TIME Opinion

Ellen Pao Was One More ‘Difficult’ Female Executive

Ellen Pao
Eric Risberg—AP Ellen Pao, the interim chief of Reddit, has alleged she faced gender discrimination from former employer Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers

She may have not been the right person to lead Reddit. But that doesn’t mean the deck wasn’t stacked from the start

Take a woman in the middle of an intensely polarizing Silicon Valley gender-discrimination lawsuit and put her in charge of cleaning up a tech company known for its mostly male, highly vocal and often controversial user base. What could go wrong?

You could say it’s no surprise that Ellen Pao is stepping down as interim CEO of the message-board site Reddit. Her short and brutal tenure began last fall and slammed into a wall in May when she announced that the site would begin enforcing antiharassment policies that some of the site’s 164 million, mainly anonymous users believe to be antithetical to the community’s free-speech ideals. (Though a for-profit enterprise, Reddit has grown into a powerhouse because it is largely self-governed.)

The company’s decision in early June to ban of five of the site’s notoriously virulent and abusive forums, many of which have been condemned by civil rights watch organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and various women’s groups for glorifying everything from racism to rape, was not Pao’s alone. The site’s executives, board and high-profile investors realize that the company has to modernize, i.e. become more commercial. Doing that means shining light on the darker corners of the site so the socially enriching part can thrive.

But Pao became the face of change. The controversial, “difficult” female face of unwelcome, unholy change. The resulting clash of an anonymous online army and a perceived lady enforcer is worthy of an HBO epic series.

The announcement about the renewed antiharassment rules, designed to protect individuals from attack, came just few months after Pao lost her high-profile suit against venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In the suit — she is currently appealing the ruling against her — she alleged the company retaliated against her for calling executives out on endemic corporate sexism. The firm, in turn, alleged that she was not promoted because she was “difficult” and not a “team player.”

Sure, Kleiner Perkins didn’t come out looking particularly good either, especially when partner John Doerr was quoted as saying that the most successful tech entrepreneurs are “white, male nerds.” But Pao’s reputation took the biggest hit. So when she told Reddit’s users that they were going to have to shut down five threads accused of fat shaming individuals among other nefarious deeds, she might has well have been wielding a flamethrower. Even if Reddit management was united about the rules, it sure looked like mom was coming in to make everyone behave. That did not go over well.

A Change.org petition sprung up in June accusing Pao of ushering in an age of “censorship” and calling her “manipulative.” The document — and the flood of anti-Pao threads on Reddit — argued she had attempted to “sue her way to the top.” Never mind that she has better on-paper credentials than most executives. (She is Princeton-educated engineer with a Harvard law degree and an MBA.) Nor was she the most controversial, or abrasive or difficult boss in an industry known for CEOs that sometimes lack, to put it gently, interpersonal skills.

But the rules are so often different for women at the top. Personality matters and the margin of misinformation is tiny. Be very good at your job. And also, play nice. When Jill Abramson was fired as editor of the New York Times she was described with many of the same adjectives used to vilify Pao at trial. Abramson made a fuss over gender inequities, she was “difficult,” she “challenged the top brass.”

By July 2 when Pao made the mistake of firing a popular female staffer who served as an intermediary with the volunteer moderators, the site’s users were already primed to grab their virtual pitchforks. The petition to get rid of her racked up thousands more signatures and moderators started shutting down pieces of the site and writing editorials in the New York Times. Pao apologized, not just for the abrupt firing, but also for a general lack of communication with volunteer-forum moderators, a problem that even many of her critics admit predated her tenure.

Then on July 10 she announced she would be stepping down and that co-founder Steve Huffman would return as permanent CEO. She is planning to stay on as an adviser, though in an interview with TIME, the company’s chairman Alexis Ohanian did not clearly define what that actually means. However, in his statement board member Sam Altman did acknowledge some of the toxic abuse aimed at Pao saying: “It was sickening to see some of the things Redditors wrote about Ellen. The reduction in compassion that happens when we’re all behind computer screens is not good for the world. People are still people even if there is Internet between you.”

Finding a way to curb those baser impulses without crushing the vibrancy and goodness that exists on the 10-year old site will now be Huffman’s challenge. It won’t be easy. In reality, the censorship that some users were so furious about barely nicked at the not-so-subtle undercurrents of hate and misogyny. Sure, the repulsive “creepshots” thread is no more, but “CoonTown,” Reddit’s 10,000-subscriber racist community, rife with the N word is still there. And at a moment when Southern Republicans are calling for the removal of Confederate flags, fighting to preserve those kinds of forums looks as outdated as it does insensitive.

TIME Executives

Reddit Chairman Alexis Ohanian: ‘We Need to Do a Better Job’

reddit-reboots
Mark Mahaney for TIME Reddit co-founder and executive chairman Alexis Ohanian and interim CEO Ellen Pao in the company’s San Francisco headquarters.

Why Steve Huffman is the right person to replace Ellen Pao as CEO

Reddit announced Friday that its interim CEO Ellen Pao would be stepping down from her post. After several months of uproar in the popular message board’s community over policy changes spearheaded by Pao, co-founder Steve Huffman is returning as chief executive. Alexis Ohanian, also a Reddit co-founder who returned last year as executive chairman, is staying on in his role but will move permanently to San Francisco where the firm is headquartered.

Ohanian spoke to TIME exclusively after the announcement. A slightly edited transcript of the conversation follows.

How did this decision finally come about?

This was all a pretty new development. When I first came back eight or nine months ago to the executive chair role, Steve was one of the first people I called. He ruled it out pretty immediately because he was pretty focused on Hipmunk. In the last eight months they’ve been pretty successful and, when we needed him, the stars aligned. Ellen has been great at transitioning and handing the role off.

How much of this move is a response to the turmoil of the last few months?

It’s a pretty special thing when the two founders who have left can come back. All along, the board was focused on finding someone who can excel at community and product. Steve excels at both. That opportunity’s a pretty special one.

Given how much gender has been an issue over the past few months, what do have to say about the fact that you are firing a prominent female CEO?

More than anything else, this is about having someone skilled with product. If you take a look at the record of the company that Steve has at Hipmunk, you’ll see they’ve done extremely well. You’ll see that about half of Hipmunk’s team is women. At Reddit we’re going to hire the best people we can, and I expect many of them to be women.

What is Steve Huffman’s relationship with the community like?

Judging from the responses right now many people are welcoming him back and happy to have him back. I don’t know how much “Huffman hype” there was because I don’t know how many people knew. What matters to me now is getting back to work.

You said Ellen Pao would be staying on in advisory role, what will that entail?

[We want to find] as big an advisory role as we can for her. The big period we’ve had under her has been really formative for Reddit. Her leadership got us through a lot of the changes we made. I hope she’ll continue to be an accurate advisor. It’ll be a pretty traditional advisory role.

Is you role changing?

As executive chair, I was between San Francisco and New York. Now as chairman, I’m working in California full time. I hate giving up the pizza but this is one of those opportunities.

Many of the issues over the past months have been community issues. How is bringing in a product person going to fix that?

Reddit is a platform for communities. Our users have created something that effectively sets the agenda. We need to do a better job from a product standpoint. That was at the core of last week. For years we’d been talking about making changes to improve basic tools and not doing anything. It’s just something we haven’t been doing. Having someone like Steve helps us tremendously ship great products.

How will you and Steve Huffman work together?

Steve is the person I was closest to for almost a decade. For the last few years, he’s been largely out of my life. It wasn’t until recently that we came back into each other’s lives. It was a friendship that mattered a lot to me. We reconnected over the past few months. I feel all warm on the inside and I’m grateful for that.

TIME Uber

Two Uber Executives Arrested in France

Photo illustration of logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone over a reserved lane for taxis in a street in Madrid
© Sergio Perez / Reuters—REUTERS

Arrests come just days after fierce anti-Uber protests

Uber has encountered roadblocks in cities not keen on unregulated taxi services, but it might finally have met its match in the streets of Paris.

Two Uber executives were arrested in Paris Monday for running an illegal taxi company and concealing illegal documents, according to TechCrunch.

The arrested executives — Uber France’s CEO Thibaud Simphal and Uber Europe GM Peirre-Dimitri Gore-Coty — have previously said that Uber would continue operations in the country until a court rules against their service, UberPOP. Although UberPOP has been illegal since late last year, the country has had trouble enforcing the ban since Uber reportedly pays off drivers’ fines and encourages them to continue working.

The arrests come just days after fierce protests plugged up major traffic intersections in Paris. At one point, police in riot gear deployed tear gas on the taxi driver protestors, who say that Uber represents unfair competition.

But even arresting Uber’s executives won’t do much to stop the irreverent service: Simphal and Gore-Coty will probably be released within days, the report said, and France will have to let the case wind through the country’s courts.

TIME Executives

These Are the Top 5 Female CEOs, According to Their Employees

GERMANY-GM-OPEL
Daniel Roland—AFP/Getty Images Mary Barra, a new CEO of U.S. carmaker General Motors GM addresses the media during a news conference at the headquarters of the company's German subsidiary Opel in Ruesselsheim, on January 27, 2014.

A new annual ranking is out

This week, Glassdoor.com — a site popular for people searching for jobs, who can get the inside scoop from anonymous reviews from former and current employees — posted its annual list of the CEOs most popular with their employees.

The company also broke out a list of the five top rated woman CEOs. They are, as follows:

  1. Mary Barra, General Motors (86% approval)
  2. Pam Nicholson, Enterprise Rent-A-Car (84% approval)
  3. Kay Krill, Ann Taylor (84% approval)
  4. Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin (83% approval)
  5. Sharen Turney, Victoria’s Secret Stores (83% approval)

It should come as no surprise that Barra tops this list. She’s earned praise from all angles for her handling of GM’s ignition switch recall crisis. Barra is a GM lifer who has respect throughout the organization.

TIME leadership

This Is How Much It Costs to Lunch With Warren Buffett

150529_INV_Buffett
Rick Wilking—Reuters Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett

If it's part of a charity auction that is

For a little more than $1 million, you too could dine with Warren Buffett. The annual auction of a “power lunch” with the Oracle of Omaha opened on Sunday night at $25,000, and the bidding is already up to $1,000,100.

The eBay auction benefits the Glide Foundation, a charitable organization that assists the poor and homeless, which Buffett has chosen to receive the proceeds of the lunch fundraiser each year. Bidding goes until Friday, June 5, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Still, by the time the auction closes, the winning bidder—so far only four are in the race—will likely have to pay much more than $1 million to eat steak with Buffett.

Last year, a Singapore man, Andy Chua, paid $2.2 million for the lunch date, which is often held at the Smith & Wollensky restaurant in New York. The record price for the meal, however, was in 2012, when an anonymous winner paid nearly $3.5 million.

At the current pace of bidding, this year’s auction stands to beat the 2012 record. The bidding was only at $500,000 with two days to go before the close of the auction that year; the current auction has already double that amount and there are still more than four days left to bid.

After all, dining with Buffett has already yielded much more than bragging rights to at least one lucky winner. Ted Weschler outbid his competitors to win the Glide auction in both 2010 and 2011, paying more than $2.6 million each time. Then a hedge fund manager, Weschler spent the meals discussing his own investment strategy and success—and impressed Buffett so much that the Oracle hired Weschler to run part of his legendary investment portfolio at Berkshire Hathaway.

Now considered one of Buffett’s protégés who will eventually take charge of Berkshire’s investments when Buffett eventually retires, Weschler had remained anonymous during both of the Glide auctions. His identity was first revealed by longtime Fortune writer Carol J. Loomis when his hiring was officially announced.

Perhaps it’s Weschler’s kind of prize—the chance to work directly for Buffett—that is inflating the cost of the charity lunch. In 2008, investor Guy Spier paid just $650,000 to lunch with Buffett.

As is typical, Buffett ordered a cherry coke with his medium-rare steak.

TIME Executives

Watch: Proof Bill And Melinda Gates Are Ice Cold Under Pressure

 

Red nose day—a U.K. campaign launched this year in the U.S. by NBC to “[raise] money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun and making people laugh,” culminated Thursday night in a three-hour television special that featured celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Will Ferrell.

But it wasn’t just walkers of red carpets that got in on the action. Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates and his wife Melinda also filmed a video pitch in support of red nose day and it’s poverty-fighting mission, though things didn’t quite goes as they planned.

TIME Turnarounds

How Sony Got Up and Out of Its Death Bed

President and CEO of Sony Corporation Hirai speaks at a Sony news conference during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
Steve Marcus—Reuters President and CEO of Sony Corporation Kazuo Hirai speaks at a Sony news conference during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jan. 5, 2015.

For the first time in a decade, the electronics company has a shot

In the annals of consumer electronics companies that have slipped from great heights, none has taken a bigger fall far from its glory days than Sony. But after years of struggling to right itself, the company is finally making real progress on a turnaround.

Just as Apple helped revive itself in the early 2000s with the iPod, Sony built much of its success on the idea of helping people carry music around in their pocket–first with the transistor radio in the 50s and 60s and later with the Walkman portable cassette player. Those products, coupled with smart engineering, made the Sony brand synonymous with peerless quality.

In the early 2000s, Sony began to lose its competitive edge. Rivals like Samsung had emerged to undercut its higher-priced TVs and stereos. Sony couldn’t get a foothold in new markets like mp3 players. Its earlier expansion into new areas like insurance and its overspending on film and music studios left it with a structure that was at once bloated and siloed.

Sony named Howard Stringer as CEO in 2005 to turn things around. Stringer cut a charismatic figure, but couldn’t speak Japanese and, as a lifelong media executive, lacked an engineering background. Stringer tried to conjure a convergence of electronics and media properties that never quite gelled. (Stringer is on the board of Time Inc.) Meanwhile, further setbacks struck: the global recession in 2009, the Fukushima earthquake in 2011 and a stronger yen that hurt Japanese exports.

MORE: How Apple Just Save Best Buy

Sony has posted net losses for six of the past seven years. As a result, the price of its ADRs traded on the NYSE fell from $55 in early 2008 to below $10 in late 2012. (An ADR is a stock that trades in the U.S. but represents a specific number of shares in a foreign corporation.) Its credit ratings eventually fell to near junk levels. But then things began to look up: After bottoming out below $10 in 2012, its ADRs have risen back near $33 this month, a rally of 238% in the last two and a half years.

The change came after Sony replaced Stringer with Kazuo Hirai in early 2012. Hirai was a Sony veteran known for wringing profits from troubled businesses like the PlayStation gaming division. And like Stringer, Hirai didn’t fit the mold of the Japanese salaryman. Hirai grew up in Japan and North America, giving him a fluency in English and also a gift for being plainspoken, like when he told the Wall Street Journal on taking the job, “It’s one issue after another. I feel like, “Holy shit, now what?”

Hirai began an ambitious restructuring of Sony over the three years that followed. He quickly announced a “One Sony” structure that built on Stringer’s convergence with an emphasis on communication and joint decisions among siloed divisions. He focused the electronics business on mobile, gaming and imaging products. Over time, he cut thousands of jobs, sold off the Vaio PC unit, separated the ailing TV business into its own company and overhauled the smartphone lineup.

All of this added to financial losses with restructuring charges and made for a tumultuous 2014. But the low point came last November, with the infamous hack that left sensitive documents from Sony Pictures Entertainment in public view. But it was just around this time when some analysts began voicing their conviction in a Sony turnaround. The turnaround painstakingly plotted by Stringer and Hirai was finally bearing fruit.

That became more evident when Sony reported its most recent earnings. There were encouraging signs in the past year’s finances, like revenue rising 6% and the TV business posting its first profit in 11 years. But the better news was in the cautious forecast for the coming year.

MORE: These Are the Fastest Growing Cities in America

The bulk of the restructuring was behind Sony, CFO Kenichiro Yoshida said, and while revenue may decline 4% this fiscal year, operating profit would rise fourfold to $2.6 billion, its highest profit since 2008. Hirai had earlier projected net income to rise above $4 billion by 2018, which would be its biggest profit since 1998, before the great fall began.

There’s still some restructuring to do. The revenue decrease this year will come largely from Sony’s move away from mid-range mobile phones to focus on the high end of the market. While camera sales continue to decline, Sony is seeing strong growth in imaging sensors used in smartphones. Overall, Sony will be a smaller company in terms of revenue but with bigger sales and slow, steady move from aging markets into growing ones.

A turnaround needs more than cost cutting and restructuring. Sony has a long road ahead to go from playing catch-up in technology markets to playing a leading role in new ones. That step requires a lot more work, but Sony’s return to profitability makes a major turnaround as feasible as it’s been in more than a decade.

TIME Executives

Here’s What’s on Bill Gates’ Summer Reading List

Bill Gates
John Keatley/Redux—John Keatley/Redux Founder and Chairman of Microsoft Bill Gates holding a copy of Business Adventures by John Brooks.

The world's richest man just assigned the world some summer homework

The richest man in the world still makes time to squeeze in a good book now and then.

Bill Gates—he of the $79 billion net worth, per Forbes—released his annual summer reading list on Tuesday. In between running one of the world’s largest charities and serving as technological advisor to the company he co-founded, Microsoft [fortune-stock symbol=”MSFT”], Gates has made a habit in recent years of letting the world know what he’s reading.

Gates unveiled his new 7-book summer reading list in a post titled “Beach Reading (and more)” on his personal blog, Gates Notes. Included in this year’s list is The Magic of Reality, by Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. There’s also On Immunity, by Eula Biss, which fits in well with one of the goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by tackling the issue of childhood vaccinations.

The billionaire techie also noted that he’s trying to lighten the mood a little bit this year. “This year I tried to pick a few more things that are on the lighter side. Each of these books made me think or laugh or, in some cases, do both,” Gates wrote in the blog post.

In that vein, Gates includes a book adapted from Allie Brosh’s popular comic blog, Hyperbole and a Half, which Gates calls “funny and smart as hell.” Another item with a more graphic option is Randall Munroe’s XKCD, which draws from Munroe’s webcomic of the same name, which features a lot of mathematical and scientific humor. “It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do,” Gates writes.

The rest of the books Gates recommends reading this summer are: What If?, also by Munroe; How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff; and, Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil.

TIME food industry

Big Changes Are Coming to Chobani Greek Yogurt

Billionaire And Chobani Inc. Chief Executive Officer Hamdi Ulukaya Interview
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Hamdi Ulukaya, a billionaire and founder, president and chief executive officer of Chobani Inc., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K. on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. Chobani, the best-selling yogurt brand in the U.S., has given Ulukaya a net worth of $1.1 billion. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How your favorite yogurt may change

Yogurt mogul Hamdi Ulukaya is looking for a different sort culture.

The founder of Chobani Inc., the company that helped spark the greek yogurt trend, is anticipated to step down from his role as CEO this year, the Wall Street Journal reports, though the Turkish entrepreneur will remain as chairman.

The impending succession is the result of a deal the dairy maker struck with the private equity firm TPG in April of last year. In exchange for a $750 million injection, Chobani, then in debt and struggling to scale and meet quality control, agreed to begin the process of selecting and appointing a new chief executive within a year. The deal also gave TPG the rights to buy a stake worth as much as nearly a third of the company as well as two seats on its board.

“The deal occurred because Chobani had grown beyond his ability to run it, Mr. Ulukaya said,” writes Annie Gasparro in the Journal. In the past, Ulukaya had voiced his disdain for buttoned-up professionalism, preferring a “seat-of-the-pants style,” as Gasparro calls it. “We didn’t have any corporate executive types,” he said in previous interviews. “I didn’t want to hear all that marketing, supply chain, logistics stuff—most of it is BS.”

But that is just what the company is now looking for. Industry observers expect Kevin Burns, a TPG executive who became Chobani’s interim president and chief operating officer in the fall, to succeed Ulukaya at the New Berlin, New York-based company.

TIME Executives

Why It Matters Who Steve Jobs Really Was

Apple Unveils iPad 2
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks during an Apple Special event to unveil the new iPad 2 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on March 2, 2011 in San Francisco.

Dueling biographies fight over the story of Steve

In 2011 Walter Isaacson published a biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Isaacson’s biography was fully authorized by its subject: Jobs handpicked Isaacson, who had written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. Entitled simply Steve Jobs, the book was well-reviewed and sold some 3 million copies.

But now its account is being challenged by another book, this one called Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender, a veteran technology journalist who was friendly with Jobs, and Rick Tetzeli, executive editor at Fast Company. Some of Jobs’ former colleagues and friends have taken sides, speaking out against the old book and praising the new one. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO and Jobs’s successor, has said that Isaacson’s book depicts Jobs as “a greedy, selfish egomaniac.” Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, has weighed in against it, and Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of software and Internet services, tweeted about the new book: “Well done and first to get it right.”

But who did get it right? And why do people care so much anyway?

(This article comes with a bouquet of disclosures, starting with the fact that Isaacson is a current contributor and former editor of TIME magazine and as such my former boss. I’m quoted in his biography—I interviewed Jobs half a dozen times in the mid-2000s, though he and I weren’t friendly. Schlender spent more than 20 years writing for Fortune, which is owned by TIME’s parent company, Time Inc., and Tetzeli was an editor both at Fortune and at Entertainment Weekly, also a Time Inc. magazine.)

Schlender and Tetzeli have given their book the subtitle “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader,” and its emphasis is on the transformation that Jobs underwent between 1985, when he was ousted from Apple, and 1997, when he returned to it. “The most basic question about Steve’s career is this,” they write. “How could the man who had been such an inconsistent, inconsiderate, rash, and wrongheaded businessman … become the venerated CEO who revived Apple and created a whole new set of culture-defining products?” It’s an excellent question.

Becoming Steve Jobs is, like most books about Jobs, tough on his early years. He could be a callous person (he initially denied being the father of his first child) and a terrible manager (the original Macintosh, while magnificent in its conception, was only barely viable as a product). On this score Schlender and Tetzeli are clear and even-handed. It’s easy to forget that Jobs originally wanted Pixar, the animation firm he took over from George Lucas in 1986, to focus on selling its graphics technology rather than making movies, and if the geniuses there hadn’t been more independent he might have run it into the ground.

Schlender and Tetzeli argue that it was this middle period that made Jobs. The failure of his first post-Apple company, NeXT, chastened him; his work with Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter taught him patience and management skills; and his marriage to Laurene Powell Jobs deepened him emotionally. In those wilderness years he learned discipline and (some) humility and how to iterate and improve a project gradually. Thus reforged, he returned to Apple and led it back from near bankruptcy to become the most valuable company in the world.

Schlender and Tetzeli strenuously insist that they’re upending the “common myths” about Jobs. But they’re not specific about who exactly believes these myths, and in fact it’s a bit of a straw man: there’s not much in Becoming Steve Jobs that Isaacson or anybody else would disagree with. What’s missing is more problematic: as it goes on, Becoming Steve Jobs gradually abandons its critical distance and becomes a paean to the greatness of Jobs and Apple. Jobs was “someone who preferred creating machines that delighted real people,” and his reborn Apple was “a company that could once again make insanely great computing machines for you and me.” It reprints the famous “Think Different” spiel in full. It compares Jobs’ career arc, without irony, to that of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. It unspools sentences like: “Steve [we’re on a first-name basis with him] also understood that the personal satisfaction of accomplishing something insanely great was the best motivation of all for a group as talented as his.”

Read More: Apple’s Watch Will Make People and Computers More Intimate

It’s easy to see why Apple executives have endorsed Becoming Steve Jobs, but it has imperfections that would have irked Jobs himself. The writing is slack—it’s larded with clichés (“he wanted to play their game, but by his own rules”) and marred by small infelicities (it confuses jibe and gibe, twice). It lacks detail: for example, it covers Jobs’ courtship of and marriage to Laurene in two dry pages (“Their relationship burned intensely from the beginning, as you might expect from the pairing of two such strong-willed individuals”). By contrast, a Fortune interview Schlender did with Jobs and Bill Gates in 1991 gets 13 pages. Whatever its faults, Isaacson’s book at least dug up the telling details: in his account of the marriage we learn that Jobs was still agonizing over an ex-girlfriend; that he had a hilariously abortive bachelor party; that he threw out the calligrapher who was hired to do the wedding invitations (“I can’t look at her stuff. It’s shit”); and that the vegan wedding cake was borderline inedible.

Jobs was famously unintrospective, but Schlender and Tetzeli seem almost as incurious about his inner life as he supposedly was. Jobs’ birth parents were 23 when they conceived him, then they gave him up for adoption; when he was 23 Jobs abandoned his own first child. It takes a determinedly uninterested biographer not to connect those dots, or at least explain why they shouldn’t be connected. We hear a lot about what Jobs did, and some about how he did it, but very little about why.

Jobs was a man of towering contradictions: he identified deeply with the counterculture but spent his life in corporate boardrooms amassing billions; he made beautiful products that ostensibly enabled individual creativity but in their architecture expressed a deep-seated need for central control. Maybe making educated guesses about a major figure’s private life is unseemly, or quixotic, but that’s the game a biographer is in. Ultimately there’s no point in comparing Steve Jobs and Becoming Steve Jobs, because the latter book isn’t really a biography at all, much less a definitive one.

A more interesting question might be, why has the story of Steve Jobs become so important to us? And why is it such contested territory? He’s also the subject of a scathing new documentary by Alex Gibney and an upcoming biopic written by Aaron Sorkin. Was Jobs, to use Schlender and Tetzeli’s terminology, an asshole, or a genius, or some mysterious fusion of the two? It’s as if Jobs’ life has become a kind of totem, a symbolic story through which we’re trying to understand and work through our own ambivalence about the technology he and his colleagues made, which has so thoroughly invaded and transformed our lives in the past 20 years, for good and/or ill. Apple’s products are so glossy and beautiful and impenetrable that it’s difficult to do anything but admire them. But about Jobs, at least, we can think ­different.

Read next: Becoming Steve Jobs Shares Jobs’ Human Side

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