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Book Review: Becoming Steve Jobs

I tend to review books like this one in several parts, because the thought-flow is so high per page that it’s simply impossible to capture everything of value. This book is particularly dense. I’m only about 20% into Becoming Steve Jobs (iBooks is not so user-friendly in telling me how far I am), but every page feels like taking a deep breath and only releasing it after the (slight criticism) overlong paragraphs finish. But there is also something else that makes it difficult to skim this book, Steve Jobs’ emotional journey is described in significant depth, which is incredibly immersive, at least to me.

That is really the insight that lead me to write this short review (which may be followed by another). We / I tended to view Apple as this great mysterious black box, something that could be speculated about because it was fun and intriguing. By my count, I’ve perhaps written dozens of times about Apple, without ever really feeling that I understood something deeper than the superficial veneer Apple was comfortable in disclosing.

This book is, to use a terrible term, a game changer. It tells us so much about the man, stuff that was perhaps revealed in news articles here and there over the last 50 years, but all combined to create a persona that we can perhaps, to the extent that it is possible, understand. Steve Jobs (pre-NeXT is revealed as a man that is far less than perfect, who put his vision far ahead of the details, who is used to employing tantrum-techniques to get his way, who managed to burn more bridges than perhaps build them.

I’ve read plenty of other good business biographies over the years (of the founders of eBay, McDonalds, Ikea, Starbucks were the ones that stood out), but this one is different in that it is only authorised after the fact. Steve Jobs, as far as I understood, could’ve picked Brent Schlender to cover his life, but perhaps didn’t because he was much too close, much too perceptive. Isaacson was chosen instead, this historical biographer of great persons like Abraham Lincoln, which is such a Jobs move, at least the Jobs you read about in this book.

The title is of course Becoming Steve Jobs, which is not really a guide to being like the man, but rather a witnessing of the transformation, evolution, descent, or ascent, depending on how you interpret this journey. The tagline reads: “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader,” which is quite mixed as well. It’s a testament to the unauthorised character of this biography, that it is able to show the dark sides of Jobs as well. An incredibly fascinating journey already in this short portion of Jobs’ career.

In Books/On Writing: Haruki Murakami interviewed

From the article:

Murakami has often spoken of the theme of two dimensions, or realities, in his work: a normal, beautifully evoked everyday world, and a weirder supernatural realm, which may be accessed by sitting at the bottom of a well (as does the hero of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), or by taking the wrong emergency staircase off a city expressway (as in 1Q84).

It’s hard to find these kind of books, let alone write them.

Murakami’s style is simple, even apparently casual, on the surface, and Tsukuru Tazaki, like many of his previous novels, has divided critics into those who find it banal and those who perceive greater depth in its vividness and precision of imagery. Like most simple styles, of course, his is the result of lots of hard work. “I take time to rewrite,” he explains. “Rewriting is my favourite part of writing. The first time is a kind of torture, sometimes. Raymond Carver [whose work Murakami has translated into Japanese] said the same thing. I met him and I talked with him in 1983 or 84, and he said: ‘The first draft is kind of torture, but when you rewrite it’s getting better, so you are happy, it’s getting better and better and better.'” There is never a deadline for a Murakami novel – “I don’t like deadlines …when it’s finished, it’s finished. But before then, it is not finished.” Sometimes he can’t tell when he should stop rewriting, but “my wife knows. Yes. Sometimes she decides: ‘You should be finished here.'” He smiles and imitates his own obedient response: “‘OK!'”

Just as important, Murakami talks about readers:

How long does Murakami think the game of literature can last? “I think serious readers of books are 5% of the population,” he says. “If there are good TV shows or a World Cup or anything, that 5% will keep on reading books very seriously, enthusiastically. And if a society banned books, they would go into the forest and remember all the books. So I trust in their existence. I have confidence.”

If I haven’t reviewed 1Q84 on this blog, I should. It’s one of my favourite recent books, and I’m constantly looking for more like this. Equally so, but differently, I enjoyed his short biographical book entitled: “What I talk about when I talk about running.”

In Film: Why "Frost / Nixon" was made at this time

Why? Read this article.

About 31 min. into the film.

Frost: Well what is it that you want to achieve
Reston: I’d like to give Richard Nixon the trial he never had.
Frost: Of course, we’ll be asking difficult questions.
Reston: Difficult questions… the man lost 21 thousand Americans and a million Indochinese during his administration. He only escaped jail because of Ford’s pardon.
Frost: Yes, but equally going after him in some knee-jerk way, assuming he’s a terrible guy, wouldn’t that only create more sympathy for him, than anything else?
Reston: You know, uhm, right now I submit it’s impossible to feel anything close to sympathy for Richard Nixon. He devalued the presidency (emphasis mine) and he left the country that elected him in trauma. The American people need a conviction, pure and simple. The integrity of our political system, of democracy as an idea entirely depends on it. And if in years to come, people look back and say it was in this interview that Richard Nixon exhounorated himself, that would be the worst crime of all.
… (actual silence)

You see a little bit of that conversation in the trailer as well.

To me, this film was one of the best of 2008, and yet Nixon was never convicted, so was it a victory for democracy?

In People: You’ll love Russell Peters as a global citizen

Russell has a way of insulting half the room and making it all better by insulting the other half two seconds later. If you somehow cannot take jokes about your race / culture, you’ll probably hate him.

In films: "I’m not there"

The smile is contagious, I was born to love her“—a random lyric from the end-titles of “I’m not there.”

I felt like blasting this picture up there and writing no words at all.

Detachment is the word that most comes to mind to describe the film. 6 actors, of which Kate Blanchett was the biggest surprise, because I just couldn’t place her, each of them apparently portraying a stage in Dylan’s life.

But he’s never there and you get this real guessing game going about what’s going on.

I like the film, it felt like it went through some important questions about the meaning of life. Do we have a responsibility to change things or just report them? Why don’t people revolt more? Is there ever a point to revolting? I also had an good discussion about the phrase “Plus ca change” during the film, essentially meaning: the more we change, the more we all become the same. And vice versa.

And I realised that when we truly listen to ourselves, we all become aliens to everyone else. And when we try to be different, we end up listening too much to others and become like them. It’s sort of related to the film, but not really.

“I’m not there” cannot be described as anything less than a piece of art. Which makes it, by nature, difficult to digest. You never know whether you’re being taken for a ride or whether there is a great lesson there. But, the acting, the music, I had a good time for 2 hours.

Oh, and I think it’s probably best to read some kind of summary, before watching the film.

In film: why I crush on Naomi Watts

One movie and one scene.

In film: Jean Arthur, everyday heroine

There’s nothing particularly special about Jean Arthur, except that she’s funny, she’s got spunk, and she prefers to be photographed and filmed on her left side—ever since I found out that fact, I’ve been paying attention and it’s true.

She’s famous for three films mainly, in which she’s not the quintessential “hot” actress that everyone expects a leading lady to be. Rather she’s the everyday heroine, but what a heroine she is.

3 great movies she’s in:


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