Life
Julia Rampen 4 Apr 2019 11:37am

Book reviews: a quiet man

No assessment of Tim Cook’s stewardship of Apple is possible without a mention of Steve Jobs. The comparisons are fascinating

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Caption: Tim Cook has successfully resided over a whole new period of innovation at Apple

Tim Cook

Leander Kahney, Penguin Random House

The debate about the most effective type of CEO is one that will never be completely settled. Do we prefer the noisy, charismatic show-off “hero” leader, or the quietly effective manager? The answer depends as much on the situation as the characters in question. When that situation means taking over one of the world’s biggest companies from a revered leader holding near-mythic status it gets particularly interesting.

And it is impossible to review the career of Apple’s Tim Cook without reference to Steve Jobs. When Jobs died in 2011, Apple’s shares fell. Few invested hope in his seemingly humdrum successor, Tim Cook. The pessimists, argues Apple-watcher Leander Kahney in this new biography, were wrong.

Cook was not only a much better boss than the ranting, weeping Jobs, but he has presided over a period of innovation, including the Apple Watch. The value of shares in Apple did drift downwards, but soon recovered and now outstrip what they were worth under Jobs. While Jobs, the hippy, brushed off abuses in Apple’s supply chain, the more straightlaced Cook has introduced charitable giving, diversity initiatives, better monitoring of factory conditions and a commitment to renewables.

Despite being a very private person, he also publicly came out as gay in the cause of LGBT rights. Kahney has hit on a fascinating comparison, so it’s a shame the language is sometimes clichéd, and the narrative sometimes reads less like an insider account and more like an Apple press release. And Cook’s modesty deprives Kahney of the kind of colour Walter Isaacson, Jobs’s biographer, enjoyed. Perhaps it’s just harder to write a book about a decent man in business.

America Before

Graham Hancock, Hodder and Stoughton

America Before explores the prehistory of the Americas, but also manages to fit in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, Stonehenge, and the author’s own out-of-body experience when he electrocuted himself aged 17.

Those who lazily term America “the New World” may be surprised to find out it is home to The Serpent Mound, a snake-formed earth sculpture that is thousands of years old. Hancock also includes accounts from the first Spanish conquerors, who reported that the rainforest was crammed with settlements, and who, in a crime against history, piled up precious Mayan manuscripts and burned them.

Hancock puts forward his own theory that there was a “lost civilisation” based in the Americas, and wiped out in a period of climate hell around 12,000 years ago. He speculates that this civilisation harnessed psychic powers to build their monuments, and when they sensed their doom, reached out to hunter-gatherers to pass on their knowledge to the rest of humanity.

Hancock is upfront about being an oddball with a passion, and meticulously footnotes. But you don’t have to have a PhD to see why many academics would have a bone to pick with him.

Julia Rampen is a writer and editor specialising in culture, politics and finance