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Steve Jobs discussion guide   Tags: apple, apple computers, biography, genius, steve jobs, walter isaacson  

This is a book discussion guide based on the book 'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson
Last Updated: Feb 13, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Walter Isaacson

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The author's biography is available at Biography in Context.

Articles, Interviews, and Reviews

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Further Reading

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Kissinger - Walter Isaacson
ISBN: 9780671663230
Publication Date: 1992-09-16
This book, the first full biography of Kissinger, explores the relationship between his complex personality - brilliant, conspiratorial, furtive, prone to power struggles, charming yet at times deceitful - and the foreign policy he pursued.

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Einstein - Walter Isaacson
ISBN: 9780743264730
Publication Date: 2007-04-10
This is the first full biography of Albert Einstein since all of his papers have become available. How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson's biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality.

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Benjamin Franklin - Walter Isaacson
ISBN: 9780684807614
Publication Date: 2003-07-01
Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who winks at us. An ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings, he seems made of flesh rather than of marble. In bestselling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin seems to turn to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind his new-fangled spectacles.

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American Sketches - Walter Isaacson
ISBN: 9781439180648
Publication Date: 2009-11-24
In this collection of essays, Walter Isaacson reflects on the lessons to be learned from Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, and various other larger-than-life characters he has chronicled as a biographer and a journalist.


Walter Isaacson discusses his book on 60 minutes and an author video

Part 1 of a CBS 60 minutes special on Steve Jobs

Part 2 of the CBS interview

Author Video on the book

Discussion Questions

(From the publisher.)


In a clear, elegant biographical voice, Walter Isaacson provides an unflinching portrait of the most important technological and innovative personality of the modern era: Apple’s founder and chief thinker, Steve Jobs. Through a series of unprecedented interviews with Jobs—as well as interviews with more than 100 friends, family members, colleagues, adversaries, admirers, and imitators—Isaacson documents the transformation of an ambitious Silicon Valley whiz kid into one of the most feared and respected business leaders of his generation and quite possibly of all time; arriving at some hard truths about a man who defined the intersection of art and technology for the digital age and the future to come.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss Jobs’ harsh binary system of appraisal. Why do you think it worked so well in tangent with his style of leadership? Do you think there is merit in living to such high standards? Is it unrealistic or ultimately impractical?

2. Which do you think is more beneficial for the future of technology: end-to-end hardware and software integration or open and customizable systems? Do you agree with Jobs that good products can only come from closed, centralized environments? Why or why not?

3. Chapter 11 is titled “The Reality Distortion Field: Playing by His Own Set of Rules.” Discuss this term and how it is used to both compliment and criticize Jobs. How did Jobs’ “reality distortion field” influence those around him? Do you think this kind of denial or warping of expectations should be used to motivate employees?

4. Do you view Apple as representative of the alternative counterculture Steve Jobs originated from, or part of a techno-corporate “Big Brother” that he so ardently railed against?

5. Discuss Apple’s revitalization after Jobs’ return, particularly the distillation of Apple’s offerings from a slew of products to only a handful. Is there some inherent risk in limiting your projects and “trimming the fat?” Do you think this is a business model other technology companies should follow? Why or why not? In your opinion, does it afford greater focus or limit a company’s potential?

6. Consider the core tenets of Jobs’ vision: poetry connected to engineering, bold and simple design, the intersection of technology and liberal arts, and ease of use through end-to-end integration. How does Apple and its products exemplify these ideals?

7. Isaacson writes, “The theory, shared by many, is that the tough love made him wiser and more mature. But it’s not that simple. At the company he founded after being ousted from Apple, Jobs was able to indulge all of his instincts, both good and bad. He was unbound. The result was a series of spectacular products that were dazzling market flops. This was the true learning experience. What prepared him for the great success he would have in Act III was not his ouster from Act I at Apple but his brilliant failures in Act II.” Do you share this opinion? Discuss Jobs’ time with NeXT and his involvement with Pixar in your answer. How did these ventures ready him for a powerful return to the company he founded?

8. Jobs’ is quoted as saying, “I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company.” Can a streamlined company spawn innovation more so than a single creative individual? Is Jobs’ greatest legacy his operational approach or Apple as a larger corporate entity?

9. How did Jobs approach industry competitors? Consider the statement he made at the 1997 Macworld conference: “‘Apple lives in an ecosystem…It needs help from other partners. Relationships that are destructive don’t help anybody in this industry.’” Did he always adhere to this principle of partnerships and existing within an ecosystem?

10. Discuss the merits and pitfalls of Jobs’ obsession with design—from Apple products, to paint color in its factories, to retail spaces, and even the look of Lee Clow’s advertisements. Consider the following quote from Jobs in your response: “Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers.”

11. Consider Apple’s approach to brand marketing and advertisement. What is the ultimate goal in Apple’s advertising? Discuss the “Think Different” campaign of 1997. What was the campaign’s message? How did it position Apple’s products and corporate identity? Consider the following quote in your response: “It was designed to celebrate not what the computers could do, but what creative people could do with the computers.” Why is this an important distinction?

12. Jobs held closely to Mike Markkula’s edict that a good company must “impute”—that everything from packaging to marketing must convey a product’s value and concept. How does Apple accomplish this? Can you think of any other products that you consume or interact with that also “impute”?

13. Jobs was convinced that a consumer did not know what they want—that often it was up to innovators to predict what the next great necessity or commodity would be. Do you agree? How can this basic principle be applied to all forms of business? What do you envision the “next big thing” to be?

14. How has your perspective of Apple as a corporate entity and of Steve Jobs as an individual changed after reading this biography? Would you ever want to work for someone like Steve Jobs? Why or why not?

15. Jobs had a penchant for taking his passion to the smallest levels, going so far as to trade barbs with bloggers and interact with consumers. Should a CEO be involved on the ground level of the corporation? How did Jobs’ personal commitment to defending his products and his company’s contribute to his iconology?

Enhance Your Discussion

1. Visit a local Apple store and note the design and layout of the space. Is the store successful in “imputing?” Is each function of the store’s sections intuitive through its design? What kind of emotional, visual, and intellectual response do you have when you enter an Apple store?

2. Reflect on how Apple products have influenced your daily life. What Apple products do you own? How have these devices impacted how you work, how you communicate, or how you ingest media?

3. Use your critical eye to consider the functions of furniture and appliances in your household. Is the product efficient? Isthere a connection between design and functionality? Do you see any room for improvement or innovation? How could Jobs’ principle of simplicity in design improve these everyday products?

4. Watch one of Jobs’ Apple keynote presentations. How would you describe his presentation style? His communication style? How does he build excitement and intrigue? For the full archive of Apple keynote presentations and announcements, visit

Questions below taken from LitLovers :

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Steve Jobs:

1. Talk about Steve Jobs as a human being, the man beneath the myth and the hype. What kind of person was he—in his private as well as professional life? Jobs told his Isaacson to leave out nothing, to lay bare his flaws. He also told his friends to stint on nothing. Does Isaacson lean too far in any one direction: or does he steer a steady course between Jobs's Jekyll and Hyde?

2. What aspects of Steve Jobs's life disburbed you and /or impressed you most? Did Jobs's dark side overwhelm his good side?

3. Isaacson raises the question of whether feelings of abandonment in childhood shaped Jobs's personality. Is his argument convincing?

4. At the end of the book, Jobs answers the bedeviling question "What drove me?" Do you find his answer satisfying ... thoughtful ... self-serving ... or incomplete?

5. What would Jobs have been like to work with...or for? He was clearly a demanding boss. Was he unfairly so—abrasive and unrealistic in his demands? Or was he simply a strict task master who had a vision to be communicated? How might you have fared as a colleague or employee?

6. What was Steve Jobs's concept of beauty—what was his aesthetic vision? Why were aesthetics such a crucial part of his life?

7. Jobs was eliminated from Apple, the company he founded, and in his absence the company foundered. Why? And when Jobs returned to Apple, he guided its meteoric comeback. Why was Jobs so critical to the company? Why was its performance lackluster without his leadership?

8. How would you characterize Isaacson's book: as an intimate study of a visionary or a treatise on the rise and fall of one of the world's most successful companies? Were your expectations, either way, fulfilled by the book?

9. Can you describe the Reality Distortion Field? What exactly is it, and how did it serve Jobs?

10. Talk about the way in which Jobs wrestled with his contradictions—a counterculture rebel who became a millionaire; a disdain for objects yet someone who shaped others' desires for the products he made? Was he ever able to resolve those dilemmas?

11. Talk about Steve Jobs's legacy. On what do you believe he will he have a lasting impact? How much did he change the landscape—in technology, design, or gadgetry?

12. In his "Think Different" ad, Jobs wanted to convey his belief that the ones who are crazy enough to think they might change the world are the ones who end up doing so. Do you agree? Can you think of other examples of singular individuals whose vision changed the world? Does that statement apply to all of us...or to the very talented few?

(Questions by LitLovers)


Reserve a copy

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Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson
ISBN: 9781451648539
Publication Date: 2011-10-24
Based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs conducted over two years--as well as interviews with more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues--Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.

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Steve Jobs (LARGE PRINT - Walter Isaacson
ISBN: 9781410445223
Publication Date: 2011-10-24

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Steve Jobs (en Espanol) - Walter Isaacson
ISBN: 9780307950284
Publication Date: 2011-11-01
La biografía definitiva de Steve Jobs   La muerte de Steve Jobs ha conmocionado al mundo. Tras entrevistarlo en más de cuarenta ocasiones en los últimos dos años, además de a un centenar de personas de su entorno, familiares, amigos, adversarios y colegas, Walter Isaacson nos presenta la única biografía escrita con la colaboración de Jobs, el retrato definitivo de uno de los iconos indiscutibles de nuestro tiempo, cuya creatividad, energía y afán de perfeccionismo revolucionaron seis industrias: la informática, el cine de animación, la música, la telefonía, las tabletas y la edición digital.



If you liked 'Steve Jobs', you might enjoy the following books.

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IWoz - Steve Wozniak
ISBN: 9780393061437
Publication Date: 2006-09-01
Wozniak teamed up with another young friend, Steve Jobs, and Apple Computer was born. In iWoz, the mischievous genius with a low profile tells his story for the first time. Wozniak looks back at more, though, than his brilliant inventions. With his own typical, inimitable humor and style, he relates his countless pranks, his early days with the Electronics Kids and the Homebrew Computer Club, his stint as a concert promoter with the US Festivals, his near-death experience in a flight crash, his philanthropic activities, the decade he spent teaching fifth graders, and what it is like to be the Woz, a humanist inventor who considers engineering an art but never puts it before people and their needs.

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I, Steve - George Beahm (Editor)
ISBN: 9781932841664
Publication Date: 2011-10-19

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The Information - James Gleick
ISBN: 9780375423727
Publication Date: 2011-03-01
James Gleickbrings us a a revelatory chronicle and meditation that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality—the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world.  

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The Power Broker - Robert A. Caro
ISBN: 9780394720241
Publication Date: 1975-07-12
The Power Broker tells the hidden story behind the shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York (city and state) and makes public what few have known: that Robert Moses was, for almost half a century, the single most powerful man of our time in New York, the shaper not only of the city's politics but of its physical structure and the problems of urban decline that plague us today.

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The Last Lion - William Manchester
ISBN: 9780316545037
Publication Date: 1983-05-30
William Manchester met Winston Churchill on January 24, 1953. Their encounter on the Queen Mary sparked an intense curiosity in Manchester that would eventually result in his classic three-volume magnum opusThe Last Lion.

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Always On - Brian X. Chen
ISBN: 9780306819605
Publication Date: 2011-06-07
Even Steve Jobs didn't know what he had on his hands when he announced the original iPhone as a combination of a mere "three revolutionary products"--an iPod, a cell phone, and a keyboard-less handheld computer. Always On is the first book to look at the surprising and expansive significance of Apple's incredibly powerful vertical business model, and the future it portends.

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Washington - Ron Chernow
ISBN: 9781594202667
Publication Date: 2010-10-05
In Washington: A Lifecelebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president.

This publication was supported in part by Federal Library Services and Technology Act funds, awarded to the New York State Library by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.


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