Boy story

Undone by the NeXT, saved by Pixar, Steve Jobs doesn't want you reading this book.

IN A PASSAGE late in The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, Alan Deutschman, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, takes the obligatory moment to ask What Makes His Subject Tick. This is a parlous undertaking, since Deutschman is not only writing about the most mythologized figure in the Valley, but his subject—notoriously unwilling to cooperate with journalists—refused to speak to him. So Deutschman turns to one of the industry insiders he interviewed for his book. In turn, noted Mac "evangelist" Guy Kawasaki opines that the cofounder of Apple Computers—about whose near-sociopathic dealings with employees and would-be supporters we've been reading for 292 pages—"isn't immoral, he's amoral. He doesn't know that what he's doing is wrong."

The Second Coming of Steve Jobs

by Alan Deutschman (Broadway Books, $26)

And that, friends, is when I reached for my revolver and blew a hole through The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. I held my fire while Deutschman detailed how the exiled Apple founder ran through nearly $100 million (almost his entire fortune) putting forth the lovely but overpriced and poorly marketed NeXT computer, how animation revolutionary Pixar (the company that eventually saved Jobs' ass) survived his ownership only by staying below his radar, how scores of good people have been driven to the mental and physical brink by Jobs' abuse. But "amoral?" In a country where we cheerfully execute criminals with IQs of 70 and incarcerate 12-year-olds in adult prisons, blithely excusing Jobs' behavior as "amoral"—give me a break. And give me a minute to reload.

Second Coming arrives at yet another peculiar juncture in the Apple saga, as the company's advertising representatives recently announced the company would withdraw ads from publications printing rumors or speculation about the company. In addition, it may well be that the hand of Jobs has reached even to the masthead of Vanity Fair, where plans to excerpt Deutschman's book in the October issue were mysteriously scrapped at well after the last minute. (Is it breezy in here, or is it just Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter dropping his trousers?)

Second Coming isn't likely to dissuade hard-core Jobs acolytes from their worshipful ways; revelations about Steve Jobs' rotten behavior are old hat, and though we hear that Jobs wasted a fortune on NeXT trivialities, we get only anecdotal proof of his profligacy.

I did, however, enjoy learning that back in '82, when people were still shocked by his antics, Jobs lost Time magazine's Man of the Year nod after editors got wind of his shabby treatment of Lisa, his eldest daughter. (The award went instead to "The Computer.") Deutschman's depiction of Oracle honcho Larry Ellison as a tagalong trying to be Cool Like Steve was funny, as was the story of how Jobs used Pixar's post- Toy Story clout to whomp on the even-more-evil Disney. And no Seattleite should miss the account of the night Bill Gates and a few pals got drunk and prank-called Jobs pretending to be (among other folk) French software impresario Philippe Kahn.

I'LL ADMIT THAT I enjoyed this book, in the same measure and for the same reasons I loved last year's TV movie Silicon Valley of the Dolls . . . wait, no, its name was Pirates of Silicon Valley. The book picks up where the movie left off: Steve ousted from Apple by grown-ups who'd seen enough tantrums and antics. Those grownups (Sculley, Spindler, Amelio) didn't know how to manage Apple either, but that doesn't mean they were wrong about Jobs. It has the same dishy-breathless tone and the same nutritional value as the movie, which was itself based on a comparatively "deeper" book. Second Coming missed its calling; this should have headed my late-summer list of beach reads.

The book fails, as I suppose it must, to explain the Jobs mystique—how otherwise sensible folk (up to and including Gates) could find Jobs so damned entrancing. Jobs' mystique is apparently comparable to Clara Bow's "It"—magnetism affecting men and women alike, as inescapable as gravity and as injurious as the 100th foot of a 99-foot fall. And Jobs is undeniably a spectacle; far away from the would-be philosopher/artist/ mogul, I could gape in bitchy awe at such quotes as (to an employee), "You've baked a really lovely cake, but then you've used dog shit for frosting." Zounds!

What we get is that he's greedy—for attention, for adulation, for control of all kinds. We get that he's affected, playing at being a hippie several years after the movement died, styling himself a follower of Zen but telling a reporter, "I have no time for this philosophical bullshit. I'm a busy person." We get that I'm hardly the first person to think of purple Kool-Aid when I talk to Mac folk.

The Steve Jobs of Second Coming is less the philosopher-king Macheads claim him to be and more a spoiled, shrieking child who managed not to ruin Pixar only through sheer negligence, whose knack for creating computers with personality is balanced by his absolute inability to relate to most other humans as people. If you still don't understand why Bill Gates won the Microsoft-Apple war, this book may be your last best hope of getting the picture.

More books, dammit!!

 
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