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A couple of years ago, I went to see Steve Jobs deliver one of his legendary addresses at the annual MacWorld trade show. Even before the CEO of Apple Computer, Inc., took the stage in his trademark jeans-and-turtleneck garb, the audience had already entered his famed reality distortion field. It was a bit eerie to see how Jobs cast a spell over his listeners as he described what he always refers to as “cool new stuff.” But then the magic failed when a digital camera misbehaved. Jobs threw the offending object sharply at a subordinate, growling, “Get this damn thing to work!” In a matter of seconds, we saw the other face of Jobs: the hot-tempered boss who bullies his employees. Jeffrey Young and William Simon try to capture both sides of the Apple CEO-the visionary and the tyrant-in iCon: Steve Jobs, the Greatest Second Act in the History of Business. But like their subject, the book is a mixed bag. Much of it is a rehash of Young’s previous Jobs bio, published in 1987. The new version has surprisingly little about what Jobs has done in the past two decades. Instead, Young and Simon pad their book with tales about Jobs’s personal life, giving relatively short shrift to his recent business career. That’s a shame, because Jobs has been on one of the most fascinating roller-coaster rides in recent U.S. business history. Jobs, who cofounded Apple in 1976, and his crew initially positioned themselves as pirates who would hijack technology to create what they called “insanely great” machines. What followed is an oft-repeated story: The prophet was cast out into the desert after early Macintosh computer sales stalled, started anew but failed with high-end computer maker NeXT, Inc., then became a movie mogul with Pixar Animation Studios. Finally the prodigal son was welcomed back into Apple in 1996. With the help of the iMac, the iPod, and other slickly designed products, Jobs reestablished Apple as the cool company at the top of the tech heap. It’s a great story, but the problem for Young and Simon is how to convey the drama-featuring a larger-than-life personality and enough mistakes and triumphs for a few business school classes-without Jobs’s cooperation. Jobs and the company maintain almost absolute media silence about what goes on in Apple’s headquarters. iCon ultimately suffers because of its lack of access to Jobs and his loyal colleagues. (There apparently weren’t any disaffected former employees who wanted to talk, either.) What iCon serves up instead are leftovers from Young’s previous unauthorized bio of Jobs, which looked at the CEO’s upbringing and early career at Apple. Young, who has penned a number of books on Silicon Valley companies and personalities, writes in a style best described as classic celebrity storytelling, with everyone referred to by their first names, and with an abundance of pop-psychology analysis. Thus we learn that “Steve,” as an adopted child, felt the need to prove himself more than kids who grew up with their natural parents. Still, Young has already told much of this story before. The new material seems like an add-on, and Jobs’s second stint with Apple doesn’t get the analysis it deserves. The iconic iPod takes up much of the last part of the book, but it’s not the only thing that’s happened since Jobs returned. In the past few years, Apple managed to wean Mac users off a beloved operating system for a glossy variant of the notoriously geeky UNIX platform, a pretty monumental accomplishment by itself. Young and Simon do talk about the new business ethos-strict inventory control and focused R&D-at the once notoriously anarchic company, but it comes across as an afterthought. And in glossing over Jobs’s second coming at Apple, iCon minimizes the differences between the 1980s Jobs and today’s new and even humble CEO. Jobs almost missed the boat a few years ago on the digital music revolution when he refused to equip iMacs with CD burners. The old Jobs would have insisted he was right. But this time the CEO realized his mistake and changed course with astonishing speed. Jobs continues to be an expert at drawing publicity. In June he announced that Apple would start using microchips made by Intel Corp., which has long partnered with Apple’s archenemy, Microsoft Corporation. As always, Jobs announced the move before an adoring crowd. But this time, he wore black slacks and a shirt with a collar. iCon: Steve Jobs, The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business By Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon (Wiley, 368 pages) Paonita is the acting editor in chief of Corporate Counsel.

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