12 Books You Should Steal From Steve Jobs' Bookshelf (or Just Buy for Yourself)
Toward the end of his life, Steve Jobs was open to the idea of an afterlife. Not long after his untimely death, a Buddhist sect claimed that Jobs had been reincarnated as a “celestial warrior-philosopher living in a mystical glass palace hovering above his old office.”
If that’s true, perhaps in the moments that’s he’s not screaming “No! No! No!” to the awkward way Tim Cook has launched the iWatch, Jobs is wondering why more people aren’t reading the books he loves (or loved, as the case may be).
What strikes me most about Jobs’ list is that, unlike Bill Gates’ list, almost all the books are about a single individual overcoming enormous odds and obstacles in order to transform either the world, himself, or both. Sorta makes sense, eh?
1. 1984 by George Orwell
What It’s About: One man’s desperate struggle against an all-pervasive state that is committed to controlling people’s thoughts as well as their behaviors.
Fun Factoid: The book inspired the famous Apple “1984” Super Bowl commercial that preannounced the Macintosh.
Best Quote: “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
2. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
What It’s About: A single individual brings the world to a halt by persuading the world’s innovators to withdraw from it.
Fun Factoid: One of the last movies that Steve Jobs saw was the critically panned Atlas Shrugged: Part 1.
Best Quote: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists...it is real...it is possible... it’s yours.”
3. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
What It’s About: The author, by describing his life experiences, attempts to explain the laws behind both the ordinary events and miracles alike.
Fun Factoid: This was the only e-book found on Jobs’s personal iPad 2.
Best Quote: “You may control a mad elephant; You may shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger; Ride the lion and play with the cobra; By alchemy you may learn your livelihood; You may wander through the universe incognito; Make vassals of the gods; be ever youthful; You may walk in water and live in fire; But control of the mind is better and more difficult.”
4. Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass
What It’s About: Describes the author’s spiritual transformation through yoga.
Fun Factoid: Steve Jobs credited this book with getting him to try the hallucinogenic drug LSD.
Best Quote: “The cosmic humor is that if you desire to move mountains and you continue to purify yourself, ultimately you will arrive at the place where you are able to move mountains. But in order to arrive at this position of power, you will have had to give up being he-who-wanted-to-move-mountains so that you can be he-who-put-the-mountain-there-in-the-first-place. The humor is that finally when you have the power to move the mountain, you are the person who placed it there—so there the mountain stays.”
5. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa
What It’s About: The book argues against the tendency to see spirituality as a form of self-improvement and that instead that liberation comes from the letting go of the self.
Fun Factoid: Trungpa’s beliefs in reincarnation may have sparked the speculation that Jobs himself has been reincarnated.
Best Quote: “If you are a warrior, decency means that you are not cheating anybody at all. You are not even about to cheat anybody. There is a sense of straightforwardness and simplicity. With setting-sun vision, or vision based on cowardice, straightforwardness is always a problem. If people have some story or news to tell somebody else, first of all they are either excited or disappointed. Then they begin to figure out how to tell their news. They develop a plan, which leads them completely away from simply telling it. By the time a person hears the news, it is not news at all, but opinion. It becomes a message of some kind, rather than fresh, straightforward news. Decency is the absence of strategy. It is of utmost importance to realize that the warrior’s approach should be simple-minded sometimes, very simple and straightforward. That makes it very beautiful: You having nothing up your sleeve; therefore a sense of genuineness comes through. That is decency.”
6. Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe
What It’s About: Rules for a healthy diet, along with many recipes for protein-rich meals that do not include meat.
Fun Factoid: Jobs became a vegetarian after reading this book.
Best Quote: “We’re just a drop in the bucket, and that’s meaningless. But we say, ‘No, wait a minute. If you have a bucket, those raindrops fill it up very fast. Being a drop in the bucket is magnificent.’ The problem is we cannot see the bucket. Our work is helping people see that there is a bucket. There are all these people all over the world who are creating this bucket of hope. And so our drops are incredibly significant.”
7. Inside the Tornado: Strategies for Developing, Leveraging, and Surviving Hypergrowth Markets by Geoffrey A. Moore
What It’s About: This sequel to Moore’s masterwork Crossing the Chasm provides a road map for marketers who want to help innovators reach customers.
Fun Factoid: Apple’s product release cycle is closely tied to Geoffrey Moore’s theory of early adopters as key to a technology’s eventual success.
Best Quote: “After the better part of a century being content with letters, telegrams, and telephones, we have in the past 30 years adopted touchtone phones, direct-dial long distance, Federal Express, answering machines, fax machines, voice mail, email, and now internet addresses. In every case, until a certain mass was reached, we didn’t really need to convert. But as soon as it was, it became unacceptable not to participate. As members of a market, our behavior is invariable: We move as a herd, we mill and mill and mill around, and then all of a sudden we stampede.”
8. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
What It’s About: The book describes the monomaniacal quest of Captain Ahab to revenge himself on Moby Dick, the albino sperm whale that had on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and bit off his leg.
Fun Factoid: In the book, the anti-hero Captain Ahab maniacally pursues his goal of killing the white whale. It’s not hard to draw a comparison between that and Jobs’ determination to out-invent and out-market the entire computer industry.
Best Quote: “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
9. Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company by Andrew S. Grove
What It’s About: Probably the best “Here’s how I did and you can too” book from a successful CEO. Unlike most such authors, Grove delves as deeply into his failures as his successes.
Fun Factoid: Apple is the only PC company that has successfully migrated an operating system from one CPU architecture to another completely different architecture.
Best Quote: “The sad news is, nobody owes you a career. Your career is literally your own business. You own it as a sole proprietor. You have one employee: yourself. You are in competition with millions of similar businesses: millions of other employees all over the world. You need to accept ownership of your career, your skills, and the timing of your moves. It is your responsibility to protect this personal business of yours from harm and to position it to benefit from changes in the environment. Nobody else can do that for you.”
10. The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen
What It’s About: The book presents the classic argument that technology no longer develops incrementally and instead is subject to regular “disruptions” that favor small, nimble companies and organizations.
Fun Factoid: In 2014, Christensen believed that Jobs’ iconic products, the iPad and the iPhone, were ripe for disruption.
Best Quote: “When faced with a disruptive technology, people and processes in a mainstream organization cannot be expected to allocate freely the critical financial and human resources needed to carve out a strong position in the small, emerging market. It is very difficult for a company whose cost structure is tailored to compete in high-end markets to be profitable in low-end markets as well. Creating an independent organization, with a cost structure honed to achieve profitability at the low margins characteristic of most disruptive technologies, is the only viable way for established firms to harness this principle.”
11. The Tao of Programming by Geoffrey James
What It’s About: A collection of parables about computer programming based on the classics of Taoism.
Fun Factoid: I put this on the list because Steve Jobs personally told me that he liked it. (Just so you know, I don’t make any money on this out-of-print book.)
Best Quote: “A manager went to the master programmer and showed him the requirements document for a new application. The manager asked the master: “How long will it take to design this system if I assign five programmers to it?”
“It will take one year,” said the master promptly.
“But we need this system immediately or even sooner! How long will it take if I assign 10 programmers to it?”
The master programmer frowned. “In that case, it will take two years.”
“And what if I assign a hundred programmers to it?”
The master programmer shrugged. “Then the design will never be completed.”
12. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
What It’s About: It provides the basics of Zen and Zen meditation, including the method that Jobs himself used to center himself during difficult moments in his career.
Fun Factoid: Prior to the publication of this book in 1970, Zen Buddhism was virtually unknown in the United States. As an early cultural icon who endorsed it, Steve Jobs definitely helped to popularize it.
Best Quote: “Even though you try to put people under control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: First let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good. That is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.”
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