Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Steve Jobs, by the time of his death from cancer in 2011, was the most closely watched and imitated man in Silicon Valley, California. He invented Apple Computer in his parents’ garage. He left it to start NeXT computers. He bought the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm and renamed it Pixar Animation Studios. He then convinced Disney to buy Pixar, changing the animation industry forever. Returning to Apple, he made it the number one technology company in the world with three revolutionary products in one decade.
Jessie Hartland writes and draws Steve Jobs: Insanely Great in the same busily crammed, perky and informal way she illustrates for newspapers, magazines and corporate product lines. There’s an inviting energy to her slightly wonky pictures which tend to be montages spread over one or two pages, the text floating freely around the images. This style gives her playful cartoons an overall feel of lightness, with none of the careful polish or rigour you might expect from a biography of a man who was obsessed with those things. It also means there’s a relentlessly upbeat and chipper tone to everything no matter how grinding, difficult or unpleasant the real-world circumstances of Jobs’ life and behaviour was. Hartland originally intended this book to be for middle-schoolers. Although she’s aged it up from teenagers to adults, her style of simple statements combined with attractive, peppy graphics smooths out many of the more objectionable parts of her subject, turning them into simple wackiness or passing over them with a bland sentence or two.
There is a lot of ground to cover in the extraordinary life of a man who essentially refused to accept reality the way it was and bent it to match his vision, creating wholly new industries as a result. Seven 300 to 600-page biographies from a broad range of authors and a two-hour feature film couldn’t cover everything and had to pick what aspects they could explore in detail. So it’s not surprising that Steve Jobs: Insanely Great is hardly in-depth, with many difficult or critical incidents summarized in a picture or two (his strange and complicated years-long rivalry/respect for Windows creator Bill Gates is allocated two pages, for instance). Hartland does make up for this with lots of fun and interesting summaries of the technologies this book is about, explaining computer jargon, presenting Jobs’ visionary ideas in the context of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, from the Sony Walkman to flip phones. She even draws an architectural cutaway diagram of his design for Pixar’s California studio.
If you are interested in Jobs and his huge effect on the world we live in today, but don’t want or need the kind of detail which many of his fans demand, then this 225-page book will tell you the basics of what you need to know, with charming flair.