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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson

It took me a few days less than three weeks to read the Book 44, the Steve Jobs biography, which continues my slow progress through this section of the library. Biographies are typically quite long books and most of them are not page turners that you can rattle through in a few days.

That doesn't mean to say I don't enjoy them though. I have got something from all the biographies I have read so far: Wainright, Marx and Jobs. Although I work in a similar industry to that of Jobs, he's the most different type of person to me than either of the other two, and therefore in many ways the most difficult to relate to. I am not and never would have been a high powered businessman, so in many ways I identify more with Marx and Wainwright's years of solitary industry than I do with Jobs's construction of a business empire.

Obviously though reading of the evolution of the several Apple devices which changed the world was personally interesting to me. I have never owned anything made by Apple, but I have used extensively some of the second wave of products that copy their ideas - Windows and Android largely. Jobs is a few years older than me but I can still understand the extent of what he achieved in the 1970s when he and Wozniak built the first apple machine in his dad's garage.

Interesting as this book is it's not really a full biography of Steve Jobs at all. It's much more a business biography. I know he spent most of his waking day at work but he still had a life outside the office and this is not the main focus of the book. It's very much a catalogue of the products and services which Steve Jobs developed rather than an account of his personal life. To some extent that's because it's a first biography which Jobs himself asked for, although refused to read. It would be interesting to read a more complete and independent biography that doesn't hold anything back.

I never met or even saw Jobs but I don't think I would have liked him as a boss, he's definitely not my type of employer. If I had to choose between him and Bill Gates as my boss (oh to have had that choice!) I would plump for Microsoft every day of the week. That's not to say though I am not in awe of what Jobs achieved - without even writing a line of code himself!

Next up for Book 45 is another biography, this one of Bobby Fisher the chess player.

As a (weak) Dorking Chess Club player myself I enjoy the game, and Fisher was one of the great characters in its history. He also lived in an interesting time during the Cold War when chess was a very competitive area between the two super powers. Reading about Fisher is going back to the "loners" like Marx and Wainright, rather than Alpha Males like Jobs.

Endgame is "only" 450 pages so it should be polished off in no time :>)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution Mary Gabriel

It took me three weeks to read the Karl and Jenny Marx biography, which means at this rate I'll still be working my way round the library in five year's time!

Holiday slowed me down a bit, but it's a very long book I embarked upon, 550 pages of small print in a physically large book, It's probably 800+ pages in a normal typeface. Plus the subject matter is not easy with a very long list of characters entwined in the story across a large part of Europe. Because Love and Capital is not just the biography of Marx and his wife, it's a biography of his whole clan, and there's over 100 pages after they both have died before the story finally comes to an end.

It's an enjoyable and meticulously researched book and you can tell that the author is as interested in Marx's daughters as she is in the man itself. All the family had so many tough experiences to go through it's hard to imagine over 100 years later how hard it was to live in the 19th century even for a middle class family like the Marx's. Marx lost four children and his first fourth grand children, which must have been very hard to take. He was almost permanently skint until the last few years of his life and his kids mainly continued the tradition of being flat broke!

What I really got from the book is what an underachiever Marx was. He may have changed the world but really he wrote so little completed material and you just wonder what more he could have accomplished given the resources and a more regimented life. He was incredibly lucky to have Engels there to finance him for most of his life and complete all his works after he had died.

When you compare Marx with Wainright who I read about two books back there a lot of similarities in that both of them didn't become well known until well into middle age. The difference was Wainright was much more focused and produced a massive oeuvre in the years left to him. Wainright paid the price of having almost no meaningful relationships whereas Marx founded a whole movement and had many contacts and friends. Swings and roundabouts!

Marx spent his life dedicated to the struggle of the proletariat but never worked himself for anyone in a "normal" job, not unlike most of our recent prime ministers. Marxism has ultimately been a failure wherever it has been tried out, but you could equally argue that capitalism has been a disaster as we stand on the precipice of the environmental meltdown of the world's burgeoning population. Marx though fought for the rights of the ordinary "man", and today's world is unrecognisable in Europe to what it was in his day. Employment laws, education, votes for everyone, and human rights have progressed enormously from the world of the latter half of the nineteenth century. A lot of that must go down to the movement he inspired.

For all his liberalism though Marx was still a Victorian and his views seem distinctly un liberal to today's mind set. He still treated his daughters like he owned them, refusing them permission to marry is one case.

All in all Love and Capital is a good book and I award it 8 out of 10. I miss the Marx's, they were my companions for three weeks of my life and even went on holiday with me!

Next up is an even longer book! Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson is a book about one of the great figures of my lifetime.

I have read books about Bill Gates, the Google founders and the recent book I read in this project about Amazon's Jeff Bezos. Steve Jobs though is someone I have not read about before. Working in the same or similar industry to Jobs but about 15 years younger than him I have a great deal of common years with him, unlike Marx whose whole era was completely alien to me. Even though I have never bought anything made by Apple I'll be interested to read the story of his great inventions because I've spent much of my life using competitor products like Windows that were shaped by his own inventions.