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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

oPtion$ book club - "Enlightenment Requires Cruelty"

In oPtion$, Daniel Lyons explores the world of Fake Steve Jobs through the literary equivalent of a carnival funhouse mirror.  Every nugget of truth from Real Steve Jobs' life is contorted and magnified several times over to create a larger-than-life character whose pursuit of the twin goals of creativity and beauty has taken a real toll on his soul.  As a capitalist Zen Buddhist, Jobs lives by the corporate motto that "enlightenment requires cruelty" and in his personal time, when not meditating, Jobs pals around with the likes of Larry Ellison (a relationship that is corporate America's answer to Beavis and Butthead) and Bono (whose company Jobs enjoys because Bono is "the only person I know who's more self-absorbed than I am").  This lifestyle ultimately leads Jobs to question his priorities and to take drastic steps to re-prioritize.  Needless to say, oPtion$ makes for a fun (and quick) read.

While oPtion$ touches on a range of corporate hot topics, the corporate scandal du jour is that of options backdating, as the title gives away.  Rather than focusing on the merits of backdating probes, Lyons instead explores the competing motivations of players that may or may not have fueled such probes in the real world.  There is the U.S. Attorney seeking to launch his bid for California governor, the board member sitting on a large short position of Apple stock who sees the opportunity for a windfall by leaking unfavorable information about the company, the former CFO sacrificed by the company who ultimately turns state's witness to avoid jail time, and finally Jobs himself, who views the backdating investigation as a mere distraction from his real job and who alienates the government, his board, his friends, his assistant, and his attorney in the process of attempting to distance himself from the scandal.

While Lyons paints a harsh picture of Jobs, he does seem to acknowledge that Jobs and others like him are driven by the laudable and old-fashioned pursuit of making quality products for customers.  Granted, Fake Steve Jobs strives for creativity and beauty first -- functionality is a distant second -- and Jobs is not above stealing the ideas for his quality products from others.  But Jobs nevertheless strives in the end to give the public a product worthy of its time and money.  Given this valuable service, is it so wrong that Jobs asks us to forgive him and his crowd a little (or not-so-little) ego, eccentricity, and (gasp) even backdating?  Ultimately, Lyons could have made Jobs one part less "dysmathic" loon and one part more genius without sacrificing much, but then again, what fun would that be?  Silicon Valley may be its own quirky world, but it certainly has contributed much to the rest of us.

Thanks to Dan Lyons for an enjoyable read, and to Matt and everyone at PrawfsBlawg for giving me the chance to share some thoughts.

Posted by Darian Ibrahim on December 4, 2007 at 12:28 PM in oPtion$ Book Club | Permalink

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