Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. 656 pp. $35 (hardcover).

With the recent passing of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson’s biography of the now-legendary businessman was certain to become a best seller. And it has. But not everything that sells well is worth reading. Is this?

In Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s focus is on the choices, actions, and value judgments that Jobs made throughout his life—as well as on how Jobs himself evaluated these choices and actions. The result is that you truly get to know Steve Jobs—to see “what made him tick,” what he did, and how it all worked out for him—from his childhood on.

As the only biographer with whom Jobs ever cooperated, Isaacson is able to include a lot of new information. For example, Isaacson tells us that Jobs knew from a very early age that he was adopted and gives us a dramatic moment when he realized what other people might think about his being adopted:

“My parents were very open with me about that,” [Jobs] recalled. He had a vivid memory of sitting on the lawn of his house, when he was six or seven years old, telling the girl who lived across the street. “So does that mean your real parents didn’t want you?” the girl asked. “Lightning bolts went off in my head,” according to Jobs. “I remember running into the house crying. And my parents said, ‘No, you have to understand.’ They were very serious and looked me straight in the eye. They said, ‘We specifically picked you out.’ Both of my parents said that and repeated it slowly for me. And they put an emphasis on every word in that sentence.” (p. 4)

Owing partly to this event, and partly to another—where Jobs noticed how smart he was in comparison with others—Isaacson shows how Jobs began to regard himself highly. He also quotes Jobs showing how he thought later in life of his being adopted:

“There’s some notion that because I was abandoned, I worked very hard so I could do well and make my [biological] parents wish they had me back, or some such nonsense, but that’s ridiculous,” he insisted. “Knowing I was adopted may have made me feel more independent, but I have never felt abandoned. I’ve always felt special.” (p. 5)

Isaacson shows that Jobs was independent to the core, that he never really cared what others thought on any deep level, a trait that Isaacson says often worked in Jobs’s favor, by making him more assertive and less hesitant in going after what he wanted. . . .

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