A semi-review of an odd book

The book: iCon: Steve Jobs, the greatest second act in the history of business. By Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon, published 2005.

I figured the first word in the title was a play on icon, not some “con” indication, given that Jeffrey S. Young is a founding editor of Macworld and wrote the “classic hagiobiography” Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward. At worst, you figure the book will try to make Jobs’ fairly consistent behavior toward colleagues, friends and competitors (from the time he screwed Wozniak out of several hundred dollars by flat-out lying to him and his initial refusal to admit he’d fathered a daughter forward) some set of minor flaws wholly outweighed by his magnificence–after all, even the jacket copy calls Jobs in the early Apple era “avatar of the computer revolution” and calls him “the most influential figure of the age–a master of three industries: movies, music, and computers” and “the Digital King.”

What I got in the book is more interesting than what I expected–and it really appears to be two different books.

The first book, which takes up the first 230 pages and runs through Jobs’ triumphs at Pixar, is excellent: Well written, well edited, reasonably well balanced given the writers, mostly covering territory I’d already seen covered elsewhere but with a fair amount of panache. Yes, there’s too much discussion of Disney’s internal problems for a book that’s supposedly about Jobs, but that’s OK.

Then there’s Part Three, Defining the Future, the last 90-odd pages. It’s a flat-out mess: Badly written, with constantly shifting tenses, repetition and more; apparently unedited; veering into pure Jobs worship before too long. (Note that the book came out after the iPod and before the iPhone.) The writers seem to predict that the Mac Mini would restore Apple’s rightful dominance in the computer marketplace, that Pages would destroy Microsoft Word, and that “Steve Jobs is going to best Bill Gates”–that’s a direct quote, and it’s the full sentence. Oh, and that the flaws of “our heroes” aren’t important: “it’s not the flaws we need to remember but the achievements.”

Why such a disconnect between the polish of the first 240 pages and the fanboy draft mode of the last 91? I’m not sure. A few chapters deal with events within a year of the book’s publication, and may simply have been rushed to completion. Otherwise, I just don’t know. I do know this: I really felt as though I was reading a different book by different authors–and I was disappointed. Not because they wind up with a fatuous “Steve Conquers All” finale, but because the book falls apart in the final chapters.

Just for fun, I looked at reviews of the book available via Worldcat and on Amazon. I should not have been surprised: Most reviews seem to be by people for whom Steve Jobs Can Do No Wrong, and savage the writers for including the details of his earlier years, some of them even seeming to suggest that these are vicious lies by monstrous writers out to slander The Jobs.


Updated 3:50 p.m. 11/27: “Page” corrected to “Pages” in antepenultimate paragraph (how often do you get to use that word?). Thanks to Dorothea S. for pointing out the typo.

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