Apology for Mavericks: An Apple Reading List

1.

I think the first time I saw Steve Jobs deliver a keynote was in 2007. It was, if I remember right, the iPhone launch. I’d never bothered with that kind of trade show, Apple-fanatic kind of thing before but I was curious: what’s the Apple CEO like? How does he talk about — stuff?

With panache, that’s how. Jobs was a brilliant salesman and here he was selling — but there was something else. He was also a visionary.

The Zen of Steve JobsThe Zen of Steve Jobs (Wiley, 2012) by Caleb Melby. Illustrated by Jess3.

An illustrated depiction of Steve Jobs’ friendship with Zen Buddhist Kobun Chino Otogawa and the impact it had on Jobs’ career. The story moves back and forward in time, from the 1970s to 2011, but centers on the period after Jobs’ exile from Apple in 1985 when he took up intensive study with Kobun. How integral was that spiritual friendship to the design and strategy that Apple took after Jobs’ return? A remarkable, if rather speculative, work of creative non-fiction.

2.

I knew from experience as a network admin that Apples really did “just talk to each other”. They were built for connectivity, for communication, for purpose and use and — dear God — for productivity. PCs were not. Within the Windows context, the idea that you could wire together two machines and they would see each other and share information was silly; with Macs it was possible. No, it was easy. That was amazing to me. It was as if, after years of Microsoft telling users “Windows works this way,” someone at Apple had the good sense to ask, “How do you think your Mac should work?”

It seemed to me that Jobs and his designers were taking into consideration things that didn’t mesh with what I knew as technology. It seemed that their products evolved not out of a list of cutting-edge components but rather out of somewhere far more conceptual. More human, even. The computers were beautiful, the OS was revolutionary, the hardware was made to last. I began to understand why Apple was surging to the top.

Apple DesignApple Design (Hatje Cantz, 2012), edited by Sabine Schulze and Ina Grätz.

This extraordinary book is a collection of essays written by designers and scholars of design about Apple stuff. You already know the products are great; find out what really makes them so. Find out what didn’t work so well. Mine the history of appliance design to uncover insights into the mind of Sir Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple. The topics and approaches will make any hardcore Apple enthusiast salivate. Or just admire the book’s illustrated history of Apple products.

3.

Apple should never have made it. The company was, when I was a boy, the Little Engine That Could — and by high school it couldn’t. The grey boxes with rainbow fruit on them ran clunky, third-rate software. They were inevitably old, tired, perhaps yellowed … mostly incompatible with the diskettes you put into them. I and most everyone else sneered at the die-hard Macintosh cultists who obviously failed to get off that boat in time.

But then, by university, something had happened. Steve Jobs was back at Apple on a salary of a penny a year — and they were moving. Boldly. They stopped having disk drives, for instance. People predicted doom: but then all computers stopped having disk drives. They ditched serial ports and parallel ports, relying almost solely on USB. (Yet they waited an eternity before implementing USB 3.0 — intriguing.) They became like trendy furniture, iconic, transparent. What was happening? Something incredible, surely, because I found myself doing something I never thought I would — buying a Mac.

Return to the Little Kingdom - MoritzReturn to the Little Kingdom: Steve Jobs, the creation of Apple, and how it changed the world (Overlook Press, 2010), by Michael Moritz.

Thirty years ago, a young journalist at ‘Time’ magazine was allowed exclusive access to the inner workings of a cutting-edge technology company to tell the story of its first decade in business. The journalist, Michael Moritz, brought readers into the childhood homes of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, showed how they dropped out of college and founded Apple in 1976, and charted the company’s rise from basement brainstorming to colossal empire. Now, after spending almost twenty-five years at Sequoia Capital, the much admired private investment partnership, Moritz offers his contemporary perspective on the accomplishments of Steve Jobs and the extraordinary comeback of Apple in this revised edition of his now-classic work.

4.

I love my MacBook, and although I haven’t bought another Apple product in years (I’m determined to skip the smartphone age), I’m still fascinated by the company. Apple has come full circle — it has haters again. But where once the Mac was scorned as a low-order, counter-cultural quirk, now it is scorned for its high-brow, trend-setting ubiquity.

And yet, is it just me or has something slowed since autumn 2011? Something — missing — in the lively new colours, in that wannabe-elegant bronzed iPhone, in that miniature iPad that Steve Jobs swore was a bad idea…. Let me be blunt: the products aren’t so magical anymore. They’re not pushing us, not challenging us, not mesmerising and addressing us. They lack panache. How did this happen? Is it our own saturation, or mistrust of what now seems invasive connectivity? Or is it the loss of that restless maverick, Steve Jobs?

Who was Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonSteve Jobs: the exclusive biography (Little, Brown, 2011), by Walter Isaacson.

Drawn from three years of exclusive and unprecedented interviews Isaacson has conducted with Jobs as well as extensive interviews with Jobs’ family members, this book is the definitive portrait of the greatest innovator of his generation. Isaacson is a popular biographer and I don’t always trust him not to sculpt mythologised lives — not, in other words, to write the life of a great American genius when what some of us want is the life of a talented man. Nevertheless, this is the most convincing of what’s out there.

I, SteveI, Steve (Hardie Grant, 2011), edited by George W. Beahm.

This book contains more than 200 quotations from Jobs drawn over three decades, revealing his business wisdom and exploring his unmatched ability to envision, and successfully bring to market, consumer products that people find simply irresistible.

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Filed under American Culture, Books

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