Genius, control freak ... or a fascinating combination of both?

Barely a day goes by without some news about Apple Computer. The most recent was the release last week of a version of its market-leading iPod that also plays video, complete with a Walt Disney deal to stream TV shows through the sleek 2.5-inch device.

Apple has surprised even the biggest doubters, who were sharpening their knives 10 years ago watching the sad and sorry demise of the firm following the departure of their co-founder Steve Jobs in disgrace and failure in 1985.

``I think this it's just the beginning,'' Mr Jobs said at the launch of the video iPod. Apple has already sold 28 million iPods since their introduction in October 2001 and has 75% of the market for digital music players, representing a booming business that has helped the company's stock triple in the past year.

The new iMac computer is now poised for release, positioned as an entertainment hub for DVDs, music and photos, as the vision of one of the digital era's greatest minds and technology architects is being realised.

It's an incredible turnaround for the man seen as down and out after being dumped from the company he co-founded. And it's all detailed in the unauthorised biography, iCon, Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in History of Business by Jeffrey Young and William Simon (895 baht/hardcover).

Apple tried to keep the book from the shelves, removing all titles published by John Wiley & Sons from its stores in protest. It obviously touched a nerve and does in part diminish the evangelical persona of a man whose image is so carefully controlled and manipulated.

But whereas the authors detail a number of Mr Jobs' personal shortcomings, they equally catalogue and admire a brilliant businessman who is undoubtedly one of the icons of the 20th century.

An adopted child of a northern California working-class couple, he combined entrepreneurial drive with nerdy curiosity and huge self-belief, and went into business with Steve Wozniak to create the revolutionary Apple II, the first popular personal computer.

The pair became multimillionaires, though Mr Wozniak eventually left the company to pursue other interests.

Mr Jobs' prickly personality and immense ambition may have helped drive his success but it also fuelled clashes with executives, board members and others, and led to his forced departure. That was a wild first act. But the authors also chronicle what came next.

Mr Jobs' new computer company, NeXT, was a near-disaster. Though technologically advanced, the box was expensive and ill-suited for its intended market, universities. Still, the operating system held great promise and the possibility for Mr Jobs' return to the spotlight.

When divorce forced Star Wars producer George Lucas to sell off his computer animation company, Pixar, Mr Jobs scooped it up at a fraction of the asking price. Soon, the company teamed with Disney and became a creative powerhouse in its own right, with smash films, Toy Story and Finding Nemo. When Pixar went public, Mr Jobs became a billionaire.

At the same time, Apple was having a rough time with CEO Gil Amelio, who slashed costs, consolidated product lines and seemed to be on the verge of turning the company around despite lacking the political prowess of his predecessor.

The search for an operating system for a new, more powerful Macintosh attracted Mr Jobs' attention and the NeXT software was his ticket back to Apple in 1997. Mr Amelio was sent packing and Mr Jobs became ``interim'' CEO, instrumental in developing the iMac and iPod. With the latter he struck gold and was ``interim'' no more.

The biography includes many personal details that will surely embarrass Mr Jobs, such as his early abandonment of a daughter born to an unmarried girlfriend (both of whom he later reconciled with and supported), along with endless examples of pride, egotism, venality, ruthlessness and conceit.

But it's still an engaging and colourful tale by two excellent storytellers about the ``rock star of high tech''.

Drawing on hundreds of unauthorised interviews, the book gives readers a glimpse into the life of a master of three industries _ movies, music and computers _ and a man who can be seen as an imaginative genius or a twitchy, self-believing control freak. All of which makes for great reading.

David Johnson is managing director of Asia Books Publishing (ABP). E-mail: [email protected]. ABP publishes books and magazines on Thailand and Southeast Asia. All books mentioned are available at Asia Books and all leading bookstores, Bangkok Post reported.

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