The first biography of Apple CEO Tim Cook is out today. Written by Leander Kahney, who wrote a previous biography of Jony Ive, the title gives a pretty good clue to the overall tone: Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level.
The early reviews suggests that, for those who already follow Apple coverage closely, there’s only one section that will tell you things you didn’t already know …
That’s a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the San Bernardino iPhone case.
The Times says that the rest of it is pretty much PR fluff, though does contain some ‘awkward facts.’
This book is a hagiography. If the title does not make that clear, the acknowledgments do. Leander Kahney, the self-styled “world’s leading reporter on Apple”, thanks Apple’s PR team for their “invaluable help and assistance”. He has certainly returned the favour. His book makes Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, sound like God himself. Much of the prose is so craven, it’s funny.
Cook is the most high-profile gay CEO in the world, yet Kahney says: “While researching this book, I didn’t pry into his personal life at all. Cook keeps his private life private, and I’m happy to respect that.” Imagine anyone writing a biography of Steve Jobs, Cook’s fiery predecessor, without discussing his tortured family life.
The review references some stories that present Apple is a less flattering light, but these aren’t new.
On another occasion, when Foxconn was building the first iMac, the company’s design engineers had a problem with a new button for the computer. The button was untested and the designers were worried it might fail with prolonged use. So what did Foxconn do? It got minimum-wage workers to stay up all night pushing it. It was cheaper than designing a machine to do the job. Kahney points out that working practices at Foxconn have improved lately.
To be fair to Apple, it has a pretty brutal work ethic itself. Kahney reveals that 30 minutes into a meeting about a serious supply problem in China, Cook turned to a key executive and asked him: “Why are you still here?” The executive got up, drove straight to San Francisco airport and got on the first flight to China with no return date.
Which is a problem AppleInsider highlights.
Both this and the previous Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products do have the problem that their subjects did not talk to Kahney directly. Apple did not make Cook available for the current book […]
Instead, the majority of quotes and interviews in the book are from previously published accounts. Kahney acknowledges this and he’s made a comprehensive bio using them, but it still means that points tend to be familiar. Since Cook says little publicly, compared to Steve Jobs for instance, there’s a good chance that you already know most of the quotes from him.
Similarly, the book takes a look at Project Titan – the Apple Car project – but an excerpt in Financial Express again suggests it contains nothing new, ending:
Right now, the status of Apple’s Project Titan isn’t clear. It may or may not be on track.
Kirkus Review takes a somewhat kinder view, describing it as ‘occasionally hagiographic but mostly illuminating,’ but also gives a clue as to the level of detail that might be expected by those who already follow Apple coverage.
Kahney’s book is no rags-to-riches, blow-by-blow timeline of Cook’s life. While that element is present, the volume is more a study in comparisons: Jobs was this way, here’s how Cook differs, and here are the sum effects of those differences.