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Meyer, J.K. (2012). Contemporary Culture: Steve Jobs. By Walter Isaacson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011, xxiv + 630 pp., $35.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 60(4):869-877.

(2012). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 60(4):869-877

Contemporary Culture: Steve Jobs. By Walter Isaacson. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011, xxiv + 630 pp., $35.00.

Review by:
Jon K. Meyer

A devoted Apple user, I am captivated by the aesthetics and elegance of the brand. As such, I am the consumer Steve Jobs set out to create. Perhaps in a way not unrelated to that bias, I offer fair warning that this is not the usual book review. The volume has a nominal author, but to me Steve Jobs's personality overshadows the book itself; in a sense, he is its actual author.

Walter Isaacson had written biographies of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Kissinger. Already diagnosed with cancer, Jobs pursued Isaacson: “I realized other people would write about me if I died…. So I wanted to make sure someone heard what I had to say” (p. 557). Almost everything Jobs did was orchestrated, so it would have been out of character to leave legacy to chance. To his credit, however, Jobs did not put Isaacson on a leash, nor was the manuscript subject to review. Thus we are given a portrait of a creative but blemished human being.

Jobs was the biological child of a German Catholic Wisconsin farm girl, Joanne Schieble, and a Syrian Muslim, Abdulfattah Jandali, a University of Wisconsin teaching assistant. Marriage then was not an option, so Ms. Schieble put her son up for adoption—by college graduates only. Despite that proviso, the baby went to the working class, high-school dropout Jobs family—after they agreed in writing to send him to college (pp. 1-4).

When young Steve was two, Paul and Clara Jobs adopted a daughter, Patty. No small matter for any two-year-old, this arrival is interesting since Patty is essentially absent from Jobs's narrative and seems not to have been pursued by his biographer. Jobs did have a childhood memory of telling a neighbor girl he was adopted. She asked if that meant his real parents didn't want him. “Lightning bolts went off in my head…. I remember running into the house, crying” (p. 4). His parents reassured him that they had chosen him. In fact, “Abandoned. Chosen. Special … [and perhaps replaceable] became part of who Jobs was …” (p. 4).

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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