The iPod is in many ways the No. 1 star of our tech-obsessed culture, so it’s perhaps no surprise that it has gotten its own celeb bio. Steven Levy’s account of Apple’s uber-popular digital music player reads like one of those quickie books about Leonardo DiCaprio that popped up around “Titanic”: short on substance and full of wonderment over how lucky we mortals are to be blessed with such a good looking, talented, and dreamy device.
Levy, the technology correspondent at Newsweek, is clearly part of the cult that doesn’t just use an iPod, but worships everything about it. In many ways that’s a plus for a book written for iPod lovers, but it’s also a weakness. Levy’s account of the MP3 player and those who made it — especially Apple CEO Steve Jobs — is so reverential that it borders on hagiography.
It seems, in fact, that the author might have benefited from a little distance from his subject matter. If Apple publicists hadn’t so often, as Levy puts it, “summoned [me] back to [Apple headquarters in] Cupertino,” his readers might have been saved from sentences like, “Even though Apple had created one of the most successful electronic products in history and the most popular of those was the tiny iPod Mini, [Jobs] was going to pull the plug on it — and make something better.” Surely there’s something more interesting about how the iPod Nano replaced the Mini than Steve Jobs’ benevolent desire to improve his products.
That obsequious approach is even more evident in what Levy doesn’t write about. In an entire book about the iPod, he never once mentions the disastrous iTunes phone, the one total flop in the iPod line.
When he’s not in awe of the brilliant minds that made it, Levy is amazed by just how meaningful the iPod is. Entire chapters are devoted to weighty topics like the “shuffle” function or iPod playlists. At one point, he ponders whether the iPod shuffle slogan, “Life is random,” had some connection to Jobs’ bout with cancer.
Most amazingly, Levy describes how his first experience with an iPod helped him get over the depression he felt after 9/11. If you can read that without losing your lunch, then by all means, pop in your little white headphones and pick up “The Perfect Thing.”