November 10, 2011

Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" v. Remnick's "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama"

I didn't have a chance in my long review of Steve Jobs to compliment Walter Isaacson on the fine job he did. One obvious comparison is to another recent 600-page biography by another major figure in establishment journalism, David Remnick's 2010 biography of the President, The Bridge

First, Isaacson's book is a lot more interesting. Partly that's due to the nature of the subject: Jobs just did a lot more things than Obama up through the same age. By the age when Obama was elected President, Jobs had overseen bringing out the Apple I, Apple II, Mac, Next, iMac, OS X, and iPod. So, Remnick had to pad his book out with long Black History Month digressions about stuff that happened in Alabama or Chicago while Barack Obama was toddling on the beach in Honolulu. Isaacson, in contrast, barely has room to introduce you to colorful Silicon Valley characters like Nolan Bushnell, Jobs's boss at Atari on Pong.

Remnick's book consists of Obama not doing stuff while people he met praise him; Isaacson's book consists of Jobs doing stuff while people who work for him or against him complain about him. Which one sounds like a better read?

The other difference is that Remnick toadies up to the most powerful man in the world, which is prudent but dull. Isaacson is impressively even-handed.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

The men who are actually responsible for the products you cite are faceless, beta engineers who will never be lauded and whose passing will be met with complete indifference by the world,, not Jobs.

Anyone who works in tech knows this.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say thanks for all of your writing. especialy the humorous stuif.

Anonymous said...

I am Anonymous.

Well I had a rather caustic reaction to your review (to your credit all outbursts were posted through) because the dog trainer crack was so irritating. And you seemed to enjoy personal cheapshots, but then you've also lambasted various executive figures' failings at driving/parking in your Chicago tales as well. Yet generally I don't find you to be dismissive of the "beta" engineers at all, as someone has been vigorously asserting under my name. Very few reviewers of *this* book have appreciated the unique nerdy/counterculture group that set the tone in 1970s Santa Clara County, so different from the east coast white-collar C-suite world. So yeah, I now think the review was basically informative and good.

I am Anonymous

Anonymous said...

One thing I've noticed in my daily life--my job, my grad school classes, social networks--is that beta males have been very quick to undermine Jobs' role and to voice support for the "faceless, beta engineers" mentioned above, while the alpha males are more likely to take the approach that Jobs gave those guys the opportunity to be involved with something great and cool rather than tech drudgery their whole IT lives. My female friends and acquaintances take the alphas' side as well.

Cult, -Cause. said...

Remnick's book should be called THE RIDE. Not as in 'freedom riders' but as in 'hitching a free ride', which is what Obama learned to do on the bus of Jewish power.

Cult, -Cause. said...

"The men who are actually responsible for the products you cite are faceless, beta engineers who will never be lauded and whose passing will be met with complete indifference by the world,, not Jobs."

This may be but could they have done it on their own without Jobs' guidance and control?
Also, if any CEO or manager could have done what Jobs did, how come not every computer company is an Apple? It's like Ditka didn't play football in 85 but as coach he led the team to victory with toughness and grit.

Anonymous said...

"The men who are actually responsible for the products you cite are faceless..."

This is like the age-old question "what does a general do on the battlefield?" or the newer question "what does a coach do on a team?" I'm sure that a lot of times the answer is "nothing of any importance." But it seems that Jobs was an exception. Three different times he led companies from nothing to success. If you count Next as a failure, that's 3 out of 4. The actual success rate in the business of making small businesses into enormous ones must be really, really tiny. Three out of four is a mind-blowing rate.

Most businesses don't innovate. Jobs's businesses consistently brought new kinds of products to the market. Without him the GUI revolution in PCs (available on the market, as opposed to labs) would have happened later than it ended up doing. How much later? We don't know. The GUI enormously eased access to computers to non-techies. He speeded up history.

Cult, -Cause. said...

Obama the new messiah, symbolic son of Oprah the new madonna.

One reason for Oprah's success was tons of famous people went on her show--indeed favored her show over others--, and part of the reason seems to have been to receive her blessing or benediction. George W. Bush's blessed kiss from Oprah may have actually sealed his victory by pulling some moderates to his side. I mean a white guy being kissed by the black madonna. (Gore didn't receive the blessed kiss though Oprah was willing to give it if he'd wanted it, but he foolishly didn't go for it--the thing I admire about him most.)

If Obama is the bridge, Oprah played the role of gate(keeper). And of course, both were handled and built up by liberal Jews.
In the mid 80s, Oprah's show was well on the way of other talkshows. She used to invite all sorts of freaks, like women who had sex with dogs.

But some white/Jewish liberals saw something in her... they knew they could mold her into a kind of the symbolic child of MLK. So, she stopped inviting the freaks on her show and went for UPLIFT and big celebrities. And then, it built a momentum where it-became-the-thing-to-do-for-famous-celebrities-and-politicians. Not just to increase their visibility but to win Oprah's blessing and maybe forgiveness. Even conservatives began to praise her as the Ideal Negress. And books blessed by her also became best sellers. The power of personality and spirituality. Hammier they are, more successful.

Steve Setzer said...

Anon @10:54 PM

I work in the software industry and have done so for 20 years, and you're just wrong to dismiss Jobs as not "actually responsible."

Every large tech project is a collaborative effort. On a small scale, a single genius programmer can create something great. But for large projects, great leadership is critical to creating great things.

I've been part of great teams and part of lousy ones; the engineers all had similar talent. The differences were in organization, project management, motivation and focus--the very areas that leaders like Jobs affect.

It's not an either/or question. You need the faceless engineers, and you need the leaders. But, sorry to say, the faceless engineers are much more interchangeable and replaceable. You could take a bunch of engineers from any shop and make them better by putting Steve Jobs over them; conversely, 95% of managers if given Apple would cluelessly drive it into the ground.

Anonymous said...

How did we bring the alpha/beta fallacy into even THIS comment thread?!

Deranged Roissy worshippers - GET A GIRLFRIEND AND LEAVE US ALONE. YOU'RE CREEPY.

Anonymous said...

Also, if any CEO or manager could have done what Jobs did, how come not every computer company is an Apple?

There isn't that much space in the market for status symbol computers that are overpriced.

Anonymous said...

Without him the GUI revolution in PCs (available on the market, as opposed to labs) would have happened later than it ended up doing. How much later? We don't know. The GUI enormously eased access to computers to non-techies. He speeded up history.

Jobs tried to shut down the development of the Macintosh, which was the first commercially successful personal computer with a GUI. It only went through because of pressure from other executives at Apple.

http://reprog.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/steve-jobs-never-had-any-designs-he-has-not-designed-a-single-project/

Cult, -Cause. said...

It's not alpha males or beta males. If you want a good job, you gotta be a data male.

Anonymous said...

"Deranged Roissy worshippers - GET A GIRLFRIEND AND LEAVE US ALONE. YOU'RE CREEPY."

Hey look, it is another woman using shaming language! I haven't seen that in a good, 10 or 20 minutes. You forgot to tell us to "man up" and "stop being bitter."

Catperson said...

George W. Bush's blessed kiss from Oprah may have actually sealed his victory by pulling some moderates to his side. I mean a white guy being kissed by the black madonna. (Gore didn't receive the blessed kiss though Oprah was willing to give it if he'd wanted it, but he foolishly didn't go for it--the thing I admire about him most.)

Actually bush kissed oprah.  Oprah did not kiss bush.  Oprah doesn't have to genuflect to anyone.  Gore forgot to kiss her which underscores a lack of social intellect, bordering on autism that gore consistently demonstrated.  Another example of Gore's social disability occurred when he walked up to Bush in a debate to demonstrate his superior height.  But the gesture backfired when bush just nodded at him humorously at gore just came across as creepy.    

If Obama is the bridge, Oprah played the role of gate(keeper). And of course, both were handled and built up by liberal Jews.

Why would Jews want a Muslim descended president?   In Israel Obama is probably the most hated president ever.  Jews supported Hillary in much higher numbers than they supported Obama.  Jewish owned media like the NY Times endorsed Hillary over Obama.  The entire media declared Hillary inevitable and the winner of every debate.  It wasn't until oprah campaigned for Obama in Iowa and south Carolina  that he Obama began to gain media momentum.  Now Jews did support Obama once he won the democratic nomination, but that's mostly because Jews alway vote democratic and 2008 was a democratic year,  and because Jews did not want see an anti-intellectual christian extremist like Sarah palin become vice president. 

 
In the mid 80s, Oprah's show was well on the way of other talkshows. She used to invite all sorts of freaks, like women who had sex with dogs.

But some white/Jewish liberals saw something in her... they knew they could mold her into a kind of the symbolic child of MLK. So, she stopped inviting the freaks on her show and went for UPLIFT and big celebrities.


Jews and whites didn't mould oprah into anything.  On the contrary,  everyone around her told her she was a fool to abandon the tabloid format that made her the richest African American ever.  But oprah brilliantly predicted that tabloid talk shows would oversaturate the market, so while all her competitors were competing to be as outrageous and sensational as possible,  oprah used her considerable skills to monopolize the market on uplifting television, which not only allowed her to maintain the highest ratings, but become America's leading  cultural, literary, and political kingmaker to boot.  As civil rights advocates,  Jews may have cheered oprah's success when she was just a popular talk show host,  but once she gained real power as the billionaire queen of all media,  dictating what people read and who they vote her,  her media coverage became much less favorable.
 

Georgia Resident said...

"Deranged Roissy worshippers - GET A GIRLFRIEND AND LEAVE US ALONE. YOU'RE CREEPY."

Because Roissy is the only person who's ever mentioned alpha and beta males, ever.

Kylie said...

"Hey look, it is another woman using shaming language! I haven't seen that in a good, 10 or 20 minutes. You forgot to tell us to 'man up' and 'stop being bitter.'"

Relax, you're not alone. I'm a woman and I'm not exempt. The particulars are different but the tactic and strategy are the same.

Cueing "Kylie, why are you bitter toward women?" in five...four...three....

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling sadistic today, so let's hit it again.

"Deranged Roissy worshippers - GET A GIRLFRIEND AND LEAVE US ALONE. YOU'RE CREEPY."

1) You're asking a deranged roissy worshipper to get a girlfriend? So you want PUAs to pick up even more women?

2) Why would you want someone who is creepy to have a girlfriend? I'm confused...

3) How is one to "leave us alone" if one gets a girlfriend? Wouldn't that entail the exact opposite, by engaging women instead?

Three logical errors in a single sentence.

Is that a new record?

candid observer said...

While some commenters seem eager to diminish the input from the "mere" engineers who contributed to Apple's success, it might be worthwhile to take a look at another technology institution with an even more impressive list of fundamental inventions, namely Xerox PARC.

Among the inventions:

Laser printers,
Computer-generated bitmap graphics
The Graphical user interface, featuring windows and icons, operated with a mouse
The WYSIWYG text editor
InterPress, a resolution-independent graphical page-description language and the precursor to PostScript
Ethernet as a local-area computer network
Fully formed object-oriented programming in the Smalltalk programming language and integrated development environment.

Given how this organization was run, the credit for these various inventions was properly given to all of the "mere" engineers who did indeed conceive of the ideas, and developed them.

Imagine, though, that Xerox PARC had been run by Steve Jobs.

Then about the only outside party who would be talking about the inventions would be Steve Jobs himself. And Steve Jobs would make it plain to anyone involved that he played the leadership role -- as well as a "designing" role -- in each and every one of these inventions. With little doubt, all of the patents would bear his name.

And the cultists would be praising Steve Jobs as the Edison of our age -- much as they do now, and for even less reason, given that Apple itself created few or no fundamental inventions.

For all practical purposes, Steve Jobs -- along with a few toadies -- has been able to write his own history as to his involvement in the Apple process of invention, such as it is.

And we are supposed to believe that that history is not in any important way corrupted by Steve Jobs' own ego needs.

In many ways, Steve Jobs shows how it is that the terrible income inequality in the United States has come to pass. The characters at the top of the corporate chain claim that it is they -- and not their workers -- who deserve the lion's share of the credit for all accomplishments of the corporation. If the firm does better than its competitors, it's because they, the CEOs, were unusually good at what they do, and NOT because their workers were, in aggregate, unusually good at what they do. That is how they justify their incomes going up by a high multiple, when that of their workers is stagnant.

Mr. Anon said...

"Catperson said...

Now Jews did support Obama once he won the democratic nomination, but that's mostly because Jews alway vote democratic and 2008 was a democratic year, and because Jews did not want see an anti-intellectual christian extremist like Sarah palin become vice president."

You're really reaching. They didn't want to support the most Israel-sympathetic ticket that the Republican party had ever nominated: John McCain is Joe Lieberman's best pal in the Senate, and Sarah Palin is an Israel-firster - she even had an Israeli flag up in her office. Jews who voted for Obama (and that was most jews) clearly did so because they liked him. It's not as if they're only other option was Hermann Goering.

Anonymous said...

candid observer,

Why didn't Xerox bring the GUI PC which it developed to the market? Because its management made poor decisions.

"Imagine, though, that Xerox PARC had been run by Steve Jobs."

Presumably, he would have brought Xerox's GUI PC to the market instead of burying it. And he would have supervised a brilliant marketing campaign for it. And it would have sold millions of copies.

Imagine something different: what if no one like Jobs ever came along, what if all managers at all of Xerox's competitors had judgment that was as poor as the kind that buried the Xerox Alto. Then this technology would not have changed the world. It would have ended up like the ancient Greek steam engine.

Someone always has to organize production and distribution. Someone has to allocate resources, which involves risk. Should those people be compensated as much as they currently are? No. But their role does have a use.

Anonymous said...

You're really reaching. They didn't want to support the most Israel-sympathetic ticket that the Republican party had ever nominated: John McCain is Joe Lieberman's best pal in the Senate, and Sarah Palin is an Israel-firster

Actually Bush and Cheney were the most Israel-sympathetic ticket Republicans ever nominated. They were surrounded by neocons who convinced them to take out Israel's biggest enemy Saddam Hussein.

But being vehemently pro-Israel doesn't win you that many votes with Jews because it's taken for granted that all presidential candidates put Israel first. So given that Jews know that all presidential candidates must put Israel first, Sarah Palin's reverence for Israel did little to negate her Christian fundamentalism and lack of intellectualism; both of which alienated a large number of even conservative Jews.

Obama won 77% of the Jewish vote in the general election, but this was only slightly more than the 74% Kerry won and less than the 79% Gore won.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/barack-obama-wins-77-percent-of-jewish-vote-exit-polls-show-1.256651


There's no statistical evidence at all that Jews disproportionately like Obama compared to other Democrats; on the contrary, Hillary cleaned Obama's clock when it came to Jewish votes in the Democratic primary. And the notion that Jews love Obama is absurd on its face. Obama's an anti-neocon who opposed the Iraq war, has Muslim grandparents and his middle name represents Israel's worst enemy: Hussein.

As much as some here would like to deny Obama any credit for his own success, his rise to the white house can not be explained by Jewish power. On the contrary, the election of Obama was an American backlash against the power of the neocons. After 8 years of being ruled by neocon puppets, Americans were ready to give the neocons the giant middle finger by not only voting in someone who opposed the Iraq war, but whose middle name was Hussein.

David said...

>Jews who voted for Obama (and that was most jews) clearly did so because they liked him.<

Maybe this is another Pauline Kael moment, but here's my anecdotal corrobration. I have a wide circle of Jewish acquaitances, and none voted for McCain. Obama was their man even before the primaries. They wouldn't discuss it, almost all of them*; their silence was that of the still waters that run deep.

(*The exception explained to me flatly, over drinks, "It's time America had a black man for president." No attempt to draw him out about this, or to argue with him, worked. The statement was made as if ex cathedra.)

Anonymous said...

To be fair, almost any US president compared to steve jobs would pale in comparison. Compare Steve Jobs' biography to George Bush's and you'd come to the same conclusion

David said...

There are good and bad symphony conductors but few conductor-less orchestras.

The quality of playing varies depending upon whether it's Karajan's orchestra or Mortimer Snerd's. Something for the faceless to ponder.

candid observer said...

Anonymous 10:24,

I think your speculation that, were it not for Steve Jobs, we might well never have seen the development of the GUI, etc., is pretty much absurd on its face. Xerox PARC was inviting outside people in to see the demos explicitly to see if the ideas could be licensed. Given the quality of the ideas, it's pretty unthinkable that no one would have chosen to develop them.

Of course, it was not, in that era, going to be a large company like Xerox that was going to do that developing; the market was too speculative, and, in the immediate future, too small for a behemoth like Xerox to develop. Perhaps in today's culture they would nonetheless take such a plunge; but not then. It was going to have to be a much smaller company that would develop it -- and it happened to be Apple that was the first.

Which, once again, brings us to the question of who is contributing what. While many people act as though it's the engineers/inventors who are "interchangeable", there's an at least equally good argument that it's the managers/executives who are interchangeable. Almost certainly, had Steve Jobs not glommed onto the GUI (only, of course, after opposing the Mac for 2 years), some other executive would have, and in fairly short order. So who's interchangeable?

One thing that can be said about someone like Steve Jobs is that they become perceived as the go-to guy for innovation. For that reason, those with breakthrough ideas will approach him with those ideas, in the hope that his reputation will bring their ideas to fruition. This is likewise true for certain venture capital firms. In both cases, it's highly likely that those same ideas would have been developed, but by different parties, had the particular individuals/companies not been involved.

The problem with the American economy is that it is the executives and money managers who get to write their own tale of glory, and thereby justify their absurdly high incomes, while giving the engineers/inventors/workers a pittance.

The canonization of Steve Jobs so far beyond his true contributions is only one more example of how it is that the executive class gets the gold, and the workers get the shaft.

catperson said...

The problem with the American economy is that it is the executives and money managers who get to write their own tale of glory, and thereby justify their absurdly high incomes, while giving the engineers/inventors/workers a pittance.

Well it's the fault of the engineers/inventors for not starting their own company where they can own all of their ideas and take the lion's share of the income. No one is forcing them to work for Jobs. Or do people choose to work with Jobs because he has the money and brand to develop and market these ideas? If so, Jobs is contributing very much to the process and deserves his vast fortune. It's all about supply and demand. Engineers/inventors are a dime a dozen, but there's only one Steve Jobs, thus he has all the negotiating leverage and it's totally justified.

Anonymous said...

"You're asking a deranged roissy worshipper to get a girlfriend? So you want PUAs to pick up even more women?"

More than 0? Look at Roissy himself - he's an evolutionary failure. He's old, washed-up, and childless. Darwin 1, Roissy 0.

"Why would you want someone who is creepy to have a girlfriend? I'm confused..."

To get un-creepy!

"How is one to 'leave us alone' if one gets a girlfriend? Wouldn't that entail the exact opposite, by engaging women instead?"

I'm a woman? Since when?

Next time, bring your A game. Or B game. Or, hell, C- at a community college game.

candid observer said...

"Well it's the fault of the engineers/inventors for not starting their own company where they can own all of their ideas and take the lion's share of the income."

Do you have ANY idea how the world really works?

Look, to begin with, the inventors in the case of PARC developed their ideas under the auspices of Xerox, who owned their ideas entirely therefore. Those inventors couldn't start their own company unless Xerox allowed them to -- which in typical cases won't happen.

Jobs was in a position to start his own successful company in very large part because he was able to ride the coattails of Steve Wozniak. That is a fairly rare, and frankly quite lucky, occurrence.

As anybody knows who has ever tried to start a business, it is VERY difficult to get funding the first time around, and luck has a great deal to do with whether one is successful. Not many people at the engineering level are in a position financially to take the risk of starting a new company; but the executives who are often brought on board to manage such companies have been so well recompensed in the past, and are given so many second chances, that the personal financial risk they undertake in the case of failure is minimal.

Really, your defense of the rapacious methods of the executive class displays an abjectness that makes me cringe.

I guess even capitalists need their useful idiots -- and they can be found on the Internet in woeful abundance.

Maya said...

"The men who are actually responsible for the products you cite are faceless, beta engineers who will never be lauded and whose passing will be met with complete indifference by the world,, not Jobs."

Look... Jobs was mainly a marketing guy. His job was to understand what the people are capable of wanting and then have it delivered. Thus, creating an image was a part of his job. The media goes nuts over marketing guys, public relations guys, mainstream journalists, pop singers and movie actors because being famous and popular IS their purpose. People who go into entertainment and media fields do so hoping to catch some camera flash lights. People who go into tech and sciences aren't expecting to have their pictures in magazines. That's not why they enter their fields. I happen to know quite a few engineers, and while many of them would like to make it big within the field and earn the respect and admiration of their peers, none have expressed the desire to be world famous and have their picture everywhere. Do you think that successful tech and science professionals envy Jobs his public death? Do they envy him that some uninformed teenager thinks that Steve Jobs "like, invented digital music or something"?

helene edwards said...

"It's time America had a black man for president."

This guy was not being honest with you. Sounds like he was trying to obscure the fact that Jews always go for whoever the Dems nominate. This is why NormPod wrote "Why Are Jews Liberal?" Also, I saw substantially the same quote from a well-known WASP. Michael Traynor, a Harvard-educated S.F. lawyer and son of one of the most famous American judges ever, wrote on an internet message board that we needed Obama "because he might appoint a black man to the Supreme Court."

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see this theme come out in Steve's movie reviews too. The director is taking undue credit for the vital work of beta best boy grips and off-screen ProTools mavens. We all know this is a fact!

Anonymous said...

----
You're asking a deranged roissy worshipper to get a girlfriend? So you want PUAs to pick up even more women?"

More than 0? Look at Roissy himself - he's an evolutionary failure. He's old, washed-up, and childless. Darwin 1, Roissy 0.
----

That of course is a logical fallacy we call a "red herring." The argument was not whether the pua decides to have children, but whether the pua decides to "gets the women." And of the more women a pua gets, the more chance for pregnancy.


---
"Why would you want someone who is creepy to have a girlfriend? I'm confused..."

To get un-creepy!
---

So a man's creepiness level is defined whether he has a woman or not? That's news to me about Ted Bundy or any other lowlife that got women. Logic-fail.


---
"I'm a woman? Since when?

Next time, bring your A game. Or B game. Or, hell, C- at a community college game."
---

So you're a man who talks like a woman? That's even worse. You know, you're really just digging the hole for yourself even deeper here. Assuming (assuming!) you are in fact male, we're down to two logical errors in a single sentence.

I'm bringing my GED course for ex-cons F-game with how easy it is to route these points.

Charlotte said...

"Hey look, it is another woman using shaming language! "

Considering the withering aspersions that men & boys cast upon one another concerning their masculinity (you know, like 'pussy' cat) I have never figured out how "shaming language" became something women do. I guess they heard feminists say it and just threw it back. Seems about right.
Still I bet there were any number of Austrapicathus females who shamed each other for not being woman enough to dig just the right tubers.

btw, while it's fine to be Anonymous, trying to follow their debates among themselves is a true headache and waste of time. It's like somebody arguing with himself.
Pls make them pick a handle, worthy of their masculine, forthright natures, and then let them go to bat about who's the most logical of them all. Because they're just dissolving into each other.

Maya said...

"Considering the withering aspersions that men & boys cast upon one another concerning their masculinity (you know, like 'pussy' cat) I have never figured out how "shaming language" became something women do. I guess they heard feminists say it and just threw it back. "

I figure both the contemporary mutated feminists and the members of Roissy's support group feel deeply ashamed, primarily, of their personal failures with the opposite sex. Therefore, they are super-sensitive to anything they might perceive as shaming language coming from the opposite sex. Obviously, since both groups are obsessed with and defined by their inner shame, their minds keep conjuring that from witch they are trying to hide.

analogy man said...

Yesterday I was watching a documentary where Penn Jillette gives an interesting appraisal of another comic as, paraphrase, totally devoted to entertaining the crowd yet totally confident & uncompromising about doing it his own way. (weirdly, the comic in question was insult king Don Rickles) He said this rare quality is sort of a mark of greatness or leadership, if you will.

This reminds me of Jobs as a sales/market-research genius. In his gawky turtlenecked way he had a 1-in-a-million quite insane concept of quality control that made him impervious to very reasonable criticisms, "instead of making Zen furniture art pieces you need to make powerful computers that help us crunch databases faster", or perhaps just "why are you selling overpriced relatively slow computers"--none of that ever fazed him. At the same time he was keenly aware that he needed to deliver that happy-medium (<-- in his opinion) shiny product that the reliable demo, the deep-pocketed SWPLs, would just lurve. He never lost sight of the latter point. A surprisingly rare sensibility in any big business, which more often that not becomes its own justification for existing instead of remaining a disciplined goods-services salesman.