On occasion, I will get a request to review a product, and based on the initial description sent to me by a PR flack, I just know that I am going to hate it. That was my initial impression of the book The Apple Revolution by Luke Dormehl. Fortunately, I ultimately found the book to be much more enjoyable to read than I originally anticipated.
The book is yet another retelling of the Apple / Silicon Valley story with a focus on Steve Jobs. The Apple Revolution is subtitled “Steve Jobs, the counter culture, and how the crazy ones took over the world,”; which describes the book’s premise very well. Dormehl had to write the book within the confines of history, so he travels down the well-trodden path of Steve Jobs as stinky hippie founder, genius behind the Macintosh, pariah who founded NeXT as revenge for being ousted from Apple, deep-pocketed visionary who bought Pixar, and triumphant leader of Apple after his return in 1997.
Despite the fact that this is a story that has been told many times, Dormehl uses a combination of literate writing and a profuse number of personal interviews with many of the original characters to bring a fresh perspective to The Apple Revolution. Ultimately, the book is not a deep dive into the personal life of Steve Jobs like Walter Isaacson’s classic biography of the man, but a well-reasoned treatise on how the times helped to shape Jobs and eventually resulted in him being the person whose vision and singleminded pursuit of perfection shaped our culture today.
Dormehl’s prose reads like the script of a good documentary, not surprising as he has a background in both journalism and documentary filmmaking. Since his specialty is pop culture, he was the perfect author to explore the connection between the counter culture of the 60s and 70s and the eventual rise of Apple to its dominance in the personal electronics industry.
The fruits of Dormehl’s interviews are apparent not in pages-long descriptions of something that Jobs or his contemporaries may have done, but in short, to-the-point statements that help to bolster an argument or prove a point. TUAW’s Michael Grothaus is quoted twice in the book, primarily for his perspective as an Apple employee during five years in the 2000s when the company was riding the success of the iMac and iPod to create the new computing paradigms — the iPhone and iPad — that are feeding the company’s bottom line today.
Unlike Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, The Apple Revolution has no photos of the many players who have helped to shape our current cyberculture. And there’s no reason to include those images; anyone with access to the Web and a bit of curiosity can easily search for any number of pictures or wiki entries about those who became heroes of The Apple Revolution.
At 532 pages, The Apple Revolution is not a quick afternoon’s read. Dormehl turns a story that we already know the outcome of — that of Steve Jobs and Apple — into a compelling page-turner that includes just enough unique details to keep even the discerning Apple historian happy. For example, at one point Steve Jobs was being considered for NASA’s ill-fated civilian astronaut program and was turned down in favor of teacher Christa McAuliffe, who perished in the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. That’s something I had never known until reading this book.
I won’t ruin the book for other potential readers, but there are other little gems to be found in the pages of The Apple Revolution. It’s a great read, and a must for the bookshelf of anyone who has found their life to have been benefited by the many fruits of the Apple tree.