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In the final pages of her heartbreaking memoir about her childhood, Small Fry, Lisa Brennan-Jobs addresses head on one of the central unanswered questions about her accomplished, famous and appallingly cruel father, Steve Jobs. “When people speak and write about my father’s meanness, they sometimes assume that meanness is linked to genius,” she writes. It’s a variation of the “asshole” hypothesis so many in Silicon Valley posit all the time: Is it necessary to be an asshole, like Steve Jobs was, to achieve greatness?
Brennan-Jobs, who devotes perhaps one page out of nearly 400 to her father’s business affairs, has come to her own conclusion. “Maybe the meanness protected the part that created—so that acting mean to approximate genius is as foolish as trying to be successful by copying his lisp or his walk” or other Jobsian mannerisms.
This is a haunting book. Apologists for Steve Jobs tend to talk about his charisma, his great charm, his uncanny ability to be right. They tend to dismiss or change the subject from his dark side. His eldest child, whose paternity he denied before being compelled in court to accept, sees the good in him, too. But her patient, beautifully written account of how he treated her from a young age almost to the day he died is blot on his reputation. No parent or sibling or child can read this book and not come away empathizing with its author and reviling the character around whom her story revolves.
If your goal in reading books is to be a better manager or spot future trends or to understand Apple’s secrets, this is the wrong book for you. If, on the other hand, you want to gain insight into the man whose company revolutionized industries even as he played the ogre to a defenseless child, I highly recommend it.
Speaking of Apple, The Wall Street Journal had a good piece of insight over the weekend, explaining how Apple’s (AAPL) geographic expansion last week neatly informs its ongoing strategy of offering services, higher-priced phones, and original content. The paper wrote: “Culver City gives Apple a Hollywood home base as it pushes into video programming. Seattle is a machine-learning hub where it can develop algorithms that personalize streaming-music playlists and improve Siri. San Diego and Austin offer semiconductor engineers who can advance the customized-chip efforts that help Apple wring more money out of its iPhones, iPads, and Macs.”
I also recommend The Journal’s tour de force explanation of GE’s demise under Jeff Immelt. The article nicely builds out the angle Fortune’s Geoff Colvin explored recently in his piece about the travails of activist investor Nelson Peltz in owning GE’s stock. The reading public will get even more on this subject. Financial journalist, and sometimes Fortune contributor, William Cohan, recently signed a deal to write a book on the rise and fall of GE (GE).