Apple is a singular company. None other have achieved their success. They make even more money than those who have oligopoly control over rare fossil fuel resources. They also know how to keep secrets. That makes them mysterious, surprising, and frustrating. Add to that the persona of Steve Jobs — and of Jony Ive, and it's compelling. Everyone wants to know more about it. And books are one of the best ways to learn.
I've read all of them over the years. Some in hardcover. Some in paperback. Some in the Kindle or iBooks apps. Many as audio books. A few I've read several times over. These are the books about Apple, Steve Jobs, and Jony Ive that have stood the test of time.
Walter Isaacson's official biography of Steve Jobs… isn't great. But it is official. The problem with the book is that for all his access Isaacson seemed unable to focus on what moments made Jobs interesting, and so there's much ado here about nothing. That said, if you have the time and you're capable of filtering through all the noise, there's some information between these covers you just can't find anyone else.
In other words, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson isn't good but it's important.
Becoming Steve Jobs
While it lacks the official access of Isaacson's biography, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli's biography paints a far better picture of the man. It does that by focusing on the moments that transformed him from the first coming of Steve Jobs, who was fired by Apple, to the second coming of Steve Jobs, who saved Apple. Whether you ultimately agree with them about the transformation matters less than the more balance, dynamic story they manage to tell.
If only these authors were given the access Isaacson squandered.
Revolution in the Valley
Andy Hertzfeld was on the team that created the original Mac, and that put him right in the middle the transition from command line to graphical user interface, the controversy that led to the firing of Steve Jobs, and the competition that eventually led Microsoft and Intel to own the PC industry. Based on the accounts originally shared on folklore.org, it might be told from Hertzfeld and the Mac's point of view, but that's precisely what makes it so great.
Rather than focus on Steve Jobs specifically, Insanely Great focus on the computer that changed everything for Apple: the Mac. Steven Levy, a legend of tech reporting, the use of a product as a lens for such a product-focused company works, as the title suggests, insanely great. And while we might be headed into the post-PC era, it's the PC — in this case the Mac — that laid all that foundation. For iPhone and for Apple.
Ken Segall was Apple's longtime ad-man. He worked with Steve Jobs on countless campaigns over the years, including the legendary "Think Different". Filled with anecdotes from those formative years, Segall gives a lot of insight into the Apple that was, even if the Apple that is has evolved a lot since then.
If you're interested in the marketing that made iMac and iPod great, Insanely Simple covers it.
For as much attention as Apple gets, much of its inner workings remain shrouded in mystery. It's a safe assumption that those who talk don't typically know, and those that know don't typically talk. All that said, Adam Lashinsky's Inside Apple sheds at least a little light on what makes Apple Apple.
Apple's organizational structure and practices are a moving target, but this gives you a glance at how they worked. At least as of a few years ago.
Designed by Apple in California
This tome isn't for everyone. It's big — and bigger! — and it's incredibly expensive. It also contains few words and nothing in the way of story. What it does include, though, are photos of Apple's most important products collaborated on by Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, including behind-the-scenes looks at prototypes and tools.
Many people won't like this book. Some won't like that it exists. Others, especially those obsessed with design and product, will find it invaluable.
Jony Ive leads the team responsible for the now-iconic designs of iMac, MacBook, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. He's won more awards than most other companies combined. He's got a singular vision for simplicity and inevitability. And he's incredibly private. That makes it impossible to tell just how accurate Leander Kahaney's book on Ive really is but it also makes its existence incredibly valuable.
If you're interested in Jony Ive, this book is the closest you'll get to him.
While short, Design Crazy by Fast Company writer Max Chafkin and his team of reporters contains a plethora of interviews with former Apple employees and people "familiar with matters". It borders on the sensational at times but also contains a lot of stories that help highlight the thinking and effort that went into Apple's design-centric culture.
Your favorite books about Apple?
These are my favorite books about Apple, the ones I've gotten the most from over the years. If you've read them, or have others that I missed, let me know!
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.