It’s been 24 hours since “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs” hit the bookstore shelves (or what few of them are left, anyway). And the reviews of Yukari Iwatani Kane’s opus, from scathing to mildly favorable, are in (actually, some of them were in yesterday, but who’s counting?).
Let’s start with longtime Apple pundit Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who right up front ’fesses up to the fact that he was one of the nearly 200 sources Kane tapped for her book. Suffice to say, he now may regret having helped her out:
I’ve read the book. And I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t deliver.
There is some good reporting in the first third — the part that covers the last three years of Jobs’ life. But as the Guardian‘s Charles Arthur points out, the last two thirds are infected with an almost toxic bias, a kind of writerly tick that turns everything Kane sees and hears into further evidence that Apple is doomed.
Elmer-DeWitt says he agreed to help Kane out because he’d been impressed with her earlier reporting as the San Francisco correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.
I was intrigued. I knew Kane’s byline from the three years she spent covering Apple from the Wall Street Journal‘s San Francisco bureau, where she scored some impressive scoops. Chief among them: The front-page news (reported with Joann Lublin) that Steve Jobs had a secret liver transplant in the spring of 2009. This was a reporter who knew how to follow a chain of sources from the periphery of a story to its center. If she had the goods about Apple in the post-Jobs era, I was eager to see them.
But Kane’s almost obsessive need to paint Apple as a fading shell of its former and greater self just disappointed Elmer-DeWitt:
Ultimately, Kane’s attitude undermines her credibility as a reporter. The book is peppered with conclusions that feel like they were reached before the facts were in.
“A decline was inevitable,” she writes in her Epilogue, painting Apple’s rise and fall in mythical terms:
The story follows an archetypal pattern—a pattern familiar in both history and myth. A struggling empire, on the brink of dissolution, recalls one of its founders from exile and casts him as a savior. The ruler, ruthless and cunning as Odysseus, gathers the faithful and emboldens them to take startling risks that allow the empire to reach even greater heights than before. Amid the celebrations, the emperor grows sick. Knowing that he is the living embodiment of his kingdom’s fortunes, he tries to hide his illness until he is finally forced to accept that he is not immortal. Left to carry on in his name, the emperor’s lieutenants fall prey to complacency and confusion, lapsing into disarray and paralysis. Bound to the way things have always been done, these new leaders become less flexible and ignore the warning signs. Their emperor is gone, but ever present. Though they are still at war with enemy armies, these lieutenants cannot find their own way forward. They are tired. They are uncertain. The well of ingenuity has run dry.
We got an advance copy, and I enjoyed the first 85 pages or so of background including Steve Jobs’s transitioning the company during the last bout with his terminal cancer. This area included some interesting new tidbits (did you know Apple almost sold the original iPad for $399?).
Then, he says, the wheels started coming off Kane’s bus:
The middle of the book meanders somewhat aimlessly into the big stories after Steve Jobs’s death, but spending way too much time on Foxconn, the Samsung trial, the DOJ ebooks trial and patent minutia. I frankly had a hard time staying involved in some of these chapters because it was like re-reading old news reports with little new information to keep me satiated.
Next, Weintraub throws in the towel:
And that’s the general theme of the book. That Apple cannot be Apple after Steve Jobs. There must be a story arc here and after Steve Jobs, the company must go into decline. In fact, Kane actually says this in the epilogue (but perhaps it should have been in the prologue)
All of that said, I didn’t hate this book like a lot of other Apple reviewers did. I believe it is good for folks like us who often bathe ourselves in pro-Apple news and opinion to get an alternate reality that perhaps the mainstream sees more often in the 24-hour news/entertainment cycle. There were some interesting bits and, if nothing else, Kane’s view of Apple is somehow both cautionary and entertaining.
It’s all a shame, because inside Haunted Empire there’s some solid reporting, most notably a detailed description of Apple’s manufacturing processes in China, based on interviews with Chinese factory workers. Kane’s summation of Apple’s legal issues in the past few years, both the patent lawsuits and the ebook price-fixing case, is solid (although it’s largely a recap of what close Apple watchers already know), as are the biographical sections about the key players at post-Jobs Apple.
But elsewhere the book shows a writer trying too hard to align her book’s title and theme—namely that Apple is doomed in every possible way for every possible reason.
Credit: Mercury News and Yukarikane.com