Recounting these events, Isaacson repeatedly invokes a concept coined by Jobs’s associates to describe his ability to seemingly bend reality to his will. Known as Jobs’s “reality distortion field” — a geek term inspired by an episode of Star Trek — Isaacson tells how Jobs persuaded Corning Glass CEO Wendell Weeks to produce the specific type of glass he wanted for the iPhone despite the massive engineering challenges. “Get your mind around it,” Jobs told him. “You can do it.” And it was done.
But that “distortion field” didn’t always work in Jobs’s favor, as when he decided to postpone cancer surgery for nine months and try alternative medicine. “I really didn’t want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work,” he told Isaacson. By the time Jobs underwent the operation, doctors found that the pancreatic cancer that eventually cost him his life had metastasized.
Jobs’s death at age 56 generated a flurry of eulogies in the media. The innovator was hailed as the intellectual heir of inventors such as Thomas Edison. His loss as head of one of the 21st century’s quintessential manufacturing firms at a time when U.S. manufacturers are losing ground to global competitors seems to have left an unfillable chasm.
While careful not to fall into the realm of hagiography, Isaacson’s book echoes these sentiments, especially when discussing Jobs’s legacy in the final passages of the 630-page tome. “He was a genius,” Isaacson proclaims. Somewhat losing the restraint exhibited in the book thus far, Isaacson concludes that Jobs was “the greatest business executive of our era” and that his “saga” of innovating from scratch is the “Silicon Valley creation myth writ large.”
Eminently readable and thoroughly researched, Steve Jobs is the definitive biography of the computer tycoon — for now. It will probably take more time for the world to process the impact of Jobs and the products he designed and marketed. In the meantime, Isaacson has done an outstanding job of not only retelling Jobs’s story, but also capturing the milieu in which it unfolded.
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