“This is not a role model book. This is a biography. You can look at Walt Disney or Henry Ford — all of them were flawed in some way. But we forget their personality and we remember what they created. When it comes to Steve Jobs, his innovations are more important than whether he parked in the handicap zone or if he was a jerk at times. That is the lesson of the book.”
Walter Isaacson has got used to summarising the life of the iconic Jobs since he wrote his bestselling Steve Jobs (Simon and Schuster, 2011).
A veteran journalist and former chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time, Isaacson has written biographies of Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Franklin. He is now in India as the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute in Washington, DC.
At the end of the Kissinger book, Isaacson had said he would never do the biography of another living person. “It’s nerve-wracking,” he explains, “But with Steve I got to know a thousand times more than what I did with Franklin or Einstein. I was spending day after day with him and he was telling me everything. It is very rare that a biographer gets as much access as I did.”
He is, however, tiring of being Jobs’ spokesperson or an Apple fortune-teller. He is already three chapters into his next book, on the history of the main inventions of the digital age. “I wrote a book. It is a historical book,” he says, adding it is not his duty to propagate Jobs’s cause.
But it keeps coming back to the book. To the millions of Apple fans across the world, it laid bare the contradictions of Jobs. Here was a man who was both hippie child and businessman billionaire — an imperfect person who changed the world of computing, music, retail, phones and digital animation with his products.
Through nearly 50 interviews with Jobs and around 120 background interviews with his friends and adversaries, Isaacson did grow fond of his subject. He defends Jobs’s close control over the hardware and software of the product: “You get a more pristine product if there is end-to-end integration. Steve proved that end-to-end integration could be beautiful.” He first met Jobs in the eighties at the Time office, when he came to show off the