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Jobs, after all, was widely viewed as Apple’s irreplaceable leader, personally responsible for everything from the creation of the i Pod to the selection of the chef in the company cafeteria.

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He has listed himself as “co-inventor” on 103 separate Apple patents, everything from the user interface for the i Pod to the support system for the glass staircase used in Apple’s dazzling retail stores.

Jobs’ product introductions are semiannual events, complete with packed houses, breathless blog dispatches, and celebrity appearances—two hours of marketing performance art.

He oozes smug superiority, lacing his public comments with ridicule of Apple’s rivals, which he casts as mediocre, evil, and—worst of all—lacking taste.

No CEO is more willful, or more brazen, at making his own rules, in ways both good and bad.

Who else could have the nation panting in anticipation of a cellphone?

After watching Jobs unveil the i Phone, Alan Kay, a personal computer pioneer who has worked with him, put it this way: “Steve understands desire.” Jobs’ personal abuses are also legend: He parks his Mercedes in handicapped spaces, periodically reduces subordinates to tears, and fires employees in angry tantrums.

Yet to the horror of the tiny circle of intimates in whom he’d confided, Jobs was considering not having the surgery at all.

A Buddhist and vegetarian, the Apple CEO was skeptical of mainstream medicine.

Yet many of his top deputies at Apple have worked with him for years, and even some of those who have departed say that although it’s often brutal and Jobs hogs the credit, they’ve never done better work.

How Jobs pulls all this off—how this bundle of conflicting behaviors can coexist, to spectacular effect, in a single human being—remains a puzzle, even though more than a dozen books have been written about him.

In October 2003, as the computer world buzzed about what cool new gadget he would introduce next, Apple CEO Steve Jobs—then presiding over the most dramatic corporate turnaround in the history of Silicon Valley—found himself confronting a life-and-death decision.

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