Friday, November 18, 2011

Steve Jobs: The Biography and Fed Up With Lunch

Steve Jobs

It's interesting to contemplate what sort of biography this would have been if the author and publisher weren't working against time to complete and release this biography. Walter Isaacson had extraordinary access to Jobs, even visiting and interviewing him the months before his death, when he was extremely ill and tired easily.

Like many larger-than-life personalities, Steve Jobs was a complicated man, to put it mildly. He had difficult relationships with his staff, family, friends, and competitors. He was arrogant and rude at times, shockingly so, and had major mood swings. My main interest was in discovering Apple's influence on society as a whole, rather than Jobs's personal demons, so I was caught by the chapters on the early days of Silicon Valley, including Jobs's early career at Atari, the ouster of Jobs from Apple, Jobs's partnerships and tiffs with Bill Gates, and the impact of iTunes on the music industry. I wasn't expecting Isaacson to delve into Jobs's relationship with Pixar in such detail; this was the highlight of the biography for me (will someone write an updated history of the Disney company, please?). It would have been neat to have had Jobs's perspective on Amazon/Jeff Bezos, but Amazon moved into the tablet business weeks before Jobs's death (I can guess his opinion, though--not thrilled and unimpressed, to say the least!).

At nearly 600 pages, it's a doorstopper, but not a challenging read, unless you have a time limit for reading this book, as I did (this is when speed reading techniques come in handy). It's rare that a biographer had such immediate access to his/her subject, as well as the subject's friends, coworkers, rivals, and family, so it's a unique perspective on a challenging man.

Fed Up With Lunch

It was an otherwise normal day when Sara Wu, a speech pathologist for a Chicago public school, realized that she had forgotten her lunch. Confronted with a pathetic concoction called a "bagel dog," Wu decided that she would buy, eat, and blog her school's lunch for an entire year. Posting anonymously as "Mrs. Q," Wu gained the attention of Jamie Oliver and others involved in food/nutrition advocacy as well as everyday teachers and parents frustrated with lunch options at their schools.

Fed Up With Lunch is not, unlike other "blog-to-book" ventures, a rehashing of blog posts. As Wu became more concerned about food choices available to her students, several of whom rely on school lunch for their only set meal, her research and discussion with other worried parents and teachers through her blog and through carefully veiled interviews convinced her that change was desperately needed in school lunch programs. Interspersed throughout her chronicle are information sidebars containing information about nutrition, the importance of recess and gym for young students, and concrete ways individuals can bring change to their local school lunch program. The appendix of information on school lunch advocates and food issues is tremendous; Wu's snapshots of her school lunches are eyeopeners. This is a sobering, enlightening, and empowering read.

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