The Book of Jobs

By Maureen Tkacik
February 22, 2012

Steve Jobs smelled so foul that none of his co-workers at Atari in the seventies would work with him. Entreating him to shower was usually futile; he’d inevitably claim that his strict vegan diet had rid him of body odor, thus absolving him of the need for standard hygiene habits. Later, friends would theorize that he had been exercising what would prove a limitless capacity for sustained and gratuitous lying that came to be nicknamed the “reality distortion field.”

Jobs originally learned the “reality distortion field” from Bob Friedland, an enterprising hippie he met by chance one day when he returned early to his dorm room and found Friedland having sex with Jobs’ girlfriend. Bob was four years older than Steve, and had taken two years off to serve a prison sentence for LSD trafficking. Like Steve, Bob would eventually become a billionaire, just in the mining business. His followers would often invoke his old drug dealer nickname “Toxic Bob.”

Steve Jobs needed no nickname. As the title of his definitive biography reminds, Steve Jobs speaks for itself. His name was his essence, what set him apart even among greats like Einstein and Kissinger, iconic figures with whom he shared a biographer, Walter Isaacson (though not the cheesy, descriptive subheads Isaacson used in his books about the other two subjects).

Steve Jobs, the book, is very much a product of its time, which is to say, a product of its subject’s fastidious narcissism and the broader culture’s limitless capacity for nurturing it. With any luck future generations will saddle Steve Jobs, the brand, with the blemish of all the jobs (small “j”) a once-great nation relinquished because of brand-name billionaires like Jobs. But we are not there yet.

Arriving in stores all of a fortnight after his death, the book was instantly deemed by the New York Times as “clear, elegant and concise enough to qualify as an iBio.”

In truth Steve Jobs is the antithesis of concise, but words have a way of inverting meanings in the reality distortion field. Surely Isaacson might have dropped one of 92 references (according to Kindle) to Bob Dylan.

Sometimes the repetition serves a purpose: The drug LSD, referred to 33 times, is clearly important to Jobs. (The FBI thought the same, according to documents released this month.) “How many of you have taken LSD?” Jobs taunts an audience of Stanford business school students. “Are you a virgin? How many times have you taken LSD?” he demands of an Apple interviewee. Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid.” Tripping was “one of the two or three most important things he’d done in his life.” People who had never dropped acid “would never fully understand him.” The generations that followed his own were more “materialistic” and less “idealistic” for not having tripped; also, they all looked like “virgins.” In the binary world within Steve’s reality, having consumed LSD was the key determinant of whether a colleague or employee was deemed “enlightened” or “an asshole.”

To iSummarize: Steve Jobs had a litmus test for evaluating workers: It was a lot like a literal litmus test.


Steve never learned to program computers, but he was far too skilled at manipulating people. He wooed all manner of women who were too good for him – such as Joan Baez, who was good enough for Bob Dylan to neglect in the sixties—only to discard them so thoughtlessly it seems like a joke. According to Baez, he experienced a “fervor of delight” while demonstrating a computer programmed to play a Brahms quartet and explaining that future generations of computer orchestras would sound better than humans, down to the innuendo and cadences. This filled Baez with “rage,” she recalled later on with evident amusement; it reinforced Jobs’ growing suspicion that she was “antiquated.” Later, Baez brought him to a dinner party at which he met a 20-year-old who became his new girlfriend.

Jobs’ love life is explored somewhat more laboriously in Steve Jobs than it was in the profile the FBI compiled in 1991 from interviews with 29 people who knew him. Jobs was being researched because the administration of the first President Bush was considering nominating him to the export council. His love life’s prominent role in both the book and his FBI profile underscores Jobs’ extreme consistency. There’s a jilted ex-girlfriend tone to the remarks of most people to whom Jobs was ever close, with the notable exception of the ex-girlfriends themselves, who have for the most part gotten over it. There is no “getting over” Jobs in business. One character witness offered a lengthy discourse to an FBI investigator on the “deceptive” Jobs and his propensity to “twist and distort reality in order to achieve his goals.” He then gave the names and phone numbers of three other individuals who might offer further insight into his cruelty, dishonesty, and deadbeat fatherhood. But finally he granted Jobs a hearty recommendation for the post:

[Redacted] concluded the interview by stating that even though he does not consider Mr. Jobs to be a friend, he possesses the qualities to assume a high level political position. It was [Redacted]’s opinion that honesty and integrity are not required qualities to hold such a position. [Redacted] recommended him for a position of trust and confidence with the government.

If honesty and integrity have no business in public service, they are a downright liability in private enterprise. At least Jobs didn’t usually pretend he believed they were anything else. His management maxim: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy.”


Curiously, Steve Jobs’ formative work experience came on a factory floor. He was only 14, but Bill Hewlett himself had given him a summer job on a Hewlett-Packard assembly line, and Jobs called him at home to ask if he’d send him some HP parts for his computer club. Jobs recalled the summer’s experience to Isaacson as a bittersweet rite of passage, evidently still stinging from being teased by a supervisor. The pubescent Jobs had gushed to the supervisor: “I love this stuff, I love this stuff.” He then asked the man what he liked to do best.

“To fuck, to fuck,” the guy responded mockingly.

From this Steve Jobs learned the power of public humiliation, especially when directed at possible “virgins.”

He also seems to have formed a significant grudge toward factories themselves. In 1982, he was so repulsed by the “messy and inelegant” sight of so much “work being done by hand” in a Tokyo Sony factory that he refused to order their disk drives. His underlings circumvented this particular decree by hiring a Sony engineer whom they banished to the closet whenever Jobs visited. But Jobs won out in the end, successfully commandeering an overhaul of the Mac production process to ensure that all its computers would emerge from a veritably dust-free, human-free assembly line. The walls were “pure white,” the robots red and blue and yellow. One of the most expensive robots, once given a new coat of paint, began to chronically malfunction. It was decommissioned. The human manufacturing director quit in solidarity.

“It took so much energy to fight him, and it was usually over something so pointless that finally I had enough,” the director said.


In the end, of course, Jobs would bow to shareholder demands and export the robots’ jobs to cheaper human laborers in China. But that is not part of Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, which makes zero mentions of Foxconn, the million-employee contract manufacturer that ultimately enabled the great iResurrection of America’s favorite iBrand.

Foxconn is a subsidiary of Hon Hai Precision, a Taiwanese contract manufacturer founded by a curious man named Terry Guo, who does not seem particularly astute at self-branding. He apparently wears an ancient Yuan Dynasty bracelet in honor of his supposed “personal hero,” Genghis Khan, but his management maxims sound suspiciously Confucian. “I always tell employees: The group’s benefit is more important than your personal benefit,” he once said to the Wall Street Journal. It’s better to join the navy than be a pirate, in other words.

Or is it? Guo’s factories employ 90 percent of Apple’s workers in exchange for less than 5 percent of its profits, all so they can consume approximately 99 percent of Apple’s negative press. Guo doesn’t talk to journalists often, but angry employees leaked some comments he made in January at a company annual “family day” at the Taipei Zoo. Taking the stage next to the zoo’s director, he compared Foxconn to his surroundings. “As human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache,” he said.

“What kind of animal jumps off a building?” an indignant Internet commenter wanted to know.


Sun Danyong started the Foxconn suicide trend in 2009, following a humiliating interrogation session with security. He texted his girlfriend, told his co-workers he was going to do “something big,” and jumped out of his 12th-story window.

Suicidal people aren’t often motivated by the thought of an ensuing international media event, unless they are planning on taking others down with them. But Sun proved right; his suicide was an international media event, and more improbably it was a media event that mattered, eventually winning his million co-workers a 30 percent raise and flooding their factories with earnest news reporters seeking to chronicle the conditions that might motivate such a bold move.

It was probably inevitable that the media missed the point. The lives of Chinese assembly line workers are not conducive to mainstream media coverage, as the former Wall Street Journal reporter Leslie Chang concluded the morning she began writing Factory Girls, a 2008 book based on a series she’d written about life in the factory metropolis of Dongguan. After a few heated fights with the editor-voices in her head, she began writing in the second person, and a realization struck: She could never go back to newspapers, because “the journalistic voice strangles imagination.”

This becomes less and less bearable when you are attempting to convey life in a place where the imagined is relentlessly replacing reality, and vice versa. The lives of virtually all 1.6 billion Chinese have “changed beyond recognition over the past two decades,” she notes. Anyone who has visited twice will understand that to be an understatement; some things only take a month or so to become unrecognizable.

When imagination is off the table, you get coverage like CNN’s Foxconn series, in which CNN interviews a disgruntled Foxconn employee complaining of “dehumanization” and, lacking anything terribly sensational or sordid, asks her if she might be able to quantify that. We learn that the job entails sticking more than 4,000 stickers onto iPads each day.

In Factory Girls you learn that “dehumanization” is a pretty universal fear of migrant factory workers, but mostly because they are so much more acutely aware of humanity, and the vast spectrum of possibilities it can hold, than most people one encounters these days. It’s hard to explain why, but this renders Chang’s barely connected collage of scenes bizarrely gripping in a way that usually requires an elaborate plot. As she explains in the introduction, her subjects don’t have much in common beyond a kind of self-possession that reminded me of Sun Danyong: “They understood the drama of their own lives and knew why I wanted to write about them.” Their ambition is familiar in a way that reminds you of reality-show teenagers, but their priorities keep changing with the world. As the world around them gets richer, the meaning of wealth shifts; fear of dehumanization is the new fear of poverty.


The most inspiring passage of Steve Jobs is the part where Tina Redse refuses to marry him. It is the summer of 1989, they have been dating on and off for five years, and Tina has come closer than anyone to domesticating him. She has brokered peace between Steve and Chrisann Brennan, the mother of his 11-year-old daughter, a woman Jobs had so cruelly ignored after she got pregnant that she’d been reduced to scrawling messages on the walls of the house they shared. Tina has coaxed Jobs into being an occasionally decent dad (a change which would be mentioned somewhat incredulously by a number of the FBI interviewees two years later). She has moved in and out and in again. In one dark hour she left her own message on the walls:  “NEGLECT IS A FORM OF ABUSE.” But he claims she is the only woman he has ever truly loved, and she knows this is true enough.

It is not, however, enough. “I didn’t want to hurt him, yet I didn’t want to stand by and watch him hurt other people either,” she said later, describing the overall courtship experience as “painful and exhausting.”

Jobs, on the other hand, had 22 more years of pain and exhaustion to produce, so the reader is not so easily let off the hook.

And so each passing orgy of rage over the color of something made Steve Jobs more successful; each outlandish, last-minute demand made Steve Jobs richer.


I happened to move to Guangdong province the same summer as Tiananmen Square. My new home was far away from the protests, but shared Beijing’s compulsory poverty.

Mercifully everyone was getting richer, thanks to factories. A Nike factory opened that year, informing what would become an abiding, personal frustration with the anti-“sweatshop” movement. Back then, the movement seemed naively oblivious to the realities of everyday Chinese; today it seems more cruelly oblivious to the realities of everyday Americans. For 20 years now it has consistently cast Chinese laborers as victims, quantifying that victimhood by an arbitrary formula: How many hours of assembly line toil would be required to purchase whatever overpriced good they happened to be assembling?

But Chinese factories aren’t really sweatshops anymore — rather they’re some of the most sophisticated high-tech manufacturing plants in history. This is not because their workers assembled more and better sneakers every year. It is because China’s government, emulating that of Japan and Taiwan and Korea before it, subsidized industries that required rapid, constant change. And by doing that, China created a working class that is no longer so impoverished that it’s also powerless. Economic growth isn’t always pretty, but if you can legitimately make things better than they were for the majority of the population, it’s worth it.

Over two decades the quintessential Chinese factory worker has gone from earning $50 a month assembling $100 sneakers to $300 or so a month, depending on overtime, assembling $300 or so smartphones. If a Foxconn worker — given the other opportunities in life and the current no-cell-phone policy on the factory floor — was going to splurge on a smartphone, the only reason he wouldn’t buy an iPhone is that Apple products are inevitably a ripoff, which is the not-so-dirty secret of 31.5 percent operating margins.

Because when you work in a factory, brands lose a lot of mystique, as Chang demonstrates in Factory Girls when she experiences a mild panic attack after discovering, all at once, that a teenage subject’s beloved collection of Coach and LeSportsac handbags is not fake. The purse factory at which she works is actually a genuine, officially sanctioned Coach factory, and this is no big deal because she is friends with the security guards, who will let you take a bag out of the factory as long as you promise not to sell it to strangers.

Working at Foxconn is nothing like that. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous; military” protocols the sneaker factories abolished in the early nineties govern every little process; countless rules seem intended purely to subjugate; and security guards are friends with no one, as Sun Danyong learned when an iPhone prototype in his car went missing in the summer of 2009. Foxconn security searched, interrogated, and tortured Sun in episodes he described bitterly to friends. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became.

So he jumped out of his 12th-story window to protest the perverse pathology that values inanimate objects over the humans that make them. Nowhere in his final text messages or chat transcripts did he mention long hours or low wages. The first news reports focused on Foxconn’s draconian confidentiality and non-compete agreements; in ensuing interviews with the Hong Kong labor rights organization Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), workers focused mostly on military training, standing, and other practices they described as “nonsense.”

But the nonsense works better closer to home. Excerpts of Adam Lashinsky’s new exploration of Apple’s vaunted “culture of collaboration,” Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–And Secretive–Company Really Works, detail a policy prohibiting employees from talking to one another about any topic about which both parties have not yet been officially “disclosed” — Distortionspeak for “cleared to discuss” — by a higher authority.

To be clear: Enforcing such a policy at a company that prides itself on collaboration is pretty much the textbook definition of “Orwellian.” It is also good for shareholder value and a practice that has stood the test of time: Forbidding workers from talking to one another keeps wages down, especially when senior management has struck deals with its rivals (as Apple allegedly did) agreeing to refrain from poaching one another’s talent.


Until a decade ago, I didn’t really consider what globalization meant for its really big winners: the corporate elite who reaped inflated margins. That profit was enabled by China’s low-cost manufacturing, along with price-distortion mechanisms of companies’ marketing departments and advertising agencies and intellectual property lawyers. But those are the people you meet as a domestic reporter at the Wall Street Journal, which is where I worked in 2002, when I first traveled to the blandly luxurious Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon. Scanning the landscape for possible stories, which at the Journal generally entailed some big and undisclosed line item, I wondered how the famous architects who designed the buildings made out compared with the famous athletes for whom the buildings had been named, versus the creative directors who shot the commercials, how they split the residuals, and how the executive I was about to interview stacked up against everyone else.

Anticipating the interview, I realized my breath urgently required gum and found a store with a grandmotherly cashier who was definitely the oldest person for miles. (There for stock options, presumably.)

“Oh, there’s no gum on the Nike campus,” she informed me, solemnly. “It’s Phil Knight policy.”

Assuming material was better than minty breath, I laughed and made a mental note to rib every executive I met about the Phil Knight Policy.

“I don’t know if I would call it a formal policy,” the first VP I asked said stiffly. “I think it’s just part of an overall standard of excellence.”

It gradually dawned on me after this encounter that much of the cultural nonsense I presumed had died with the tech bubble was alive and well. Especially wherever brands had adequately inoculated themselves against the threat of the proverbial “burst,” which in this case just happened to involve a ban on bubblegum. And the nonsense was proliferating. It occurred to me at some point that exploitation would be accepted as so fundamental to the general “lifestyle” that slavery itself could be recast in the jargon of “aspiration.”


In 2010, employees of a Bay Area Apple store learned that new hires were getting paid more than experienced staffers, and about a dozen agreed to bring it up during their upcoming performance reviews. One after another, the employees were simply given the same response:

“Money shouldn’t be an issue when you’re employed at Apple. Working at Apple should be viewed as an experience.”


In the end Steve Jobs’ contempt for human life did not exempt his own. He sacrificed himself thoughtlessly in one final and meaningless act, an act of radical branding so brave and revolutionary the media listed the cause of death as pancreatic cancer.

Of course, as we learn in Steve Jobs, to attribute Steve Jobs’ death to pancreatic cancer is to libel the cancer. In 2003 Steve Jobs had a pancreatic cancer scare that turned out to be a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, an extremely rare and slow-growing condition that accounts for only 1 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. It was the best-case scenario. His wife told Isaacson she remembered his doctors “tearing up with joy” when they learned the good news.

But then Steve Jobs refused to have surgery, once again putting all his faith and bullying, reality-blind certitude into his insufferable brand of sanctimonious veganism. This wasn’t a matter of passing up radiation and chemo; this was a matter of passing up every cancer patient’s dream of not even having to go through radiation and chemo.

“The big thing,” his wife explained to Isaacson, “was that he really was not ready to open his body,” as if such a move might jeopardize his manufacturer’s warranty. Then, burrowing into the depths of reality distortion, she added: “It’s hard to push someone to do that.”


But like all the other internal contradictions that seem to endlessly fascinate the punditry elite about Steve Jobs, this apparent conflict between Jobs’ profound affinity for technology and his bizarre unwillingness to allow it to save his life is another pointless straw man that only serves to further elide the very Jobsian simplicity that lies beneath:

There once lived one of those really obstinate assholes who will constantly tell you he couldn’t change his assholic ways if it killed him. It killed him.

There once lived a pathological liar who convinced the world his particular habits of lying were the foundation of his astonishing business success. That turned out to be a lie.

There once lived a drug dealer named Toxic Bob who taught Steve Jobs how to emit noxious fumes and lie about it. Toxic Bob made billions extracting riches from the earth and leaving the toxins behind for the government to clean up. Toxic Bob now resides in Singapore, where chewing gum is against the law.

Both men stayed very true to their brands.

PHOTOS: REUTERS/Stringer; REUTERS/Bobby Yip; REUTERS/Robert Galbraith; REUTERS/Donald Chan; REUTERS/Rick Wilking; REUTERS/Seth Wenig; REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco; FILE


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I was diagnosed in 2002. I am not a vegan and I am still kicking. I attribute that to my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Posted by edbellinger | Report as abusive

[...] just read this in an Economist article (about Steve Jobs & Foxconn [...]

Brlliant. Great antidote to all the hagiography.

Posted by destor23 | Report as abusive

[...] Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson 22 February 2012, by StreetEYE Finally got around to reading the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson. It’s must read for anyone involved in the tech business. Some slightly less charitable takes: John Gruber is all I Am Disappoint there aren’t more insights into the products and strategy. Self-described underemployed writer Maureen Tkacik notes that Jobs was a Machiavellian liar, exploiter, and control freak. [...]

[...] The Book of Jobs | The Great Debate – Jobs originally learned the “reality distortion field” from Bob Friedland, an enterprising hippie he met by chance one day when he returned early to his dorm room and found Friedland having sex with Jobs’ girlfriend. Bob was four years older than Steve, and had taken two years off to serve a prison sentence for LSD trafficking. Like Steve, Bob would eventually become a billionaire, just in the mining business. His followers would often invoke his old drug dealer nickname “Toxic Bob.” [...]

Bravo! What a proper sendoff to that Randian monster and to the ones who became lost and forgotten in the wake of his destruction.


Can you hear it? That’s the hate stampede of fanboys/girls, sock puppets and trolls raging this way.

Posted by bs_jackson | Report as abusive

Really, really well written article. Thanks for this.

Posted by jimyy | Report as abusive

It’s easy to bash someone when they are dead. Try it on someone who is alive. I dare you.

Posted by veggiedude | Report as abusive

Thank you, Maureen Tkacik, you have done the world a great service by giving us the other side to Jobs. He was an amazing person… but he was not a god, not superhuman, not a hero. He was human and had many faults. thank you for giving us the other side to the story of this man and his business methods. Maybe now we can move on and forget about the hero status the world has given him. he did push the boundaries of innovation and made billions of dollars, not too many of his employees, the outsourced ones, shared in that wealth.Thank you again, Maureen, it is important to have the otherside of the story so we do not put him on a pedestal.

Posted by dermotmckinney | Report as abusive

Hey Maureen, if you’re underemployed, send us your resume.

Finally an antidote to the Jobs nonsense on Huff Post and elsewhere ( nd-Steve.html). Ignore the Apple fan boys who will crawl all over this comment page. All this stuff about Jobs being this generation’s Ford or Edison is ridiculous. Bill Gates did more for US productivity and society than our Apple boys.

And Jobs mocked Gates at every opportunity. Our favorite was when he said Gates would have somehow been a better person if he had dropped acid. Sure, we get it.

Our industrial base has morphed into buying hard things from China, like iPads, so we can waste away our hours on Facebook, whose whole revenue model is selling advertising. Way to “change the world.”

It’s time to get back to basics.

Posted by WeWereWallSt | Report as abusive

Astonishing appropriate and artful obit for a breathtakingly bizarre and sinister cultural ikon.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

[...] The Book of Jobs Moe Tkacik, Reuters [...]

How fascinating.
He was a very private person and maybe now we know why.
Oh well, he did a few things right. He left a great company that brings out great products that I enjoy. The rest about what old girlfriends said, or what people wrote on walls (huh???). Good luck with your book or whatever.

Posted by drumscannerguy | Report as abusive

Are you kidding veggiedude?

It’s much easier to bash on someone who is alive.

Posted by nisshoku1729 | Report as abusive

Brilliantly written article. Jobs was a thief and con-man. I got sick of Apple’s shoddy crap ages ago. A cheap notebook with Linux and Open Office is the way to go. Don’t be fooled by the hype!

Posted by AnnaSilke | Report as abusive

Wonderful column.

Posted by shrink2 | Report as abusive

Really well written article. And for the insulted Apple fans: Steve Jobs, as a person and as a boss, was not a very admirable human being, to say the least. But in business, manic obsession can help produce better products. Because that’s just what he did, contributed to make better products. Only his attention to detail was admirable. The is no evolutionary arc in his persona: he never changed for the better or became more generous or a better human being. There is no other “contribution to humankind” coming from S. Jobs, like some fans claim, he just sold lots of gadgets and created a cult around them. His story is just sad. But granted, he pushed the standards to make better products.

Posted by ckeledjian | Report as abusive

Easy there, veggiedude. Don’t do anything crazy! This is the internet, and with complete anonymity, who knows what’ll happen! Especially when the person you’re daring doesn’t even know your real name, address, place of work (you have a job, right?), etc…

I think I just bashed you.

Your move…

Posted by bs_jackson | Report as abusive

[...] The Book of Jobs | The Great Debate. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Published: February 23, 2012 Filed Under: [...]

You paint Jobs as someone who exported jobs to China, but even in your article you say that was done to appease stockholders. Was Jobs perfect? No, he wasn’t, but no one is.

Posted by mlehgr | Report as abusive

Exceptional article.

Be prepared for the Stockholm syndrome, suffering, sycophants, responding in kind.

Posted by focksake | Report as abusive

yes the personality cult around Steve Jobs was really weird. glad his myth is being deconstructed. great story. a couple others on Foxconn: n-boss-calls-workers-animals/

and orkers-looking-with-hope-to-apple/

Posted by NickNehamas | Report as abusive

You mixed a hatchet job of Jobs with your commentary on China. In the end both lose their punch. I saw Jobs speak several times in the 1980′s. He seemed to be the most driven person I had ever seen,and that is why he accomplished what he did. Nice guys finish last should be what people take from his life.

Posted by nclangwiser | Report as abusive

Wonderful! I can see by the comments of others that I am not the only one who was disgusted by that man’s lack of character.

Posted by rocque | Report as abusive

I never met Jobs, but in life I’ve learned reality typically exists somewhere between diametrically opposed polar opposites. In a story like this I think it’s great to read the “other side’s” viewpoint, always remembering that it’s a gathering of a lot of other people’s opinions. Who knows the reason for their opinion – is it factually based? Were they jilted in some way? Do they have an agenda? Or just maybe Steve Jobs was everything everyone thinks and that works too.
Regardless… I like my Mac and iPhone. Not because they are from Apple, but because they do the job I ask them to do well. There may be better products, I just don’t need them yet because these work great.

Posted by BradBu | Report as abusive

veggiedude -

In this very article, she also tried it on Toxic Bob, Phil Knight and Terry Guo, all among the living (thanks, perhaps, to bathing, dairy/meat consumption, and science-based medicine).

I think it is fair to say, however, that not all who have lost their virginity or used LSD are egomaniacal sociopaths. For every Charlie Manson or Steve Jobs, there is more than one Ram Dass or Albert Hofmann. Many people are capable of self-transcendent experiences by a wide variety of means, two categories of which are sex and drugs. There are certain individuals, however, whose egos cannot be diminished by any experience, and who cannot experience empathy under any circumstances. Steve Jobs is but one of the latest, high-profile cases of this sort. Human nature is such that these sociopaths often gather hordes of co-dependent enablers to their sides. The problem is not a newly identified one, which does not bode well for the future. It does bode well for, say, Donald Trump, or nclangwiser, however.

Posted by TobyONottoby | Report as abusive

[...] – Tagged: Apple View on → Widgets var [...]

Maureen Tkacik, excellent article. Thank you.

Posted by JMRSD | Report as abusive

@jmmx Eh? Well just so you know, the negative aspects of a person are also part of the person too. Don’t cast the distortion field on yourself.

@veggiedude Well… a great deal of these things were already known before Jobs’ death.. it is only the hype of his death which has made them come to light. Also it’s not as if people are afraid Jobs would do something about it. Not outside of the Apple-partners anyway.

Posted by alejandrov | Report as abusive

Now I know what used to irritate me about the flattery that accompanied his departure all along. I never figure the really fat cats are ever as nice as the eulogies suggest. Anything attached to corporate big shots has to come from the PR department. It’s good for their corporate image. Jobs built a data business and then sold his soul to it apparently? And it never really trusted him either.

And what do you care what he did with his personal life or health? He had the income and pull to have every organ in his body replaced with those of some poor some “expendable” if he had chosen? That’s one of the few things about his man that you mention that actually makes him more human and less selfish, as far as I’m concerned.

Your mention of the FBI should give even the employees cause to shiver. Guys like Jobs made big data so much bigger. The Orwellian world you mention may not be escapable by anyone of any scale. And yet you don’t seem to blink an eye at it? They must have you on file too. I also don’t think the women of his life had such good judgment or asked enough questions before they tied up with him. So many equally narcissistic women will latch onto a hyper-achiever knowing that if it doesn’t work, a big settlement will be the likely consolation prize and they were on a smart career path. But of course – it’s always the man’s fault. The heartless self-absorbed brute! Oh – the best years of their lives wasted on him but it was better than a job being with Jobs wasn’t it?

If you really speak for the protection of human value – than glossing over cradle (or at least college) to grave surveillance should cause you to pause. What is the point of the experience of a life if some agency can watch your actions, know all your quirks, interests and activities and might even be able to clone you someday because they probably have tissue samples on file too? Was it because he dropped a couple of hits of Acid? I wonder if the cloned Steve Jobs would have funny DNA?

Isn’t it very disgusting that the FBI knows the dirt on everybody in politics and business and doesn’t do anything but keep a file? J. Edgar herself lives – the bitch queen and arch fraud. What is the FBI then but black mailer (or black hand) in chief of the nation? But I’ll bet it was great source material?

Actually the man had a lot of character – contrary to one of the more smug comments. Character tends to mean irregularity, whether in woodwork or old furniture, or even people.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Jobs was a not a nice person? Who cares, other than the ones that were close to him. Henry Ford was a nazi supporter and Walt Disney wasn’t exactly in favor of workers’ rights. When did it become Apple’s responsibility to impose and enforce minimum standards in China? Last time I checked that’s the job of the Chinese government. Obviously above a very low threshhold (say, slave labor, abusive child labor) consumers don’t care – hence the 30% plus profit margin. Welcome to the globalized economy; proselytizing about it always reminds of the Jesuits…

Posted by meh10012 | Report as abusive

Thank you, Maureen Tkacik, for looking beyond his success, at the man himself. Perhaps this will help some realize that having money, being successful in the eyes of the world, does not make someone a good person.

Posted by JoeOvercoat | Report as abusive

….perhaps, but try to imitate his success as Apple CEO.

Posted by robb1 | Report as abusive

Careful Maureen, your loud and clearly personal outcry against a person is making you into someone far worse than Steve Jobs. I hope you aren’t in such a bad position that you will have to turn to the zealous critic brand to save your writing career. If that’s the case, then I recommend toning down the hate, it isn’t becoming of you.

Posted by YuseL | Report as abusive

[...] somewhat bitter article about Steve Jobs on Reuters made me wonder how the self-described Buddhist would fare on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Put on [...]

The article nicely demonstrates the hypocrisy of the West, which endlessly consumes products made in China, expects them to be cheap but damns the people who have the insight to understand the modern consumer and give him what he wants. Hating Jobs for worker exploitation is the easy way out. Changing our ways is a whole other story. Try it.

Posted by j4jure | Report as abusive

Terrific article, thank you. Concerning hyper-change in China, recommended ‘Manufactured Landscapes’.

Posted by treta | Report as abusive

If Jobs ever wanted to claim he was a benefactor of mankind one can’t absolve him from doing business with a company that sets their standards to meet his satisfaction. They are his creatures. He is taking the role of the slave holding southern planter, or Scarlet Ohara and the Chinese are the manager of the convicts of her sawmill. Or he’s Carnegie to the Chinese Frick. He doesn’t have to get rich so fast or to such a scale. I doesn’t have to do it all himself either. Both Gates and Jobs could have opened their operations to the creation of smaller scale manufacturing plants to do parts for the whole. The Japanese were running back yard electronics factories. Rather than give to charity he could have upped their wages for smaller scale and less anonymous employee controlled companies. He’s trying to raise the cheapest chickens. And they are so numerous the conditions could deteriorate as far as he is allowed. He worked to increase shareholder value and shareholders would accept slaves as long as they don’t know about it and it was legal.

Why do corporate managers think employees are billboards attesting to their company identity and loyalty? But somehow Jobs people are more human because they love the “man” Jobs. They really do love their boss!. He is announcing that he has no real respect for them because they exist in vast and hungry quantities. They work in an enormous corporate stockyard designed to inspire awe. And it’s pink, and spotless white.

Freedom implies not having to be uniform and I thought Jobs was a guru of that? The Elite dress code is scruffy casual while the mass of workers wears uniforms with mottoes. The elite is always changing its gilded costume. The court around jobs is relaxed while the ranks are at attention. Stinking means “I am either a disembodied genius and I am too removed to notice myself. Maybe he didn’t? Maybe he thought it was a perfume, his own scent?

I thank the author for the alternate view. I may not agree with her on every detail or her judgment, but I am reminded that some things should be revealed and the way others are treated is one of them. I am sure it will get worse. He was an opportunist and manipulator and he would claim he was a genius. But he was practicing a sneaky ruthlessness. And sooner or later the biographies have to reflect the whole image.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

best fun to be had with a mac is with a screwdriver
dismantled, they are clones of the ibm business model
just prettier

maureen – the truth is always more fun

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

[...] de afara. Exemplele de astazi asta (ironic, nu?), asta, asta, asta, asta sau asta. Vanity fair e plin cu articole bune, blogul Huffingtonpost la fel, [...]

It has been written that Oliver Stone conceived Gordon Gekko as a villein to be loathed by the audience. Likewise Shakespeare though his audiences would hate Macbeth and Shylock. Instead these creations turned into cultural icons and heroes. You obviously think your work will turn people off about Steve Jobs. You think you have reveled his inner Scrooge and that the neo-Christian zombie masses will be outraged. Unfortunately I’m afraid you have unintentionally written a piece that will have the exact opposite effect. The world is sick of Dickensian morality tales. We want vampires! The current piece is just the ticket and it will simply feed the frenzy that is turning Jobs into a cultural hero with a million eager young acolytes.

Posted by hacimo | Report as abusive

What he understood best about Americans is that it’s the looks that count. It really is too bad that Americans excuse his behavior but these days the ends justify the means, and if you’re rich, you are next to God, however you got there.

I find it much more than ironic that he thought so much of LSD which is so abusive to the body, but then would not allow surgery.

Great article.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive

[...] a fascinating opinion piece on Reuters this morning by Maureen Tkacik ebate/2012/02/22/the-book-of-steve-jobs- apple/. It isn’t very flattering to the recently deceased head of one of America’s best known [...]


You post comments by so many intelligent and insightful people, and your impressive list of columnists includes Chrystia Feeland, Felix Salmon, and David Cay Johnston. With such high standards, why do you publish Ms Tkacik’s rambling drivel? She is clearly an extremely vitriolic person, but she does not seem to have anything of value to add to the discourse.


Posted by liquidite | Report as abusive

Brilliant article. How refreshing after all the candle-waving hero worship.

Posted by mattmcg | Report as abusive


“He returned early to his dorm room and found Friedland having sex with Jobs’ girlfriend.”

It wasn’t Jobs’ dorm room, and it wasn’t Jobs’ girlfriend. Your command of facts in the rest of the article is on par with that quote.

You can have your opinion, but you can’t have your facts. I see you’re good at free association, maybe you have a future as a fiction writer, but when you attempt to cover reality, you should tone down your own reality distortion field.

And why did you write such a bitter article, anyway? What is the purpose of this caricature of Jobs that you have painted? The grapes are sour, yes? If success comes to you, then you must be a monster. Is this the lesson? Of course. Good people fail, and the monsters succeed, it’s a story as old as the world, but it’s merely the last refuge of those with big dreams and small actions.

I have yet to see even the most devoted of Steve Jobs fans claim that he was perfect. No, he was a human being. Like you and me. But he took what he had and did what he could.

You can extract the positive lessons, you can learn. You can change the life of those around you in a positive way.

Or you can spew venom and reject accomplishment as a trait of those who we must despise.

Your choice.

Posted by ToyaKyte | Report as abusive

@hacimo – The world wants vampires? You mean – when it gives up on brains it tries to keep itself alive on blood, always other people’s blood?

You are an idiot! The last ten years has been a feast for vampires worldwide and has spilled enough blood to fill oil tankers. If you are young – you will have a long life ahead of you being fed on by the new world economic realities. Hope you like company logos as a reflection of your personality and identity?

Hope you have fun! Try to stay fit and do your company exercises. In your new world order there will be nothing so despised as emaciated, half dead walking bags of blood. And vampires don’t believe in burial for anyone but themselves. You won’t even get the funeral orations this SOB got? Sucker!

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Steve Jobs was born a turd, lived as a turd, and died as a turd. He should have been cremated and his ashes flushed down a toilet.

Posted by ReallyDisgusted | Report as abusive

Maureen, you don’t get it.

Posted by sergei.yakovlev | Report as abusive

This is a painfully passionate dissection of what she believes to be the legacy of Steve Jobs; one devoid of fairness or objectivity in my opinion. I wrote a lengthy response to Maureen on my blog at (not spam, it’s a not for profit blog where I typically rant about technology and my chronic disease: Cochlear Hydrops):

Posted by OmarAlexis | Report as abusive

[...] Moe Tcakik on Steve Jobs: he was an *sshole.  (Reuters) [...]

[...] as the rest of us for your computer equipment makes you clever then don’t read any more of this: Steve Jobs smelled so foul that none of his co-workers at Atari in the seventies would work with [...]

[...] his computer club. Jobs recalled the summer's experience to Isaacson as a … Read more on Reuters Blogs (blog) This entry was posted in Computers and tagged companies, Everybody, Forgot, Foxconn, products, [...]

Fascinating article but would have benefited greatly from a little more editing. I would not accuse the author of being concise, a virtue she does not find in the book. Is this a book review or an unauthorized biography? Is her issue with Jobs, or Isaacson? Or both? Carping aside, I enjoyed the alternative dissection of Steve Jobs’ life. Maybe Maureen Tkacik should consider doing a more thorough job in book form. With a promise to stay on topic.

Posted by ChicagoFats | Report as abusive

The only reason the cancer was found in the first place was that Jobs had been having intestinal issues so severe that he finally had to undergo abdominal scans.

His cancer had almost certainly metastasized by then.

So while the progress of his cancer wasn’t as quick as ‘traditional’ pancreatic cancer, stating that chemo/surgery would have cured him is doubtful.

Maybe he would have had a few more months or years…

Posted by JimThorp | Report as abusive

[...] Tkacik’s blistering The Book of [Steve] Jobs. Brutal. And smart. And also, [...]

[...] looks early on, to play the man — but it does turn to substantive issues. In a stinging review, Jobs comes across as, well, nasty, stinky and stingy. Jobs had a “contempt for human [...]

An excellent article, and an antidote to the hagiography. May you soon be more fully employed so that we can read more of your stuff.

In my experience, most successful entrepreneurs and showmen are like Jobs in having a reality distortion field — he was not at all unique in that characteristic, although his was particularly powerful.

Posted by StarryGordon | Report as abusive

What a Grrreat article.
Superb composition.
Thanks very much.

Posted by T-EN | Report as abusive

I’ve spent the bulk of my life helping technology firms to sell overly complicated products to irritated customers who just wanted to get stuff done. Steve had such drive and clarity of vision about turning complicated computers into simple consumer products that he became king of “complexity quenching”. As a result, his life left humanity enthralled with technology and the products that he helped to create have opened new possibilities for so many people in so many ways. He may not have always been the easiest person to deal with but Steve’s legacy is Apple and the world would be a much sorrier place without it.

Posted by RodBanner | Report as abusive

[...] and respected innovator. The Steve Jobs of Maureen Tkacik written about in this Reuters post, The Book of Jobs , is far more interesting.  And she wastes no time “Steve Jobs smelled so foul that none of [...]

[...] Bookmarked The Book of Jobs [...]

[...] An interesting, believable, if blistering article on Jobs: [...]

Getting a bit tired of this whining about foxconn. The chinese spent 4 billion on art last year alone.
“The richest 70 members of China’s legislature added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress, the president and his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices.The net worth of the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress, which opens its annual session on March 5, rose to 565.8 billion yuan ($89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of $11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the Hurun Report, which tracks the country’s wealthy. That compares to the $7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government.”

Who is responsible for taking care of their people? Us or china. Why are we responsible for keeping people under an unelected government happy, they should be unhappy with their rulers.

45 million americans are on food stamps and the yuppies in america work over their guilt by crying over foreign workers, its an interesting pathology on display here.

Posted by Whadayawant | Report as abusive

[...] See also:  Maureen Tkacik’s on Steve Jobs and Isaacson’s biography at Reuters. [...]

[...] Bookmarked The Book of Jobs (Best review of the Steve Jobs bio I’ve read) #longreads [...]

[...] effort. But for those who call out for a “Steve Jobs of religion,” well, for one thing be careful what you wish for. But for another thing – we may have had it, in the 1980s and 1990s, in Chris Brain and his [...]

[...] Steve Jobs have initiated dull quarterly dividends starting at $2.65 per share? Or would he have dropped acid and come up with something more [...]

[...] Steve Jobs have initiated dull quarterly dividends starting at $2.65 per share? Or would he have dropped acid and come up with something more [...]

[...] for sustained and gratuitous lying that came to be nicknamed the “reality distortion field.”- “The Book Of Jobs”, February 22nd 2012Offensive? Certainly – and not unrepresentative of the article as a whole. [...]

@rodbanner dear god lol…. did i actually just read that? apple is nothing more than a ridiculously overpriced brand name. It does absolutely nothing in any way whatsoever to make the world a better place.

Posted by Laughable | Report as abusive

[…] The Book of Jobs | The Great Debate – Reuters – Feb 22, 2012 · Steve Jobs smelled so foul that none of his co-workers at Atari in the seventies would work with him. Entreating him to shower was usually futile; he’d …… […]