Books Recommended by Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was an advocate for hard work, stepping outside comfort zones, and taking risks. For more of his teachings, we’ve put together some of the Apple co-founder’s recommended reads
by Uptime Staff / 2021-08-09

Most of us know Steve Jobs’ name for being the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of one of the world’s most influential and well-known companies, Apple. 

But behind Jobs’ drive for the tech revolution was one key passion: education. 

quotation marksStay foolish. Stay hungry.

Potentially one of the deepest-cutting quotes that he left us with, this quote stems from his famous speech at Stanford Univeristy. During his commencement address, Jobs urged students to seek careers that they had a passion for, rather than following the money-driven route. Otherwise, we’ll always be hungry for what could’ve been.

Steve Jobs is perhaps best known for being the man behind some of the biggest pieces of technology on the market today: from Mac, iPad, and iPod, to creating the all-in-one device that we know and love today: the iPhone. 

He was also the chairman and majority shareholder of Pixar, helping to forge Apple’s future in the direction of media and creativity before he lost his battle to neuroendocrine cancer.

While Tim Cook took over as the Apple CEO in 2011, Jobs' legacy lives on. Now, we’ve compiled a list of a few books that draw upon the teachings that Jobs would have continued to share. Here are a few Steve Jobs’ recommended reads:

The Innovator's Dilemma - Clayton M. Christensen

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According to Christensen, market leaders are often set up to fail - but why? He shares these three key teachings in his book.

There are two key types of technologies today: ‘disruptive’, and ‘sustaining’. 

By that, Christensen means technology that changes the landscape, or even totally changes (or ‘disrupts’) it; and technology that enhances performance and functionality. 

Sustaining technologies are easy to produce, and keep on producing over the course of many years... but disruption is where the real innovation is at. 

quotation marksDisruptive technology should be framed as a marketing challenge, not a technological one.

The target customer for something disruptive can be entirely different to that of a sustainer, and that’s where many businesses can fail. 

Anyone can buy, sell, hire, or fire, but businesses can become complacent and blind to this. Disrupting, and sustaining, simultaneously, can be a huge task for even the most efficient businesses, which is why acquisition is key. 

Shazam, Beats, and the weather forecasting app Dark Sky are just some examples of companies acquired by Apple, which has allowed it to borrow the expertise of existing players.

The Way of Zen - Alan W. Watts

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Steve Jobs’ goal was a complex one - he aimed to develop disruptive technologies in many fields, from education to wellbeing (both physical and mental). Zen, or mental stillness, is key to mental wellbeing; Jobs knew this well.

Here are some of the insights we gained from this book:

True practitioners of Zen will know that pursuing happiness is foolish. The idea that all is good, and nothing is bad, is a false belief. In reality, Zen teaches us that we are part of our circumstances, not victims. We are key players, and have active control over what’s going on. 

Through practicing Zen, we are able to clearly see the illusions that our minds create in order to see beyond them. When we’re hungry, we can appreciate the satisfaction of filling our stomach rather than drown in the temporary feeling of perceived pain. 

quotation marksFor there is never anything but the present, and if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.

Doing nothing is a waste of time - or so many Westerners believe. In many ways, following the example set out by animals can be a good place to start.

Observe a cat, for example. It may relax in the sun, before stretching its legs on a short walk, and then eat just enough to satisfy its feeling of hunger. It lives in the moment, naturally and spontaneously. 

Take action by doing nothing but observing at the end of a busy day, taking in the world around you. 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig

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Philosopher, professor and author Pirsig uses a 17-day motorcycle trip to explain how we can reconcile both rationality and romanticism. Pirsig observes and learns more about the world during his trip, taking a grasp on where we as a society have gone wrong, and how humanity can improve.

His first insight is that modern education has lost its commitment to the pursuit of knowledge, with most establishments focusing on grades and degrees. It has been in a downward spiral since before the ancient Greeks, and it’s about time we refocus on the true purpose of education. 

Prisig also makes note of how people differ. He uses the idea of quality as an example: it is neither objective nor subjective, but rather where the two meet. Here, there is a clash of scientific and romantic, of ideological and quantifiable.

quotation marksPeople differ about quality, not because quality is different, but because people are different in terms of experience.

We can apply this quote to any aspect of life. It's vital that we observe, appreciate, and celebrate the differences between people’s points of view.

Overall, though, rational thought and constant learning should be maintained throughout life. Carrying out motorcycle maintenance, he is at odds with his riding companion who refuses to learn the basics of engine maintenance, which costs the pair time, money, and bitter feelings. 

Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson

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Although this biography wasn’t exactly recommended by Jobs, it certainly encompasses a great deal of his lessons, teachings, and beliefs. The book was published just days after Jobs’ death, written by famous biographer Walter Isaacson, who has written about the likes of Einstein and da Vinci. Seeing as Isaacson normally focuses on historical figures, it feels important that he broke away from his own patterns and wrote about a person of modern times.

By using charisma, hyperbole, marketing and persistence, Jobs was able to convince people using reality distortion field. Anyone who watched an Apple Keynote, for example, was under the impression that the product discussed was the best that they’d ever seen. 

In the words of Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

While these may not be the words of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, they are part of the reason for the company’s success. Behind the scenes is a lot of hard work, confusion and frustration, but on the surface, all is calm. The brand’s simplicity has won the hearts of thousands of consumers globally. 

Ultimately, Steve Jobs’ conviction that he was in charge of himself and his destiny was the key to his past successes. Observation helps to take note, while being truly at ease with oneself helps to generate results. 

If you’re interested to learn more about similar books, including books recommended by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, head over to the homepage of Uptime to begin a five-minute Hack.

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