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The Steve Jobs biography

apple.184Some interesting quotes in the NYT piece today from Jeffrey S. Young, the co-author of the soon-to-be-released biography on Apple CEO Steve Jobs, entitled iCon.

"This guy is out of control," Mr. Young told the Times, referring to Jobs. "I'm just a little guy. I'm just one of many guys Steve has destroyed over the years," he added, though it wasn't clear from the NYT article exactly what he meant. Young added: "He has an amazing ability to con people."

The Times said Young spent much of a lengthy interview excoriating Mr. Jobs. This raises questions about Young's motives. We don't know Young personally. But check out this posting by the late Jeff Raskin, a former Apple employee, discussing what he calls the author's sloppy previous scholarship, the more relevant comments of which we've put in extended entry below....

(Photo by Jeffrey Topping for The New York Times)

The posting also raises bigger questions about the level of scholarship of other books extolling the lore of Silicon Valley.

Under Raskin's section about "Sloppy Scholarship":

Another problem with books on the history of Silicon Valley is a dearth of simple facts checking. Jeffrey Youngās book Steve Jobs, published in 1988, is one of a number that not only share the same flaws as the books Iāve already mentioned but is especially weak on details. My copyās margins are full of comments such as "No," "False," and "Not quite." I found myself inserting the names of the actual people involved in a number of places. Even easy-to-check details are flubbed, the go-go-dancer-and-poet-turned computer maven Bana Witt becomes "Bana Whitt" (she deserves a book of her own). Young makes the truly absurd claim that I "saw no need for graphics," in the Macintosh product and so forth.

...and under the "HALO EFFECT":

...The halo effect also assigns superhuman abilities to the famous, often overcoming a reporterās credulity: Jeffrey Young writes of the first time that Steve Jobs (along with Atkinson and others) saw the work done at PARC. "Atkinson and the others were asking Tesler questions, one after the other. Tesler was quoted as saying, ĪWhat impressed me was that their questions were better than any I had heard in the seven years I had been at Xerox... Their questions showed that they understood the implications and the subtleties...ā " But Young did not ask why they had such a high level and rapid understanding that no other mortals could achieve; the halo effect had blinded him. The real reason for their near-instantaneous grasp is that they had been carefully prepared for the visit. I had repeatedly explained the details and rationale of the work at PARC to Atkinson, Jobs and others. PARCs philosophy was therefore well known at Apple. Tesler didnāt know about this background, wasnāt told, and so was bowled over.


Figures you'd get the pathetic cry for sympathy from a hack writer who rehashed a lousy 20 year old book.

But the real problem is Wiley. They're the ones who got something on the cheap and said "Hey, let's just respin this - who's gonna do anything about it?" Well, guess they found out. :-)

Maybe Wiley should pay a *real* writer to do a bio. Isn't Silicon Valley worth the insight and talent of a Tom Wolfe or a Ken Kesey - or a Tracy Kidder, who's "Soul of a New Machine" captured the sheer thrill of competition in the computer industry?

I think after changing the world, innovators in Silicon Valley deserve a real writer for a change. Put the hacks on the throw-away Britney Spears bios, and give us the literary positioning we deserve.

Lynne Jolitz on May 2, 2005 9:39 AM
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