DateFriday 20 May 2005

My review of “iCon” – the latest biography of Steve Jobs

Does the “iCon” title mean that the authors (Jeffrey Young and William Simon) think that Steve Jobs is an icon, or the perpetrator of a con – or both?

Find out my thinking in my review over at The Register.

Update May 23: Alan Deuschmann, who wrote the very fine The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, reviewed the book for the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s not very nice about it – which is understandable, because he thinks it’s not original:

[Jobs’s lack of coooperation leaves] two options to would-be biographers: Either they can succeed at a bit of investigative reporting, or they can plunder the work of those who have. Unfortunately, the authors of “iCon” are guilty mostly of the latter. In interviews, Young has said that “iCon,” subtitled “Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business,” was intended as an update of his 1987 biography, “Steve Jobs: The Journey Is the Reward.” But a surprising amount of the updating is lifted from my book, which covers Jobs from 1985 to 2001. Every author wants his work to influence later tellings, but hey, guys, this is kind of pushing it. I don’t know whether I should feel flattered or ask for my fair share of the book’s royalties.

To my amazement, the pointer comes from Paul Thurrott’s sorta blog, where he also reviews iCon – with the payoff “iCon stinks”. Jeepers, I agree.

‘The Thick of It’ – brilliant

Only one word for Armando Iannucci’s new series, about a hapless minister (played by Chris Langham) being bullied by the government spinmeister (Peter Capaldi, brilliant as a Scottish version of Alastair Campbell).

It’s on BBC4 for the moment, so you’ll have to break out the Freeview box (or your Sky box). What everyone’s been saying is true – it is a Yes Minister for the 21st century, showing how the real power lies with the people who give the stories enough rotational momentum to generate their own gravity. It’s not that they actually do anything useful; the fact that they’re always there and are always talking to people and have spoken to more people than you have means that the nothing that they do is still more important than the something you might have done.

Peter Capaldi is fantastic as the AC person – “I had a lump in my throat as I was writing that resignation letter for you!” he snarls at the minister who he is forcing out (“he’s useless, absolutely useless” he is telling – we assume – the PM as the minister arrives for his last day in work, to be bundled out minutes later). He’s got that scary wild-eyed determined teeth-set testosterone aggression that makes you wonder how he can keep going.

And Chris Langham too is wonderful as the hapless minister promoted to or slightly beyond his level of incompetence, which is considerable; his attempts in the first episode first to get a story about an initiative called “Scrounge Busters” – or something – onto Radio 4’s 1 O’Clock news (“don’t ask the Treasury! They’ll squash it!”) and then to get it off when the AC kills it and then to get it revived when the AC reverse ferrets (as it’s known in the newspaper trade; scroll down to the mention of Kelvin Mackenzie in the link to find it).

Bonus links: BBC press kit for the programme; official BBC site, with preview clips.