Whatever anyone may say about Walter Isaacson’s biographical treatment of Steve Jobs, we have definitely observed some interesting reading habits since the release of the book. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that one should not write seriously about any book until one has read it in its entirety. I learned that lesson best while reading The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. I was full of enthusiasm throughout the early chapters of the book. You might even say that I read it on the edge of my seat, anticipating the chapters in which he would spill out the hard data from which he drew his awe-inspiring conclusions. Well it turned out that everything he had to say about data could be found in a single footnote, in which he revealed that his conclusions were based primarily on self-observation while under the influence of mind-altering substances.
Isaacson is the last author I would accuse of such deceptive concealment of data. However, now that blogging has replaced journalism, we have been flooded with no end of look-what-I-just-read blog posts, all based on isolated passages in the book; and, to make matters worse, some of them seem to be showing up as “news articles” in daily papers. Now regular readers know that I sometimes do this sort of thing with my own reading on this site, but I never try to pass it off as newsworthy. In general I do it when I am reading a particularly complex source, and trying to write about what I have been reading helps me to come to a better understanding. I doubt that I would approach a biographical text the same way, unless it was a biography I already knew very well and the text was providing new insights or perspectives into my past knowledge. What, I wonder, will these tidbits-about-Jobs-seekers do when they finally get to the end of Isaacson’s book? Will any of them take the trouble to say anything about the “long view” of either Jobs’ life or the book’s account of it; or will such topics be beyond the scope of their attention span?