If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, it’s that there is no line between monster and genius: the Apple founder was undoubtedly both.
In my review — to be published in this week’s magazine — I trace some of the “asshole” things that Jobs did: abandoning a pregnant girlfriend, “crowdsourcing” his decision to marry his wife Laurene, even parking in disabled spaces. But the biography also does a wonderful job of showing how the character traits that led him to those actions were exactly the ones that made him great.
Jobs believed the normal rules didn’t apply to him. He refused to put up anything less than perfection, creating a team of “A players” at Apple. He made sure his products were as beautiful on the inside as the outside, even if no one would see it. He was also unafraid to tear up months of work if he had a better idea.
The result is that by the end of the book you can’t help admiring him, even if you’re not a fully paid-up member of the Cult of Apple (I’ve only got an iPhone and a MacBook, so I think that makes me a Christmas and Easter churchgoer). His death from pancreatic cancer is told simply and movingly: Isaacson does not flinch from the fact that Jobs’s stubborness — he believed that his vegan diet would halt the spread of his tumours — meant he died earlier than he needed to. But nonetheless, the way Jobs dealt with his diagnosis revealed a side of the great showman we might never otherwise have seen.
Jobs spoke about his cancer in his 2005 Stanford commencement address:
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Now, his sister Mona has revealed his last words, in a eulogy reprinted in the New York Times:
Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.
He seemed to be climbing.
But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.
Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.
Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
Steve’s final words were:
OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.
I’m sure there will be some people who aren’t moved by that — but I’m not one of them.