Steve Jobs was most definitely a complex man. Two weeks before his death, he told Walter Isaacson that he new the very biography he’d authorized Isaacson to write would make him angry. Since then, Steve Wozniak told his story, which included a complex and sometimes contentious relationship with Jobs. Several notable figures at Apple put together a book to rebut Isaacson’s account as a way to explain how they could be so loyal to such a difficult man.
And then we come to Lisa Brennan Jobs’s account, Small Fry. Brennan Jobs has a unique perspective that shows both sides of Steve Jobs. She’s his daughter.
Jobs had a daughter with Nicole Brennan in the early days of Apple. Brennan became pregnant just as she and Jobs were breaking up. She kept the child, named Lisa, but Jobs denied her for years. And yet Jobs was in and out of her life, alternately helping and ignoring her. Eventually, Jobs accepted her and, thanks to wife Laurene, eventually admitted that he had named the Lisa computer (forerunner of the Macintosh) after her.
Brennan Jobs focuses as much on her mother as her father. Whereas Jobs was wealthy and yet lived a minimalist lifestyle, Brennan struggled with poverty, receiving grudging child support and sporadic help from Jobs. Eventually, Jobs pulled his daughter into his orbit, partly to defuse the deteriorating relationship between her and her mother. The move worked once Brennan did not have to be a fulltime single mom.
But Jobs, like many geniuses surrounded by yes men, lacked social skills and seemed not to understand how to be a family. He could be very tender toward the titular small fry, yet alternately cruel (though not abusive.) He would seem to be insulted by some unknown slight and had incredible trouble articulating it. So some of the more salacious or shocking incidents. What Brennan Jobs does best is also be an unreliable narrator. She does not hide being a cruel teenager on occasion or being a brat to both parents from time to time.
But Brennan Jobs may have written the most important account of Steve Jobs’ life. It doesn’t focus on Apple or NeXt or Pixar. The iPod is never mentioned. It’s about this guy named Steve, who struggled to be a good father with mixed results.