Book Reviews

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon by Steve Wozniak (Author), Gina Smith (Contributor)

ISBN-13: 978-0393330434
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Pages: 304

Previous books (e.g. Hackers and Founders at Work ) have told the story about Steve "Woz" Wozniak's groundbreaking creation: the Apple II computer. The Apple II not only set a completely new standard for computers that carried Apple the company into a multimillion dollar business; Apple II is also widely acknowledged as a beautiful piece of design and technical brilliance. As Steve Wozniak finally writes his autobiography, I have high expectations. Like any biographical work, I'm expecting to get a view into that persons unique mind; to understand how he thinks and get an idea of his personality. In this particular case, I'm also expecting to understand the events and thoughts that lead to the creation of Apple II. Based on those criterions, this book is a success. But iWoz has its limitations and left me with the feeling that it could have been so much more.

Woz is a fascinating character and as I turn the pages I get the picture of a down-to-earth, friendly and enthusiastic person. Woz shares his philosophy and ideas, all blended with humorous anecdotes from his life. Woz is clearly a technical genius and this could have been a rewarding read. Unfortunately, the language is a major problem. It's simple, repetitive and colorless; almost reminiscent of the tone in child books. A little caveat though; I read the german translation that I got as a gift (danke, Robert!), so initially I suspected a lousy translation. However, from what I've read online, it's not a translation problem. The language use seems deliberate to reflect the way Woz talks. I don't consider that a good idea. In every conversation there are so many more components than the words alone, like non-verbal communication and the context of the conversation itself. When written down, you have to capture those aspects in words in order to get the story to an equal level.

The second problem with the book is its disposition. Roughly a third of it is about Wozniak's childhood and youth. Here we get a pretty good picture of Woz interest in technology and his early projects. Obviously that's an important part in shaping a personality. But it's a disproportional, lengthy review of electronic projects that really aren't that exiting. On the contrary, there's extremely little material on Wozniak's years at Apple and, more disappointing, almost nothing on his departure from the company he founded.

This, in my view, unbalanced disposition left me puzzled until I read the final chapter. Woz has been spending much of his time teaching technology to children and it seems that he directs this book to an audience of young tech-wizards. It's a great initiative, but it definitely limits the audience. Still, if you're interested in the early history of computing (like the Homebrew Computer Club), iWoz is worth reading.

Reviewed November 2008