry Ellison said. ‘There are cars people are proud to have — Porsche, Ferrari, Prius — because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.’”
“The connection between the design of a product, its essence, and its manufacturing was illustrated for Jobs and [Apple’s chief designer Jony] Ive when they were traveling in France and went into a kitchen supply store. Ive picked up a knife he admired, but then put it down in disappointment. Jobs did the same. ‘We both noticed a tiny bit of glue between the handle and the blade,’ Ive recalled. They talked about how the knife’s good design had been ruined by the way it was manufactured.”
“When it came time to launch the iPhone, Jobs decided, as usual, to grant a magazine a special sneak preview…He wanted to give TIME the exclusive, ‘but there’s nobody smart enough at TIME to write it, so I’m going to give it to someone else.’” (The article indeed ended up being written by TIME’s Lev Grossman).
“He could taste two avocados that most mortals would find indistinguishable, and declare that one was the best avocado ever grown and the other inedible.”
“’I’m disappointed in Obama,’ he said. ‘He’s having trouble leading because he’s reluctant to offend people or piss them off.’ He caught what I was thinking and assented with a little smile: ‘Yes, that’s not a problem I ever had.’”
–by Terri Pous and Nick Carbone