Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I've never been much of a fan of biographies. It's not that I haven't liked them when I've read them (John F. Love's book on McDonald's is one of the first I really liked - I know, it's not really a biography, but it's close enough for my purposes). The problem with the genre is that I never seem to be able to overcome my hesitancy at the heft of the biographical tomes that tweak my occasional interest. They just seem so incredibly long. 

Instead I head to the lighter end of the personal history shelf for the quips and anecdotes of the memoir. In addition to their comparative brevity, memoirs have always stuck me as more approachable. A biography must have as its subject a person of particular interest to me to overcome my natural inclination to avoid reading one.

If you know me well or, actually, if you now me even a little bit, you might have observed that I'm a Mac guy. I like to think that I'm not one of those "glassy-eyed stare while reciting all of the features" kind of a Mac guy, but a Mac guy none-the-less. The combination of a college roommate who was very into Macs, a ministry that used them exclusively and a college job that taught me the ins and outs of many Mac-only programs set me on the Mac-specific path I walk today. Frankly, I'd have a difficult time even operating a windows machine, as I haven't used one with regularity since Windows 98.

All that to say, Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs broke through my normal reticence.

The Twitter² Summary:
Walter Isaacson’s account of the whirlwind life of Steve Jobs captures the scope of a world-changing visionary, but doesn’t miss the intimate details of his personal life. At times exciting, tragic, frustrating and moving Isaacson’s riveting account is nothing short of epic.

The Low-down:
Isaacson’s detailed biography was written with Jobs' help. Jobs went so far as to encourage (and this being Jobs, cajole and bully) others to be interviewed for the project. In spite of his clearly close connection to the project, by all accounts Jobs didn't try to control what Isaacson discovered and used during the more than 150 interviews for the book. That in itself is remarkable and eases many worries that this "authorized" biography is the result of Jobs' personal "reality distortion field" or a PR puff piece. Of all the things this book is, a puff piece is certainly not one of them.

Isaacson’s narrative captures Jobs in four seasons of life, his youth, his years of exile at NeXT and Pixar, his return to Apple and his role in the post-pc revolution. Those searching for an in-depth history of Apple will get only those glimpses and pieces that are germane to Jobs’ story. This is not the story of Apple, but that of the life of Steve Jobs.

Isaacson details Jobs’ temperamental personality and binary view of the world (“a person was either a hero or a bozo, a product was either amazing or shit”) that could frustrate and infuriate those around him. Also found is Jobs’ tendency to be hindered by the fine distinctions in life, being “stymied by things that were more complex, shaded or nuanced: getting married, buying the right sofa, committing to run a company”.

All in all, this book is a captivating narrative of a disturbed, disconcerting and driven man who significantly influenced the intersection of technology and liberal arts and who left a lasting impact on the world. Whether you are an Apple fan or not, this is a book you’ll find to be a worthwhile read.

The Links:
The Publisher's Book Page

Amazon's Book Page

The Rating:
5 Stars (An awesome book that I will want to read again and again.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Going Deep by Gordon MacDonald

Since the day I came across the genre in college, I've been a sucker for fiction that gets across a nonfiction concept. Whether it's called narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction, any time an author puts concept to paper and creates a factually accurate and convincing narrative, I'm in. It wasn't until years later that I would recognize that I'd encountered the genre far earlier in life in the parables of Jesus. (What can I say? I'm a bit slow on the uptake sometimes.)

The Twitter² Summary:
In Going Deep, Gordon MacDonald asks what kind of people a ministry should cultivate in order to thrive. He answer is narrated through the experiences of the fictional New England congregation he introduced in Who Stole My Church?

The Low-down:
MacDonald’s latest book relates the quest of a fictionalized Pastor Gordon MacDonald to find a way to develop regular people into people of great maturity and spiritual awareness. The first half of the book narrates the question of how to cultivate deep people, while the second half allows us to observe the process of attempting it. MacDonald chooses a few people from the congregation and over the course of two years, takes them through a program dubbed "CDP” or “Cultivating Deep People."

MacDonald makes great observations about the life of a church and details conversations between characters that both provide insight and move the narrative smoothly along. Though the narrative format might not connect with those looking for bullet points or chapter headings, it allows MacDonald to examine the process in greater detail. We see how MacDonald deals with grumblings and failures. Though the story slows while describing the process of the small groups progress, overall I found Going Deep to be an interesting and readable insight into developing disciples.

The Links:
The Publisher's Book Page

Amazon's Book Page

The Rating:
4 Stars (An interesting book that kept me turning the pages)

Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC's “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”