November 10, 2011
I didn't have a chance in my long review of Steve Jobs to compliment Walter Isaacson on the fine job he did. One obvious comparison is to another recent 600-page biography by another major figure in establishment journalism, David Remnick's 2010 biography of the President, The Bridge.
First, Isaacson's book is a lot more interesting. Partly that's due to the nature of the subject: Jobs just did a lot more things than Obama up through the same age. By the age when Obama was elected President, Jobs had overseen bringing out the Apple I, Apple II, Mac, Next, iMac, OS X, and iPod. So, Remnick had to pad his book out with long Black History Month digressions about stuff that happened in Alabama or Chicago while Barack Obama was toddling on the beach in Honolulu. Isaacson, in contrast, barely has room to introduce you to colorful Silicon Valley characters like Nolan Bushnell, Jobs's boss at Atari on Pong.
Remnick's book consists of Obama not doing stuff while people he met praise him; Isaacson's book consists of Jobs doing stuff while people who work for him or against him complain about him. Which one sounds like a better read?
The other difference is that Remnick toadies up to the most powerful man in the world, which is prudent but dull. Isaacson is impressively even-handed.