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Holiday Gift Guide: the best books and e-books about Apple

There are many books for people interested in Apple's design, in its past products and most certainly in Steve Jobs. AppleInsider recommends all the titles that we think will absorb you — and warns you off the surprising one that won't.

Selection of Apple Books

Face it, this is for you. We can pretend that this is a list of books or e-books you can give the Apple fan in your life, but that's you. If anyone asks you for a gift idea, do give them one of these, but plan to buy the rest for yourself.

That's because while some of these titles are new and some are decades old, they are all exceptionally good reads.

Almost all. Let's get one out of the way immediately: Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson is the obvious book to buy but don't do it. This is the book that Jobs himself wanted written but you already know at least a lot about Apple history and you'll find this book's version of it irritatingly simplistic.

Cover of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Cover of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Isaacson also has a way of following every interesting quote of Steve Jobs with a counterargument by some other industry figure. It's repetitive but also it makes the other figure seem like the authority. So there are times when you know Jobs was right and it will feel like this alternative person is trying to rewrite history.

Just skip it. Instead, watch the Steve Jobs movie that Aaron Sorkin wrote based on this book. It's not the most accurate reportage but it isn't pretending to be: it's a drama exploring this complex man. And anyway, it's quicker to watch it than read this book.

Get these instead

In 2018, Lisa Brennan-Jobs wrote Small Fry, about her life as Steve Jobs's daughter. It, too, arguably has some issues with accuracy but it's her life and her view, she's not claiming journalistic independence.

Cover of Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Cover of Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Plus if the reason she got published is that she's Jobs's daughter, she has an interesting tale anyway. "By the time I was seven, my mother and I had moved thirteen times," begins one chapter.

There was a very different kind of memoir published in 2018: it was from an Apple engineer, it was specifically about the company's life, and it also had a longer title. Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda crams a lot of SEO-friendly terms in the title but still eaves a lot for the book itself.

Cover from Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda
Cover from Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda

"There are many aspects to making products in the Apple way," he writes. "But to understand what makes Apple what it is, its essence, you need to understand software."

Kocienda takes us through his years working on major parts of Apple's success such as the iPhone. You can hear from the man himself on the AppleInsider podcast when he was a special guest.

Apple History

It was first written in the 1990s and then updated in 2004, but Apple Confidential 2.0 by Owen W. Linzmayer is still by far the best book about the history of Apple.

Cover of Apple Confidential 2.0 by Owen W. Linzmayer
Cover of Apple Confidential 2.0 by Owen W. Linzmayer

"In these pages, you'll follow the company as it grows from upstart media darling, becomes an industry-leading powerhouse, falters under a series of disastrous executive decisions, takes its licks as technology whipping boy, and rebounds to innovation and profitability."

Even though we wish there were an Apple Confidential 3.0 covering the years since 2004, it's remarkable how much more you understand Apple today when you see what it's done before.

Curiously, one person this book doesn't mention is Ken Segall who wrote Insanely Simple: the Obsession that Drives Apple's Success.

Cover of Insanely Simple by Ken Segall
Cover of Insanely Simple by Ken Segall

"Between NeXT and Apple, I got to work with Steve Jobs for over a decade," he says. "It wasn't always easy. It might not even have been healthy. But it was always exciting."

Segall was in marketing and, as he puts it, "toiled as Steve Jobs's ad guy". His book is as sharp and precise as you'd hope a copywriter would be, plus it is full of insight into the way corporate Apple thinks and how its employees do or don't fit into that.

It's mostly interesting insight and mostly absorbing. However, every now and again Segall seems to remember that he pitched this as a business book and so it lurches into management-speak. It soon lurches out again, though, and it's entertainingly like he can't contain himself.

Jony Ive

There are surely more books written about Steve Jobs than any other technology CEO but he isn't the only Apple person to be covered. We're still waiting for a great Tim Cook or Angela Ahrendts biography, but we have one on Jony Ive and it is excellent.

Jony Ive: the Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products was written by Leander Kahney in 2013 so it has nothing about, for instance, the Apple Watch. However, it does cover Ive's career before Apple and then how he ultimately became so vital to Apple's success.

Cover of Jony Ive: the Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products by Leander Kahney
Cover of Jony Ive: the Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products by Leander Kahney

"The first time I met Jony Ive, he carried my backpack around all night," is the opening line. This is not a cold, detached biography, it's a historical account with as much emphasis on people as on facts and dates.

You come away liking Ive and also regretting that the book is over.

True gift books

You're familiar with Jony Ive's appearances in Apple videos but there's one you may not know so well.

The book he talks about in that video is Designed by Apple In California and is Apple's The White Album. It has a completely blank, white front and back. The spine is also white but it has the title impressed into it so it's white text on a white background.

It does look beautiful. What may unfortunately stand out most from this set of utterly superb photographs of Apple designs, though, is Apple's pricing. The book comes in two sizes costing $199 and $299.

Maybe someone really likes you. If they do, though, you're going to have to explain to them that, no, they can't get it cheaper on Amazon, they have to order it direct from Apple.

From time to time you will see copies on Ebay, but they tend to be the same or even higher prices which is unfathomable to us, but there you go.

It's not the most expensive book about Apple, though. We can only tell you that there is one from 1997 called Appledesign: the Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group, we can't say if it's any good or not. Something stops us spending over $600 to find out.

That's the price last time we looked on Amazon and the book wasn't available, either. So you will see it coming in and out of stock, you may get it cheaper, but really its function in life is to make Designed by Apple in California seem a bargain.

Except that there is another book about Apple design that comes in cheaper. It's Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation. We did cheerfully spend the $70 that cost us.

Stocking fillers

With the possible exception of that book Appledesign and the definite exception of Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, these are our favorite Apple titles. There are many more, though, and we would like to give a shout out to just a couple.

For instance, Andy Hertzfeld's Revolution in the Valley is bitty but contains so much about the earliest days of the Mac from someone who was there.

Then Pamela Pfiffner's Inside the Publishing Revolution: The Adobe Story is a particularly well-written and absorbing account of the firm that brings us Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

It was written in 2002 and it's so Adobe's story that it sometimes reads like advertising copy but the access she had and the stories she tells so well are engrossing.

That's the one thing we would say about all the books we've recommended. The engrossing stories they tell will always have a new twist or a new development that's happened since they were published.

Yet that's what you've got AppleInsider for. To know what Apple is doing now and what it looks to be doing in the future, read AppleInsider. Yet for always interesting and so very often deep insight into this fascinating company, pop one or all of these on your Christmas list.

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