Haunted Empire

Yukari Kane's 'Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs'

March 19, 2014: 9:18 AM ET

Is Apple really doomed? We don't know, and neither does she.




FORTUNE -- Confession: I was one of the more than 200 sources Yukari Iwatani Kane interviewed for Haunted Empire, the new book about Apple's transition from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook that arrived Tuesday to largely negative reviews.

I've known since last summer -- and agreed to keep silent about -- the arc of her story. Kane told me in July that she went into the two-year project thinking that if any company could survive the loss of its visionary leader, Apple (AAPL) could. But she came out of it concluding that the company's best days were behind it. Far behind. Not even Jobs, she said, could restore Apple to its former greatness. Tim Cook, his handpicked successor, didn't have a chance.

I was intrigued. I knew Kane's byline from the three years she spent covering Apple from the Wall Street Journal's San Francisco bureau, where she scored some impressive scoops. Chief among them: The front-page news (reported with Joann Lublin) that Steve Jobs had a secret liver transplant in the spring of 2009. This was a reporter who knew how to follow a chain of sources from the periphery of a story to its center. If she had the goods about Apple in the post-Jobs era, I was eager to see them.

I've read the book. And I'm sorry to say that it doesn't deliver.

There is some good reporting in the first third -- the part that covers the last three years of Jobs' life. But as the Guardian's Charles Arthur points out, the last two thirds are infected with an almost toxic bias, a kind of writerly tick that turns everything Kane sees and hears into further evidence that Apple is doomed.

Ultimately, Kane's attitude undermines her credibility as a reporter. The book is peppered with conclusions that feel like they were reached before the facts were in.

"A decline was inevitable," she writes in her Epilogue, painting Apple's rise and fall in mythical terms:

The story follows an archetypal pattern—a pattern familiar in both history and myth. A struggling empire, on the brink of dissolution, recalls one of its founders from exile and casts him as a savior. The ruler, ruthless and cunning as Odysseus, gathers the faithful and emboldens them to take startling risks that allow the empire to reach even greater heights than before. Amid the celebrations, the emperor grows sick. Knowing that he is the living embodiment of his kingdom's fortunes, he tries to hide his illness until he is finally forced to accept that he is not immortal. Left to carry on in his name, the emperor's lieutenants fall prey to complacency and confusion, lapsing into disarray and paralysis. Bound to the way things have always been done, these new leaders become less flexible and ignore the warning signs. Their emperor is gone, but ever present. Though they are still at war with enemy armies, these lieutenants cannot find their own way forward. They are tired. They are uncertain. The well of ingenuity has run dry.

She may be right. But the fact is we don't actually know. And because Yukari Kane didn't manage after two years of reporting to get to the center of the story, neither does she.

Serious students of Apple Inc. may want to read this book for the fresh details she adds to the growing literature on the subject. But there are three other recent books they'll want to read first:

  • Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, for its unparalleled access to the book's reclusive subject.
  • Adam Lashinsky's Inside Apple, for what he learned about the company's internal structure.
  • Leander Kahney's Jony Ive, for what it reveals about Apple's processes for creating new products.

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