Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Apple King

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I had to be convinced by a friend to read this book, similarly to how Isaacson had to be convinced to write it.

Back in 2004, Steve Jobs approached Isaacson and asked if he was interested in writing Jobs' biography. Isaacson declined several times, thinking that it was too soon to write one and that it would be better to wait a few decades. It wasn't until 2009 when Jobs' wife bluntly told him that Jobs was seriously ill from cancer and that there was little time to lose. Isaacson said he hadn't known Jobs was sick; she said few people knew and that Jobs had been trying to keep it a secret.

Isaacson finally agreed to write the biography, and Jobs agreed that he wouldn't have any control over the book, which was rare, considering how controlling and demanding he had been over all the various projects at Apple.

I had been reluctant to read this book for several reasons. First, because Jobs was a known jackass and I wasn't that interested in reading the various examples of his jackassery. Second, I am not a techie, and while I like and use Apple products every day, I was hesitant to spend my precious reading time on a tech book. Thirdly, this bio is more than 600 pages long! That seemed excessive.

A solution was found in an audiobook (read by Dylan Baker), and I am glad I gave it a chance. I was won over early on in the book, when Isaacson included a quote from Jobs in the introduction:

"'I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,' he said. 'Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that's what I wanted to do.' It was as if he were suggesting themes for his biography (and in this instance, at least, the theme turned out to be valid). The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century."

Now THAT is a theme I can get behind. I love the idea of combining artistry and technology, and it's true that Jobs and Apple excelled at creating innovative and beautiful products. Despite my hesitation, I ended up enjoying the stories of how Jobs got his start in computers, and how he met and started collaborating with Steve Wozniak, and the evolution of products at Apple over the decades. Growing up in the 80s, I frequently used those early Apple computers. My friends and I played games on them, and I wrote my school reports on them. Apple computers were just so cool. 

I liked learning the details of how Jobs helped design the products, including his emphasis that even the parts that are not seen should be beautiful and well-built. He had learned this at a young age from his father, who was a mechanic and a craftsman, and he taught Steve to make sure that the back of something was crafted just as well as the front, even if no one saw it. Jobs took the spirit of artistry very seriously, and always insisted that the designers at Apple were making art with their products. He even had his design team sign the inside of the computer frames, just as a painter would, even though no one but them knew it was there.

Another part of the book that I found interesting was Jobs' history with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with whom he had a fiercely competitive but (mostly) respectful relationship. The two men had very different ideas about system design, and computer techies will probably enjoy the debate of open vs. closed systems. 

A lot has been written about what a jerk Jobs could be, including telling people to their face that they sucked, that their designs sucked, and that they should be fired for their suckitude. It is also true that he was a dirty hippie, and in the early days of Apple, colleagues had to beg him to take a shower. (Jobs thought that because he was a vegetarian, he didn't need to bathe.) At certain points, I was infuriated with Jobs, both over his treatment of others and later, over his refusal to deal with his cancer diagnosis. When he first learned he was ill, he defied his doctor's advice and delayed having surgery to remove the tumors, giving them months to spread. While impossible to prove, it is likely he could have greatly extended his life had he not been so stubborn in avoiding modern medicine.

In the end, I admit I was fascinated by Steve Jobs. He had a remarkable life and career, and while it is a cliche, his products helped change the world. I would highly recommend this biography.

Ask the Bloggers - Bob Milne from Beauty in the Ruins

Today's guest is "Bossman" Bob Milne from Beauty in the Ruins.

What made you want to be a book blogger?
Actually, book blogging was just something I just sort of fell into as a side-project to my original blog, which was focused on sharing the photos and history of ruined, abandoned, historic places. I enjoyed writing the reviews, and quickly get involved in the social aspect of places like Goodreads. Once I discovered the existence of Advance Review Copies, I knew I had to get my blog to a level where they would start coming my way.

What have been your best book blogging experiences?
Two recent experiences come to mind. In one case, I’d been begging for an ARC of Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars, without luck, when Theresa over at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' Reviews offered to ship me her copy, because she wasn't going to have time for a review. That was classy, and much appreciated. The second was being invited to not only review last year’s Agent Pendergast novel, but being invited to interview Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. That was a huge adrenaline rush, both as a fan and as a blogger.

What has been your worst book blogging experience?
Learning how to politely navigate the flood of review requests is probably the experience that caused me the most grief. For a while I accepted everything that came in the door, which very quickly left me buried under books that I was reading purely out of obligation, not for my own pleasure. Reading became a job, and that nearly caused me to turn my back on blogging altogether.

How many books do you own?
I've lost track, but if you were to count my e-books along with my physical books, I’d estimate somewhere around 1500 titles. I've got one treasured shelf of signed books and rare editions, 8 shelves (2 rows deep) of physical TBR titles, and boxes upon boxes of books in the basement, plus years of electronic review titles and Kindle freebies.

Who is your favorite author?
Clive Barker – no question about it. That man can write like nobody else I have ever encountered. It’s the quality of the narrative itself, the imagination behind the stories, the depth of the mythologies, and the layers upon layers of meaning. He’s one of the few authors I enjoy deconstructing, looking for hidden meanings and messages in the text, and just about the only author I can happily re-read.

What is your favorite book of all time?
That’s a tough one. Clive Barker’s Imajica is the one book I can (and do) re-read every few years, and which still manages to provide new surprises. Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, on the other hand, is the first ‘adult’ book I ever read, way back in elementary school, and it’s always had a sentimental appeal as my ‘favorite’ book.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I love e-books. For somebody who can’t even walk to the store without a book, being able to carry an entire library with me when I leave the house is amazing. I was hesitant at first, but having a proper e-reader makes all the difference. Being able to read outside, in direct sunlight was a must, but having the back-lit model for reading at night is a major bonus. I still prefer a physical copy for some books, especially those I want to take my time with and enjoy, but there’s no doubt e-books have opened a whole new market in terms of readership.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
That’s something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s created an amazing amount of diversity in publishing, particularly with books that have limited or niche appeal. I've thoroughly enjoyed some self-published books that I cannot imagine ever making it to the shelves with a mainstream publisher. On the other hand, however, it has made the act of publishing too easy, which has put a lot of poorly written, poorly edited books out there. I think self-publishing is a fantastic tool, but only if you’re willing to invest the time and effort in a few beta-readers and an editor before releasing your worlds into the wild.

Any literary aspirations?
Oh, absolutely. I've published a few short stories over the years, have 2 novels under my belt that I've been shopping around, and have 2 more novels plotted out and in the works. I would love to get that big magical break and make a career out of it, but I’ll always be writing, even if it’s not selling - I enjoy sharing the stories far too much. If you're reading this, and you're a publisher, drop me a line. :)

What's your favorite joke of all time?
I like cheesy, punny, bad humour. It’s not technically a joke, but there’s a scene from Dinner for Schmucks that my oldest son and I have to spontaneously re-enact at least once a month, just to drive my wife crazy.

Marco (the blind swordsman): “I love to paint.”
Davenport (dinner guest): “Oh really?”
Marco: “I love to paint.”
Davenport: “Oh wow. Are you any good?”
Marco: “I don't know.”

“I don't know.” Gets me every time. LOL

Ask the Bloggers - Mogsy from Bibliosanctum

Today's guest is Mogsy from the Bibliosanctum.

What made you want to be a book blogger?
I love to blog! I actually began my blogging journey years ago writing about video games, which is one of my favorite hobbies. So I guess it was only natural that after a while, I started to think, hey, why don't I start a blog about my OTHER favorite pastime, which is books and reading? So that's how it took off.

What have been your best book blogging experiences?
Hands down, being able to interact with authors is the best part of being a book blogger. I used to get really nervous interviewing my favorite authors -- still do, actually! -- because in a way these folks are like celebrities in my eyes! I can't help but clam up. It's also just an awesome feeling when I finish a great book, then to be able to discuss it with the creator.

What has been your worst book blogging experience?
I don't think I've had any bad experiences with book blogging, though when my life gets busy it can get a little hectic and stressful. There's also that ever growing to-read pile, sometimes it can get overwhelming!

How many books do you own?
I going based on what my e-reader says over here, but over the years it appears I have accumulated over 900 ebooks. Wow, I'm actually kind of surprised, though I probably shouldn't be, the way I buy books and not to mention my penchant for picking up all these random e-deals and freebies left and right. When it comes to physical books, I have no idea. Shelves and shelves full; I've never bothered to count.

Who is your favorite author?
It's so hard to choose! I have a whole list of favorite authors. But if you're going to force me to answer, I would have to say Brandon Sanderson and Jacqueline Carey. I would read anything they write.

What is your favorite book of all time?
Again, difficult to answer. But if I'm going to get all logical and go with my answer above, it would be Sanderson's The Way of Kings and Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart. Kushiel is especially amazing.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I'm cool with ebooks. These days I devour books in all formats - physical, digital text and even audio. I don't prefer any over another. I will say ebooks are very convenient though.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Honestly, anything that helps get a writer's work into a reader's hands is something I can get behind. I know it takes a lot of effort and it doesn't always work out, but I admire those who have taken those steps and I'm also very happy for authors who have self-published and found a market for their writing. I read indies occasionally, and I've discovered a few gems in self-published works too.

Any literary aspirations?
No, not really. I'm pretty happy just book blogging, and have never harbored any desires to get my writing published. I do participate in NaNoWriMo every year, but that's mostly for fun and social reasons. You really wouldn't want to read my stuff, it's all drivel, I promise you.

What's your favorite joke of all time? 
Probably not something that would be appropriate to repeat here :P