“I like living at the intersection of the humanities and technology,” Steve Jobs said once.
LSD, Bauhaus and Zen Buddhism shaped Apple’s pioneering products as much as anything that took place on the assembly lines. They were among Jobs’ greatest influences and they shaped his attitudes toward design, business and innovation.
The books Jobs read, particularly as a teen and college student, helped expose him to the ideas and experiences that would serve as Apple’s foundation years later.
Walter Isaacson’s 571-page biography of Jobs, a copy of which was purchased by The Huffington Post, provides an unprecedented look at the texts — by writers ranging from William Shakespeare to Paramahansa Yogananda — that influenced Jobs; “required reading” for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the visionary.
Less than a handful of the texts Isaacson mentions directly concern technology: one is Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” which Isaacson writes, “deeply influenced” Jobs, and the other is Ron Rosenbaum’s 1971 Esquire article “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” a profile of hackers who could tap into phone networks that later gave rise to Jobs’ first collaboration with Steve Wozniak, who went on to become Apple’s co-founder.
Jobs’ interest in literature and the arts burgeoned during his junior and senior years of high school, which coincided with his first drug use. Jobs tried marijuana at 15 and before graduating high school began experimenting with LSD. (He later observed, “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life,” he said.)
“I started to listen to music a whole lot, and I started to read more outside of just science and technology — Shakespeare, Plato. I loved King Lear,” Jobs recalled of his teen years. Isaacson notes that “Moby-Dick” and Dylan Thomas’ poetry were among Jobs’ favorite works at this point in his life.
During his freshman year at Reed College, Jobs befriended Daniel Kottke, who went on to work at Apple, and together they devoured books such as Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” Chogyam Trungpa’s “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” and Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi,” a book Jobs read and re-read many times during his life.
Jobs found himself deeply influenced by a variety of books on spirituality and enlightenment, most notably Be Here Now, a guide to meditation and the wonders of psychedelic drugs by Baba Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert.
“It was profound,” Jobs said. “It transformed me and many of my friends.”
Throughout his life, Jobs embraced numerous extreme, even obsessive, dietary regimes. He fasted periodically and, at various points, was a vegetarian, vegan and fruitarian, though he made an exception for unagi sushi while in Japan. This attitude toward food began to take shape in college after Jobs read “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappe in his first year at Reed.
“That’s when I swore off meat pretty much for good,” Jobs told Isaacson, who adds Jobs became “even more obsessive” about food after reading Arnold Ehret’s “Mucusless Diet Healing System.”
One book in particular stayed with Jobs his entire life, and Isaacson noted that it was the only book Jobs had downloaded on his iPad 2: “Autobiography of a Yogi,” “the guide to meditation and spirituality that he had first read as a teenager,” Isaacson writes, “then re-read in India and had read once a year ever since.”
Yet no discussion of the artists who influenced Jobs is complete without mentioning the music that made the man.
Jobs called Bob Dylan “one of my heroes” and had over a dozen Dylan albums on his iPod, along with songs from seven different Beatles albums, six Rolling Stones albums and four albums by Jobs’ onetime lover Joan Baez.
Jobs likened The Beatles’ creative process to Apple’s own. While listening to a bootleg CD from one of the band’s recording sessions, Jobs remarked, “They did a bundle of work between each of these recordings. They kept sending it back to make it closer to perfect … The way we build stuff at Apple is often this way.”
He also framed his motivations and the principles that drove him forward in terms of Dylan and The Beatles.
“They kept evolving, moving, refining their art,” Jobs said of the artists. “That’s what I’ve always tried to do — keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.”