I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!
This book didn’t surprise me. When I chose it I saw that it had been given an average of nearly 5 stars on all Audible parameters, so I expected it to be good - and it was. Even though a lot of the content is discussion of the minutiae of the computer industry, which you might expect to get a bit boring, I was never bored. I carried on wanting to know what would happen next all the way through.
How significant was the contribution of Steve Jobs to shaping today’s world? I guess the answer has to be: ‘very’. The World has changed spectacularly and dramatically over the last 30 years in which the digital revolution has taken place. Our lives have been utterly transformed by the computerisation of so many aspects of daily life, at work and play. If Steve Jobs had not existed (or Bill Gates, who is certainly given due credit in this book), then the digital revolution would have gone ahead just the same, and I expect the World would look roughly similar to the way it does today, but these were the two men who got to decide exactly how the hardware and software would look and function. They are the Thomas Edisons of the digital age.
Clearly they were in the right place at the right time. This hasn’t always applied to history’s great visionaries. Gregor Mendel and Gallileo Gallilei were in the wrong places at the wrong times, and weren’t given the credit they deserved. Leonardo Da Vinci was ahead of his time, inventing things like helicopters which the technology of the time couldn’t come close to fulfilling. Even Einstein was a bit ahead of his time, although he did live to see some of his scientific breakthroughs come to fruition. But Jobs and Gates were both absolute Johnnies-on-the-spot. They were born and raised in the cradle of the burgeoning computer industry, just as it was about to take off spectacularly. They had the determination, innovative genius and charisma to be the leaders of this revolution.
I knew a bit about Steve’s life because I’d seen the biopic and I had also listened to an Audible book ‘The Innovators’ outlining the history of the digital age going right back to the late 19th century (a pretty good listen too, by the way), but this book offered much more detail about Steve’s life than either of those could fit in. Everyone knows that Steve could be ruthless at times in pursuit of his goals, but this book also tells of Steve’s more humane side. He also had to overcome a number of demoralising failures – his career wasn’t just a long litany of success. As a listener, you have the luxury of being privy to the ups and downs of the life of this phenomenon, but, despite this detail, you don’t really get to know him. He was a private man and this book was written by two journalists, with relatively minor and formal roles in Steve Jobs’ life. But the lack of a really private and personal insight into Steve Jobs’ life doesn't detract from the quality of this brilliantly written and articulated story.
Einstein’s interesting life is well-described in this biography. The World was slow to recognise the emergence of this genius, whose masterpieces came in a blinding flash of creativity early in his life, while he worked in a patent office conducting thought experiments involving trains and clock towers. Armed only with his potent imagination, he revolutionised human understanding of light, time, space, gravity, mass and energy.
Later on, once his contribution had finally been acknowledged, he moved away from anti-Semitic Germany to acquire celebrity status in America. Einstein’s discovery of the iconic equation E=MC2 and his warning to President Roosevelt about the threat of nuclear bomb development by the Third Reich were two key factors in the creation and eventual deployment of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, much to the distress of Einstein, who had been a passionate pacifist for most of his life and only changed his stance on this when he saw the futility of pacifism in the face of Hitler’s determined aggression.
After his initial flurry of great insights (The Specific and General Theories of Relativity), he spent the rest of his life searching for a unified theory: A single, simple theory to explain the relationship between all fundamental cosmological phenomena, but despite living a long life he never succeeded in completing this work. He will nevertheless be remembered as the equal of Newton and Darwin for completely redrawing the scientific landscape.
If you are curious about his life, this book provides a vivid portrayal of the archetypal, childlike, absent-minded professor. You won’t necessarily be hanging on every word, because like every life, Einstein’s life had some quiet spells - but Isaacson succeeds in describing Einstein’s life accurately and insightfully.