Great Books Distilled: Books by History's Greatest Innovators, Founders, and Investors

The page is a reading list sharing the best books written by history's greatest innovators, founders, and investors. This is a reading list for people who don’t have time for unimportant books—which should be everyone. I only list the best books I've read and recommend.

All Book Summaries

For the best books that I read, I go through the painstaking effort to put together and publish my personal notes including highlights, excerpts, and takeaways. You get the best 5% of the ideas in these books in a form that takes 20 minutes at most to read.

Great Books by Category

These are the best books to read, listed by category. Along with a few collections of rare and hard-to-find speeches, lectures, talks, interviews, letters, and memos that are a great way to go deeper.

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Daniel Scrivner

I, Steve: Steve Jobs In His Own Words by George Beahm

This is part of my book summary collection which includes The Essays of Warren Buffett, Poor Charlie's Almanack, Special Operations Mental Toughness, and 50+ more. Browse them all to find the best ideas from history's greatest books →

Book Summary

This is my book summary of I, Steve: Steve Jobs In His Own Words edited by George Beahm. My notes are informal and often contain quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts. This summary also includes key lessons and important passages from the book.

Video Book Summary

On Outliers with Daniel Scrivner, I recorded a video summary of I, Steve: Steve Jobs In His Own Words by George Beahm.

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Steve Jobs made an incredible impact on the world by creating two of today's most important companies in Apple and Pixar. Both companies created world-changing products while Steve Jobs was alive in the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and Oscar winning animated films such as Toy Story. More importantly, both companies developed the right team, vision, and culture to continue producing world-shaping products decades later — long after Steve's departure. As we learn in this book, Steve's values and ethos live on in both of these incredible companies.

The Book in Three Sentences

Drawn from more than three decades of interviews, public statements, and media coverage. I, Steve: Steve Jobs In His Own Words is a collection of Steve Jobs most thought-provoking insights. All told in his own words.

Favorite Quotes From the Book

Apple has a core set of talents, and those talents are: We do, I think, very good hardware design. We do very good industrial design. We write very good system and application software. And we're really good at packaging that all together into a product. We're the only people left in the computer industry that do that.
— Steve Jobs in Rolling Stone, December 25, 2003

All we are is our ideas, our people. That's what keeps us going to work in the morning, to hang around these great bright people. I've always thoughts that recruiting is the heart and soul of what we do.
— Steven Jobs at D5 Conference: All Things Digital, May 30, 2007

It's not just recruiting. After recruiting, it's then building an environment that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and that their work is bigger than they are. The feeling that the work will have tremendous influence and is part of a strong, clear vision — all of those things.
— Steve Jobs for In the Company of Giants, 1997

We don't stand a chance of advertising with features and benefits and with RAMs and with charts and comparisons. The only chance we have of communicating is with a feeling.
— Steve Jobs in Return to the Little Kingdom, 2009

What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think "outside of the box," people who want to use computers to help them change the world. To help them create things that make a difference. Not just get a job done.
— Steve Jobs in Time, August 18, 1997

A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
— Steve Jobs in Wired, February 1996

What a computer is to me is… the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.
— Steve Jobs in Memory & Imagination, 1990

Regarding the iPod:
Look at the design of a lot of consumer products. They're really complicated surfaces. We tried to make something much more holistic and simple. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex. Most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don't put in the time or energy to get there. We believe that customers are smart and want objects which are well thought through.
— Steve Jobs in Newsweek, October 16, 2006

The place where Apple has been standing for the last two decades is exactly where computer technology and the consumer electronics markets are converging. So it's not like we're having to cross the river to go somewhere else. The other side of the river is coming to us.
— Steve Jobs in Fortune, February 21, 2005

One of the things I learned at Pixar is the technology industries and the content industries do not understand each other. In Silicon Valley and at most technology companies, I swear most people still think the creative process is a bunch of guys in their early 30s, sitting around on an old couch, drinking beer and thinking of jokes. No, they really do. That's how television is made, they think. That's how movies are made. People in Hollywood and in content industries, they think technology is something you just write a check for and buy. They do not understand the creativity elements of technology. These are like ships passing in the night.
— Steve Jobs at D: All Things Digital, 2003

I have received hundreds of emails from iPhone customers who are upset about Apple dropping the price of the iPhone by $200 two months after it went on sale. After reading every one of those emails, I have some observations and conclusions.

There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane.

If you always wait for the next price cut or buy the new improved model, you'll never buy any technology product because there is always something better or less expensive on the horizon.

Even though we are making the right decision to lower the price of iPhone, and even though the technology road is bumpy, we need to do a better job of taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price.

Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.

— Steve Jobs note on, September 2007

That's why I think death is the most wonderful invention of life. It purges the system of these old models that are obsolete. I think that's one of Apple's challenges, really. When two young people walk in with the next thing, are we going to embrace it and say this is fantastic? Are we going to be willing to drop our models? Or are we going to explain it away? I think we'll do better, because we're completely aware of it and we make it a priority.
— Steve Jobs in Playboy, February 1985

In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, thing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.
— Steve Jobs in Fortune, January 24, 2000

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn't what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it's all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don't take the time to do that.
— Steve Jobs in Wired, February 1996

People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.
— Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward, 1987

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things we have done.
— Steve Jobs in, March 7, 2008

Steve Jobs answer to the question: What can we learn from Apple's struggle to innovate during the decade before you return in 1997?
You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise, you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe. But it doesn't add up to much.
— Steve Jobs in Bloomberg Businessweek, October 12, 2004

If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you've done and whoever you were and throw them away.
— Steve Jobs in Playboy, February 1985

Many times in an interview I will purposely upset someone: I'll criticize their prior work. I'll do my homework, find out what they worked on, and say, "God, that really turned out to be a bomb. That really turned out to be a bozo product. Why did you work on that?" I want to see what people are like under pressure. I want to see if they just fold or if they have firm conviction, belief, and pride in what they did.
— Steve Jobs in In the Company of Giants, 1997

Ultimately, it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things in to what you're doing. Picasso had a saying: good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas, and I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.
— Steve Jobs in Triumph of the Nerds, PBS, June 1996

Actually, making an insanely great product has a lot to do with the process of making the product, how you learn things, adopt new ideas, and throw out old ideas.
— Steve Jobs in Playboy, February 1985

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
— Steve Jobs in *The innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, 2011*

Steve Jobs on being interdisciplinary and one of his heroes Edwin Land:

I've never believe that they're separate. Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist and a great scientist. Michelangelo knew a tremendous amount about how to cut stone at the quarry. The finest dozen computer scientists I know are all musicians. Some are better than others, but they all consider that an important part of their life. I don't believe that the best people in any of these fields see themselves as one branch of a forked tree. I just don't see that. People bring these things together a lot. Dr. Land at Polaroid said, "I want Polaroid to stand at the intersection of art and science," and I've never forgotten that. I think that that's possible, and I think a lot of people have tried.
— Steve Jobs in Time, October 10, 1999

My dream is that every person in the world will have their own Apple computer. To do that, we've got to be a great marketing company.
— Steve Jobs in Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple, 1987

The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. I don't mean that in a small way. I mean that in a big way. In the sense that they don't think of original ideas and they don't bring much culture into their products. I have no problem with their success — they've earned their success for the most part. I have a problem with the fact that they just make really third-rate products.
— Steve Jobs in Triump of the Nerds, PBS, June 1996

Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.
— Steve Jobs in Fortune, November 9, 1998

We're the only company that owns the whole widget — the hardware, the software, and the operating system. We can take full responsibility for the user experience. We can do things that the other guy can't do.
— Steve Jobs in Time, January 14, 2002

I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance. Unless you have a lot of passion about this, you're not going to survive. You're going to give up. So you've got to have an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right that you're passionate about. Otherwise, you're not going to have the perseverance to stick it through.
— Steve Jobs in Smithsonian Institution Oral and Video Histories, April 20, 1995

It's not about pop culture, it's not about fooling people, and it's not about convincing people that they want something they don't. We figure out what we want. And I think we're pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That's what we get paid to do.
— Steve Jobs in *Fortune, March 7, 2008*

We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.
— Steve Jobs in Playboy, February 1985

There's a classic thing in business, which is the second-product syndrome. Often companies that have a really successful first product don't quite understand why that product was so successful. And so with the second product, their ambitions grow and they get much more grandiose, and their second product fails. They fail to get it out, or it fails to resonate with the marketplace because they really didn't understand why their first product resonated with the marketplace.
— Steve Jobs in To Infinity and Beyond!, 2007

There's a very strong DNA within Apple, and that's about taking state-of-the-art technology and making it easy for people. People who don't want to read manuals, people who live very busy lives.
— Steve Jobs in Guardian, September 22, 2005

At Apple, we gave all our employees stock options very early on. We were among the first in Silicon Valley to do that. And when I returned, I took away most of the cash bonuses and replaced them with options. No cars, no planes, no bonuses. Basically, everybody gets a salary and stock. It's a very egalitarian way to run a company that Hewlett-Packard pioneered and that Apple, I would like to think, helped establish.
— Steve Jobs in Fortune, November 9, 1998

We've pioneered the whole medium of computer animation, but John Lasseter once said — and this really stuck with me — "No amount of technology will turn a bad story into a good story." That dedication to quality is really ingrained in the culture of this studio.
— Steve Jobs in To Infinity and Beyond!, 2007

Victory in our industry is spelled survival. The way we're going to survive is to innovate our way out of this.
— Steve Jobs in Time, January 14, 2002

Once you get into the problem, you see that it's complicated and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That's where most people stop, and the solutions tend to work for a while. But the really great person will keep going, find the underlying problem, and come up with an elegant solution that works on every level. That's what we wanted to do with the Mac.
— Steve Jobs in Apple Design, 1997

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
— Steve Jobs Commencement Address, Stanford University, June 12, 2005

At Apple, we come at everything asking, "How easy is this going to be for the user? How great is it going to be for the user?" After that, it's like at Pixar. Everyone in Hollywood says the key to good animated movies is story, story, story. But when it really gets down to it, when the story isn't working, they will not stop production and spend more money and get the story right. That's what I see about the software business. Everyone says, "Oh, the user is the most important thing," but nobody else really does it.
— Steve Jobs in Fortune, February 21, 2005

Steve Jobs' Credos

It's not done until it ships.
— Steve Jobs from, January 1983

The journey is the reward.
— Steve Jobs from, January 1983

Real artists ship.
— Steve Jobs from, January 1984

It's more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy.
— Steve Jobs in Odyssey: Pepsi to Applie, 1987

The organization is clean, simple to understand, and very accountable. Everything just got simpler. That's been one of my mantras: focus and simplicity.
— Steve Jobs for, May 25, 1998

For more, I highly encourage you to order I, Steve: Steve Jobs In His Own Words and read the entire book yourself.

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About the author

Daniel Scrivner is an award-winner designer turned founder and investor. He's led design work at Apple and Square. He is an early investor in Notion,, and Good Eggs. He's also the founder of Ligature: The Design VC and Outlier Academy. Daniel has interviewed the world’s leading founders and investors including Scott Belsky, Luke Gromen, Kevin Kelly, Gokul Rajaram, and Brian Scudamore.

Last updated
Apr 28, 2024

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