Steve Jobs Exclusive Biography: Summary & Review

steve jobs book summary

In the Steve Jobs Exclusive Biography author Walter Isaacson recounts Job’s life, achievements, and a few “dirty secrets” that shed a better light on who Steve Jobs really was.

Bullet Summary

  • Undermine your opponents: Jobs accused Microsoft of copying OS (but Apple “borrowed” from Xerox)
  • Get as much free PR as possible: Steve Jobs manipulated the press to get better coverage for the Mac
  • Don’t forget to make money: Wozniak wanted to give the idea of the Apple I for free, but Jobs convinced him otherwise
  • Don’t abandon science for the “reality distortion field”: Jobs believed he could cure cancer with acupuncture and eating fruits

Full Summary

About The Author:
Walter Isaacson was the CEO of CNN, Managing Director of Time, and author of several biographies.
I find it interesting that such a successful man would spend so much time on researching and writing biographies (he also wrote Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Einstein and Kissinger).
When it comes to Steve Jobs, this is the only authorized biography.

Growing Up

It wasn’t the biological parents who raised Steve Jobs. The mother had to give him away because her strictly Christian family wouldn’t recognize a baby with a Muslim.

Steve Job’s biography says Job got interested in design because of the way their house was structured and he got into tech because his father, as a mechanic, tried to lead him in that direction.

My Note: plenty of mechanics sons who are not interested in tech and plenty of designer children who are not interested in design. So I’d be wary of connecting the dots that way.


Steve Jobs met Wozniak in high school. Wozniak was five years older and already good with computers. He taught Jobs a lot about what back then was still an emerging technology.

In 1971 the two launched “Blue Box”, a device for long distance free phone calls.

It cost $40 to produce and they sold 100 of them at $150. Blue Box gave the two the first glimpse on entrepreneurship and what they could achieve in the emerging field of computers.

LSD & Spirituality

The counterculture of the ’60s heavily influenced Steve Jobs. He delved into spiritual philosophies, meditative introspection and experimented with psychedelic drugs.

Steve Jobs attributes his sense of aesthetics and extreme focus to his experiences with psychedelic drugs and spirituality. And, interestingly, he also attributes to LSD the focus of what’s important in life. For Steve Jobs, producing great products was important.

Reality Distortion Field

LSD and spirituality helped Steve Jobs develop a view of life that came to be called “reality distortion field”. Such as that no matter the odds or the challenges, if he decided that something had to happen he would bend reality to his will to make it happen.

Minimalist Approach

Isaacson says that Steve Job’s minimalist approach was influenced by Zen Buddhism, which he explored during his famous Indian trip while exploring Eastern Philosophies.

Apple Idea

It was actually Wozniak who had the idea of Apple.

Wozniak attended the Homebrew Computer Club, a nerd and computer lovers meetup venue. The mindset there was that the counterculture philosophy and the technology revolution were somewhat interlinked.

Indeed Wozniak wanted to freely share his “all in one” computer idea -instead of the several separate pieces that computers were back then-.

Very interestingly, Isaacson says that it was Jobs who convinced Wozniak that they profit from the product instead.

Apple Beginning

In 1976, on Wozniak’s idea, Apple was born with 1.300 in startup capital.

The two worked hard for a whole month hand-building 100 computers: the Apple I. Half of them were sold to a local computer store and the other half to friends and customers.

Steve Jobs Personality

LSD, meditation and eastern philosophies didn’t seem to calm down Jobs’ temper.

The Steve Jobs book says that he was an erratic individual no stranger to tantrums and fits of rage. He was a painstaking perfectionist and when the quality of the work was not up to his standards he would verbally assault people (read: how to act when your boss yells at you).

Steve Jobs VS Mike Scott

As Apple grew, Steve Jobs personality became more of an issue.

Isaacson says Mike Scott was appointed as Apple’s director with two tasks:

  1. Rein in Jobs unbridled perfectionism
  2. Mediate relations between difficult Steve and the employees

For example, after going through 2.000 shades of beige Jobs didn’t think any was good enough for the Apple II case. And he spent days thinking about how rounded the corners should be.

Scott stepped in to ship the product instead of losing time and money on too small details.

Isaacson says that Mike Scott and Steve Jobs clashes would sometimes see Steve Jobs in tears. It was hard for him to give up control over Apple.


The Apple II was a big success, but it was mostly Wozniak’s creation.

Steve Jobs was highly driven to build something that “would make a dent on the universe” (a bit of an exaggeration, read: you’re not so important in the greater scheme of things).

Isaacson though says the Macintosh was not solely Job’s invention but he took the idea from Jef Raskin who was already working on the Mac’s project.

Since Jobs was the cofounder, he could take over the project. He did bring some good ideas though and you can read more here.

Macintosh Success

Also thanks to a great marketing campaign (including the famous 1984 commercial), the Mac was a huge success.

The Steve Jobs book biography says Jobs was able to increase that marketing clout by some sneaky maneuvers, such as tricking journalists into believing he was giving exclusive interviews.

Steve Jobs Gets Fired

The success of the Mac propelled Job’s name together with that of the Mac.

But his bullying and harassing behavior continued unabated. His colleagues complained about him and Jobs relationships only continued to sour.

Eventually he reached a showdown with the board of directors, which decided to oust him.

My Note: make friends, not enemies
In a famous speech years later Steve Jobs rhetorically asks “how do you get fired from the company you founded”. Well, by being an ahole, that’s how.

NeXT & Pixar


Steve Jobs finally had free reign to design computers the way he wanted. And that didn’t go well. He insisted that NeXT computer case be a solid square.

It made it difficult to engineer it and cost $650.000. Add to that $100.000 for the logo, and Jobs’ machine became delayed, overpriced, and sold little.


During the same period as NeXT Jobs also acquired a majority stake in Pixar.

It wasn’t going too well either, and Jobs at a certain point ended up losing $50 million on it while still losing money on NeXT.

A first success for Pixar came with Tin Toy.

Albeit not a hugely grossing movie, it showcased Pixar’s uniqueness in computer animation. And that’s when Jobs shifted focus from software and hardware to Pixar.

In 1996 Pixar secures a Disney deal to produce Toy Story, which was the biggest-grossing movie of the year and allowed Pixar to go public. With the IPO, Jobs became almost a billionaire as he still held 80% of the company’s shares.

Jobs’ Family Life

Jobs married Laurene Powell in 1991 with the blessing of his old Zen master. They had three children.

Powell also encouraged Jobs to be closer to the daughter he had from his previous relationship, Lisa Brennan.

Jobs did so and Lisa eventually moved in to live together with Jobs and Powell. Lisa was also temperamental and since neither of the two was good at making amends, they could go months without saying a word.

It’s interesting because Jobs’ attitude in his private life was the same as at his job.

Back to Apple: Advisor

Isaacson explains how Jobs actually got back into Apple’s saddle through the backdoor.

Apple wasn’t doing too well and Gil Amelio, the CEO at the time, knew he had to get fresh ideas.

He acquired NeXT software, thus making Jobs an advisor to Apple.

The board, looking for a change, offered Jobs the role of CEO, but he refused, trying to change the company from his advisor position. He also set out looking for a new CEO and forced the board to resign to increase the pace of the change.

He struck a deal with the big rival Microsoft, ending a decade of legal battles and helping Apple’s stock to soar.

Eventually, he reluctantly took the CEO job post.

Back to Apple: CEO

Jobs refocused the company on the basics. Fewer products, and top-notch quality. Four to be precise: a desktop and a laptop. One for mass market and one for professionals.

Jony Ive

Steve Jobs realized the talent of a great designer in the team: Jony Ive, and made him the second most powerful person in the company. The first product the pair came out with was iMac.

The iMac challenged the idea of how computers should look like, giving the laptop a playful look.

Apple Store

Isaacson says Jobs was worried the uniqueness of Apple could be lost among the big aisles of hardware stores. And therefore he decided to launch the Apple Store, which would also allow him to control the whole retail process.

Jobs of course got to work on it with discipline, focus and his famous detail attention. He wanted it to be minimalist and simple, and when it opened in 2001, it was a huge success.

Digital Hub Strategy: iPod, iPhone, iPad

Steve Jobs had a vision of the personal computer at the center of a new digital lifestyle.

It’s what he called the digital hub strategy. It should be a computer controlling a variety of devices, and he started with music: the iPod.

  • iPod: skeptics thought $399 was too much, but by 2007 it accounted for half of Apple’s revenues
  • iPhone: again, critics were skeptical about the price tag (look at the example below 🙂
  • iPad was next in line. The press actually trashed it, but the iPad as well didn’t do too shabbily

The triad had been successful in transforming the consumer technology industry.

Also read Start With WHY on a few reasons why Apple products were so successful.

Closed, Integrated Systems

Isaacson explains that Jobs always pushed for tightly integrated systems.

He didn’t want consumers to modify the systems and didn’t want other systems to communicate with Apple.

This obsession generated some conflicts, including with Microsoft and Google, both of which had a very different approach. They both preferred open systems and intercommunication.

My Note: Open systems win out
I think that, on a long enough time line, an open system has many advantages and will eventually destroy a closed one (Android sales as of 2018 obliterate iPhone’s).

As a person, don’t close yourself off (48 Laws of Power: isolation is dangerous).

Microsoft & Google Spats

Jobs accused Microsoft of copying the Macintosh’s graphical interface (but Apple in turn had “borrowed” the idea from Xerox).

And Jobs also argues that Google had copied many of the iPhone’s signature features with Android.

My Note:
“copying”, in a way, is part and parcel of how capitalism works.

When the Ford T was a success, of course, other car manufacturers went for combustion engines. The market heads towards what works and what creates profits.

Also read: Steal Like An Artist.

Cancer Treatment Jobs’ Way

Isaacson says that Jobs approached his cancer the same way he approached much of the discording opinions he got in his life.

Such as, he did it his own way.

He refused conventional wisdom and in 2003 “cured himself” with acupuncture and vegan diets. Cancer only grew and required much more invasive surgery.

He did the same again when cancer returned in 2008, curing it with a diet of fruits and veggies.

On the subsequent (late) liver transplant, he never recovered.

Jobs died in 2011, living a trail of groundbreaking products, huge sales successes and a legacy of incredible entrepreneurship.

steve jobs book summary


Reality Distortion Field: A Doubled-Edged Sword

The idea of a reality distortion field is interesting and it seems to draw a bit from the now-famous Law of Attraction (read The Science of Getting Rich).

But it’s also dangerous. Job’s Reality Distortion Field also included curing cancer with acupuncture and fruits.

I prefer coupling the reality distortion with Ray Dalio’s principle of looking at reality, even when it hurts.

Authorized Biographies Embellish The Positives & Hide The Negatives

Albeit “authorized biography” is often used as a badge of honor, I don’t necessarily see it that way.

As Adler says in How to Read a Book, authorized biographies tend to be embellished.


Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography is an entertaining and instructive read, a wonderful resource to better understand Steve Jobs, and an excellent book.

I’m not a big fan of cult personalities, and I feel Steve Jobs and Apple do have a bit of a cult following. I feel there’s a bit of sheep and herding behavior that may gloss over the less-than-ideal actions, decisions, and behaviors.

And I also believe Microsoft did much more for the world by putting a laptop on every desk -rather than focusing on design-.

Rant over.

Why do I say that?

Because those were the feelings I had to struggle with in reviewing the Steve Jobs book Exclusive Autobiography.

And ridding our biases when learning is something we should always strive against.

Power Moves & Manipulation

My own interpretation of Steve Jobs after reading his biography is that he was a bit of a power mover.

The way he landed deals, ousted rivals in the Macintosh project, and how he tricked journalists, for example.

Ruthless Drive

I don’t buy the Eastern philosophy and counterculture BS. Steve Jobs was hugely ambitious.

I think that the ruthless drive and the way he had no patience for mistakes was a key ingredient in both his demise and his success.

I have seen in other highly driven individuals the tendency to “steamroll” people to get what they want. And it’s probably hard for these people to be “calmer” and more accommodating.

I’d even have to wonder: would ruthlessly driven individuals lose their drive and genius if they were to calm down?

I’m not sure about that. I think not though. And I think they’d stand to gain if they worked with people instead of against them.

At the end of the day, the Steve Jobs Biography was a fascinating read and I can only recommend it.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon

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