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Photo of Steve Jobs and the Small Fry book cover

“Small Fry” Offers the Opportunity to Think Differently about Steve Jobs

This isn’t a book review. Small Fry, the memoir penned by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs’s firstborn and much-neglected daughter, isn’t out until 4 September 2018. But Vanity Fair has already published an excerpt, and the New York Times now has a lengthy article based on interviews with Brennan-Jobs. Early on, it says:

On the eve of publication, what Ms. Brennan-Jobs wants readers to know is this: Steve Jobs rejected his daughter for years, but that daughter has absolved him. Triumphantly, she loves him, and she wants the book’s scenes of their roller skating and laughing together to be as viral as the scenes of him telling her she will inherit nothing.

Ms. Brennan-Jobs’s forgiveness is one thing. What’s tricky is that she wants the reader to forgive Mr. Jobs, too. And she knows that could be a problem.

It could be a problem because Jobs comes off at best as a jerk and at worst as a truly damaged human being. Neither of those is at odds with the Steve Jobs revered—sometimes with cause, sometimes undeservedly so—by Apple enthusiasts for his marketing acumen and technical foresight.

But his relationship with his daughter adds color and perspective to an overall picture of Jobs that is often monochromatic in its focus. And it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this book’s revelations come at a time when powerful people are being brought down by past disgraceful behavior. Should we think differently about Steve Jobs after hearing Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s side of the story?

Read the excerpt, read the article, read the book, and make up your own mind.

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Comments About “Small Fry” Offers the Opportunity to Think Differently about Steve Jobs

Notable Replies

  1. I’ve been using Apple products for a long time and I’m stumped as to why so many seem to believe that Steve Jobs single-handedly saved Apple. I would no more attribute that accomplishment to him than I would to Microsoft for having purchased $150 million worth of non-voting stock shortly after his return to Apple.

  2. He was straight up appalling with his daughter and her mother. It’s pretty well known at this stage. Hearing it from her directly will be interesting however.

  3. I agree. He was a deeply flawed man where his personal relations were concerned. That does not, however, diminish his marketing brilliance and his ability to support projects for products we didn’t even know we wanted.

    But would I have voted for him for elective Office? Only if the other candidate was far worse, in my opinion.

    I think this poor daughter desperately wants to remember some kindness from him.its almost like Stockholm Syndrome.

  4. The excerpt was interesting. But it didn’t change my opinion of Jobs - I had already heard multiple reports over the years about what a jerk he was.

  5. Some people seem to see Jobs as either a devil or a saint. Neither view is true. He was a flawed human being that excelled in some areas and pushed others to accomplish more than they thought they could. He did learn from past mistakes and tried to improve as he aged.

    To get a true picture of any human being you need to get a multitude of views. Particularly those you might disagree with. You also have to be careful about taking a single viewpoint, that clearly would have biases, at face value.

  6. I think we have a tendency to judge Steve Jobs because he was famous and accomplished so much. We do that with all celebrities to some degree. We judge others to make ourselves feel better, whether we demonize someone we dislike for some reason, or try to share in their glory by lionizing them—or strive to diminish them by affecting disinterest. And I don’t exempt myself from this behavior. But it’s not something I’m proud of.

    Vioyorrism is a common human habit that manifests in many different ways, including widespread interest in tell-all biopics. Few of us are whole enough that we do not envy others.

    Whether Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ book is too soft or too harsh is not for us to say. She is a writer and it is natural that she would write a book in order to help heal her own wounds. That’s what writers do. If reading the book can help others with their own troubles, that’s as it should be as well.

    It’s also the case that most autobiographies don’t involve famous people. But because “Small Fry” does it will undoubtedly reach a wide audience. How it affects the individual reader is up to them.

    When a reviewer, as Adam does, can cover a book without passing judgement, it’s good journalism. Kudos. And keep up the good work.

  7. His achievements and abilities stand. No issue there. And the fact that they paralleled so much of my life and had such impact on my career and interests means that Jobs has significance to me at least. But I can still see his treatment of the two women for what it was.

  8. I’ve been using Apple products for a long time and I’m stumped as to why so many seem to believe that Steve Jobs single-handedly saved Apple. I would no more attribute that accomplishment to him than I would to Microsoft for having purchased $150 million worth of non-voting stock shortly after his return to Apple.

    Steve Jobs did save Apple, and the Microsoft stock shebang was a brilliant move he orchestrated that Gil Amelio and his crew were too timid to actively pursue. Apple had been suing MS for years for copyright violations, which they had a very good chance of winning. But Jobs also threatened to go after them for antitrust violations, which is what Netscape was in the process of doing to them on in a momentous, and extremely expensive for MS, Supreme Court case. Jobs got the cash he needed to save Apple without relinquishing any voting stock, ensured MS would develop Office products for Macs, and along many other brilliant decisions, rescued Apple and quickly built it into the powerhouse it has evolved to today. For a paltry $150 million MS was able to don a white hat (though a very tiny one) at a very dangerous junction for them in the court of public opinion as well as law, and shut one of their biggest antagonists up for a little while…untilMac vs. PC.

    At the same time, Jobs killed the clone deals that were killing Mac sales, and he had begun developing iMac, iPod, iTunes, and many other products, as well as Apple Stores, that radically revolutionized computing, entertainment, communications, advertising, marketing, etc. Yes, he was a horrible, miserable person and an even worse father, but he did take MS’s $150 dollars to save Apple, and set the groundwork that established it into the first trillion $ US company.

    From the reviews I’ve read about “Small Fry,” I’m glad to see that although Steve Jobs was terribly and inexcusably abusive to his daughter, his daughter is forgiving and understanding. Years ago, I read “Mommy Dearest,” and although it did change my opinion about Joan Crawford as a kind and generous woman who adopted and “mothered” abandoned children, it did not change my opinion that she was an excellent actress. I’ve already got a pile of books I want to read that keeps growing, and I already know from decades of books and articles I’ve read about Steve Jobs that he was a despicable person and horrible father. “Small Fry” is not likely to get me to think different about his stewardship of Apple.

  9. I have a hard time getting worked up about this book, but I recognize it’s a smart marketing ploy. Steve has been known for a very long time to have been a real dick at times. This has been repeated countless times by all kinds of people since the early 80s. Steve was however also a genius who had a very keen sense of what makes a great product and how to empower people to make use of technology. As with most human beings, he had more than just one side.

    We live in a time when an uneducated bully who brags on national TV about how he can repeatedly commit sexual assault without facing any consequences whatsoever, was not thrown into a dark pit, but rather elected president of the US. As long as we tolerate such men at the very top, I have a hard time getting worked up about private family matters of an actually accomplished man who has undoubtedly changed our world for the better.

  10. I would never compare that narcissist with Steve Jobs. That guy has no talent whatsoever except to swindle and manipulate. Yes, before this book was written, many of us knew his treatment of his first child. Did he mistreat the family he lived with? I don’t know. I am not excusing him. Just saying…

  11. In some ways, this book offers an interesting opportunity for reflection, both for us as individuals and us as a society. After all, Steve Jobs is dead, so he has no opportunity to respond or defend himself for good or ill. All that can be tarnished is his legacy—even Apple is almost certainly immune from actual effect.

    The news is awash with stories about powerful people (usually men) who have sexually harassed or assaulted others (usually women, often underlings) at levels that may have been inappropriate, creepy, or downright disgusting (without generally being criminal assault). As a society, we’ve come to consider such past behavior sufficiently problematic that the perpetrators are suffering significant career, financial, and legal consequences.

    Jobs didn’t do that. But he did act in a way—over many years—that was cruel, manipulative, and controlling to someone, a child nonetheless, who was in no position to defend herself. Were he still CEO of Apple, it would be relatively easy to separate his past offensive behavior to his daughter from his tasks at Apple. After all, what does being a horrible parent have to do with running a tech company?

    But what if the person in question was a K-12 teacher, or a principal, or a superintendent? How about a sports coach? Surely, the parenting behavior of someone whose job involves teaching, managing, or directing the lives of children would be relevant to their job performance. It seems a much easier argument to follow that someone who is regularly cruel to children in their private life might be problematic in an educational role with children.

    So the question that arises, I think, is what sort of misbehavior in private life should affect a person’s public life? Are we talking about single problematic instances, which have been sufficient to trip up politicians and celebrities, or is a pattern of behavior necessary? Even avoiding actual illegal acts (assault, theft, etc.), where do we draw the line between public and private lives? And in a world of social media and oversharing, are these issues going to haunt people who previously considered themselves too small to be interesting?

    Obviously, I’m way better at asking questions than providing answers, but it’s an interesting line of questioning to follow.

  12. I have pre-ordered the book, but rather than being interested solely in Steve Jobs and his professional and personal legacy, I’m more interested in Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ interesting life story of being the daughter of a famous person who for a long time treated her very poorly (and was apparently treated poorly by her not famous mother at times), and how she was able to navigate that to what seems to be a successful adulthood. I’d also join those who say that we already knew about this treatment of her by Steve Jobs, so I’m not sure how it would tarnish so his reputation any further.

  13. I don’t think we’re very far from agreement. However, while I consider Steve Jobs a man who was very smart and had many brilliant ideas, I think saying that he saved Apple is like saying that slavery caused the Civil War. Both statements employ oversimplification to the extent that they must ultimately be considered erroneous. I suspect that you may be tempted to reply by saying that slavery did cause the Civil War, but that’s not my point. I think that there was great momentum toward an immediate fail/succeed outcome at that particular juncture in Apple’s history, and that Steve Jobs simply had to steer that momentum in the right direction. Otherwise, how could Apple products have become so ubiquitous on both small and large screens in world media? Many companies have tried to pay for that notoriety, and it simply can’t be bought any more than the astounding popularity of an entertainer such as Elvis Presley can be bought. If all that was needed was his leadership, his previous company (NeXT) would have been much more successful.

    Oh, and one more thing. If you think I’m comparing Steve Jobs to Elvis Presley, you’re right, I am.

  14. that slavery caused the Civil War. Both statements employ oversimplification to the extent that they must ultimately be considered erroneous

    Mm. I get your point, but that’s a bad example. Nothing in history is entirely monocausal, but slavery and the Civil War are about as close as you can get, and it’s not erroneous to say so.

    As to Steve Jobs, I think you’re overreading the comment about him saving Apple. I would seriously doubt that anyone saying that thinks that he did every single thing that led to Apple’s success; rather it’s short hand for him being the one who provided the vision and the guidance, along with being at the right moment and with a hefty shot of luck.

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