Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand and Hank Rearden

My good buddy Tony Seton sent me a note this morning about a review of the recently released Steve Jobs biopic/hatchet job “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” The review was written by Karen d’Souza of the San Jose Mercury News, the newspaper of record in Apple’s home region of Silicon Valley.

The film, directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney, he who has taken down Enron and Scientology, is a blistering attack on Jobs the Man.

In her review, d’Souza recounts one scene in the book where Jobs, after fighting tooth and nail to deny his paternity of his daughter Lisa via a high school sweetheart, named his first new-generation computer after her.

Steve Jobs with Apple logo in backgroundThat got me to thinking about another narcissistic personality, this from the realm of fiction. I don’t know if Jobs read or was a fan of Ayn Rand’s massive didactic tome Atlas Shrugged. But one of the main characters in that book is an industrialist named Henry (Hank) Rearden. He is portrayed as a man obsessed with ores and metals and the fabrication of new machine building blocks. At one point, he shows up at a party his wife is throwing for (as I recall) their anniversary. He gives her a bracelet made from the first pouring of his latest invention, Rearden Metal.

He friends and family are aghast at the self-centeredness of his gift choice but she exaggeratedly proclaims how special it is. In one of the book’s more memorable scenes, she comes off as a clear master of the art of sarcasm while Hank wanders off bewildered at her and her friends’ reactions.

To Jobs, naming his first post-Apple-][ computer, the Lisa, after his illegitimate daughter was clearly worth far more to her and marked a greater tribute to her than any time or money he could have spent with her or on her. (The film also points out that Jobs grudgingly agreed to pay Lisa’s mother $500/month in child support at a time when his net worth was $200 million.)

I’m sure Jobs was a haunted man whose childhood abandonment to adoption served as a life-long drive to prove himself to himself. He was clearly deeply conflicted about life and his role in it. How else would you explain is frequent — and apparently not lastingly successful — forays into Buddhism and retreats in Asia? Better that, perhaps, than the retreat into drugs pursued as an escape by so many of his contemporaries.

I haven’t yet seen the film. I will. But from what I’ve read of the movie — and I have also read the Walter Isaacson biography which, while not hiding any of these flaws, at least strove for a balanced perspective. It seems clear Gibney was far more interested in character assassination and box office than in truth and fairness and balance. That’s fine; that’s his prerogative as an artist. And Heaven knows Jobs gave his biographers and historians lots of raw material from which to draw the same conclusion as Gibney. Finding the balance in Jobs — or Hank Rearden (or any other Ayn Rand two-dimensional “character”) takes more effort and depth and time and scholarship, if not intelligence and integrity, than any successful Hollywood producer is likely to have.

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