What the critics are saying about the first Tim Cook biography

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Have you read the new Tim Cook book yet?
Photo: Kristal Chan/Cult of Mac

The first-ever biography of Apple CEO Tim Cook hits bookstores today, and it’s written by none other than Cult of Mac founder, Leander Kahney.

I haven’t heard from Leander in god knows how long while he’s been writing this book. But based on the early reviews, it appears like it was all worth it. No one has written a full book about Cook until now. Leander’s book, Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level, details how Cook took on Steve Jobs’ mantle. While nearly any other human would have crumbled under that pressure, Cook thrived.

Early reviews for the book have been coming in all week, and so far they’re pretty positive. Here are some of the highlights.

Tim Cook is very secretive

Alright, let’s get the biggest point of contention out of the way first. Apple did not make Cook available for interview for the book. Despite not being able to chit-chat with Tim, Leander still dug up a lot of interesting information, as pointed out in Paul Thurrott’s review.

“No, Mr. Cook didn’t speak to the author, nor did most of Apple’s senior leadership, at least not on the record. But we still get a lot of good — and, I think, new — information about crucial events of the past decade thanks to good reporting and the anonymous Apple executives and employees who did speak with the author.

For example, there’s a great passage about Cook’s decision to deny the FBI access to an iPhone that was used by a domestic terrorist, with Kahney reporting on Cook’s disappointment that the case never went to trial: He really wanted to make a public stand on what he saw as a crucial moral point.”

Cook’s early life comes into focus

Anyone who follows Apple closely knows that Cook grew up in the South, but the new book provides a lot of insight on his upbringing. MacStories’ reviewer John Voorhees said the chapters about Cook’s early life were actually his favorite part of the book.

“The early chapters of Cook are by far my favorites because they fill in a lot of gaps about Tim Cook’s life leading up to being named Apple’s CEO. Kahney traces Cook’s path from growing up in Alabama through his early career at IBM and other companies. In doing so, Kahney visited Cook’s hometown and spoke to people who knew him growing up and interviewed former colleagues at the companies for which he worked. The interviews are paired with Cook’s own words from speeches he’s given in the past, which is effective in portraying events that have shaped everything from his work ethic to his perspective on diversity.

Kahney does a fantastic job weaving these threads together into a compelling portrait of Cook’s early life. The stories told by Cook in his speeches have been reported elsewhere, but supplemented by recollections of friends and colleagues, they have more context, and I came away feeling as though I have a better understanding of their impact on Cook.”

Tim Cook’s values

Steve Sinofsky, former president of Microsoft’s Windows division, noted in his book review that although Leander is obviously a fan of Apple, he establishes how Cook’s early life led him to create a certain set of values that he has applied to Apple.

Most of ‘Tim Cook’ is devoted to connecting, sometimes with some strain, Mr. Cook’s personal story to the set of values that he has established for the company. We are treated to a rich narrative with chapters covering these values and Apple’s progress under Mr. Cook. Clearly a fan, Mr. Kahney is the editor of the website Cult of Mac and the author of several other books on Apple, and sometimes appreciation tends toward defense.

Among these values are “Environment” and “Supplier Responsibility” values, which fit neatly with the operations functions from which Mr. Cook rose. From removing PVC in power cords, to working with the Natural Resources Defense Council and even reacting to protests led by Greenpeace, Mr. Cook has moved Apple from the top of the lists of environmental offenders to the top of the lists of green companies.

Cook changed Apple’s corporate culture

When Cook took over as Apple CEO, a lot of tech pundits didn’t think he could innovate as well as Jobs did. It turned out that Cook innovated with the company in more subtle ways. As Dealerscope points out in its review, Cook helped change Apple’s corporate culture. That, in turn, means huge ramifications in lots of other areas.

”Despite the fact that many still question whether or not Cook can continue to be as innovative as a man like Steve Jobs, what Kahney ultimately portrays throughout the Tim Cook book is that he doesn’t necessarily have to be — from a product standpoint at least. Cook, like Jobs, has so much talent around him who will continue to push the company forward in new and exciting directions. Where Cook stands out is in his ability to connect with both his team and the public. He’s innovating Apple from a cultural perspective, which, by my account, is just as important as the products themselves.”

“Whether you’re a fan of Apple’s products or not, Kahney’s latest work is a very engaging, quick read that pulls back the covers on one of the most interesting and influential companies of all time and their leader who’s taken them to impressive new heights.”

Go behind the scenes on the fight with the FBI

Writing a biography about Cook without talking to the CEO himself is hard, but Leander managed to find some juicy details on Apple’s public spat with the FBI that many people don’t know. Even though some of the overall themes and details of the book might seem very familiar to Apple fans, our friends at AppleInsider pointed out that the Apple-versus-FBI tidbits prove especially enthralling.

“We’ve seen how Apple reacted [to the FBI] but Kahney brings us the inside story of what it was like and how the company worked to counter criticisms in a hugely contentious time.”

Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level is available now on iTunes, Amazon and at physical book stores.