Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal. Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. 2012. Review copy from publisher. Finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award.
It’s About: A biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, Inc.
The Good: Reading books like Bomb, Titanic or We’ve Got a Job are easy for me, because they are about topics I enjoy. With Moonbird, I noted how I could better judge the book because I’m not an animal person so was neutral about the topic. With Steve Jobs, I had a different dilemma: the more I read, the more I disliked the person this biography was about.
My role is not to like Steve Jobs; it’s rather to talk about the books, what makes it work for me, why I think it’s on the list. As with Moonbird, it is easier to see that when I’m not connected to the subject. I know I’m not being swept away by personal interest; so my role is to make sure that my dislike doesn’t factor into it. Part of the reason I’m sharing this with you is I get tired of posts that say a book isn’t good because the reader doesn’t like a character or topic or genre. It is entirely possible to evaluate a book based on the book.
So! Steve Jobs is a fascinating look at a complex man. Yes, he was, at times, self centered and not the greatest manager. But what really is a “great manager”? Is it someone who is liked, or is it someone who gets things done? Jobs got things done — and part of the value of a biography like this, that is not all puppies and daffodils and rainbows, is showing the reader this. Since this is a book for teens, I think it’s almost more valuable for them, who are still figuring things out, to know that someone who isn’t “nice” can accomplish great things; and that just because someone accomplishes terrific things, it doesn’t mean they are “nice.” Life is not that simplistic. I don’t say this as an excuse for how someone conducts their own life, but, rather, as something that people need to be aware of as they get jobs, start businesses, and work with others.
While telling the story of Jobs, Steve Jobs is also a look at technology that the intended reader has always known, and is a great (and easy for the non-geek to understand) look at the start and growth of computers, as they became the desk top and lap top devices that are everywhere. It is also, more specifically, insight into specific devices that the readers probably either use or want to own: iPhones and iPads.
Business, economics, stock shares — not the type of thing generally taught to teens. Steve Jobs, using Apple, Inc., as well as other companies, does a terrific job of explaining and showing how business works. It’s not enough to invent something: where does the money come? Who takes care of the business? What is the role of advertising?