A good biography shouldn't be a step-by-step walkthrough of a life. Even a simple life is too complex to be reduced to a record of what happened in it. A good biography should provide a view into the character of its subject by showing how that character manifests itself in ways big and small. Becoming Steve Jobsby Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli succeeded for me where Walter Isaacson's more famous book failed because I walked away from it with a better understanding of who Steve Jobs was, not as a business leader or visionary technologist, but as a human being.
It strikes me that a good measure of how someone has lived his life is not so much the number of voices speaking for or against him, but the passion with which they speak. Those who hate Jobs admit seem to hate him halfheartedly, but those who loved him did so truly and deeply. John Lasseter tells the story of saying goodbye to Jobs at the end of the latter's life. What resonated with me wasn't the sadness of the farewell, but the gratitude that Lasseter felt for the man who had been his boss, his mentor, and his friend. His last words to Jobs were: "Thank you. Thank you for everything you've done for me." In the end, can any of us ask for a better farewell from someone we love? And can any of us ask for more than someone to whom we can say it?
Becoming Steve Jobs devotes an entire chapter to Jobs' famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford, where Jobs said: "You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." Nothing in the book hit me as hard as those words. I have an unusual personal and professional background and a range of interests far more eclectic than is typical in a person my age. I have spent a good deal of time wondering what I might have accomplished to date if only I could have winnowed away some of those interests and focused on one or two things - specialized, as they say. But I've never been able to bring myself to do that, because I can't quite believe that I'll lead a better life as a narrower person. It is deeply encouraging to have someone tell me to trust that all of those interests, all of those dots, will connect in my future, even if that someone said it ten years ago and has been dead for almost four. It is encouraging to hear someone say that all of it matters.