Did you know that when working on the design of the case for the early Apple II computer, Steve Jobs was offered over 2,000 shades of beige? He rejected all of them. When asked about his birth parents (he was adopted and very close to the people who raised him), he said “They were my sperm and egg bank, nothing more.” It is insights such as these that make this biography compelling reading. Written by Issacson, who was the former managing editor of Time magazine, with the cooperation of Steve Jobs, Issacson is clearly a fan. But saying that he leaves nothing out and as Jobs admits himself, “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of.”
Perhaps he means the abandonment of the daughter he fathered out-of-wedlock in his 20’s, although they have now reconciled. Or reports of bullying underlings in the workplace and being a complete jerk to many others who crossed his path. But this is not a mean, spiteful look back at his life, it is an attempt to get to know the man behind the many innovative and iconic products he left. A chance to fill in the gaps between the legacy of what he gave to the world and his private life of which we know little about. And it does it well.
It completes a picture of a driven man, full of ambition and purpose from an early age but not one without his foibles. A hero of his times but a deeply flawed man who the public never got to know. Issacson has done well to pull out interesting titbits such as the fact that he dated Joan Baez partly because she had been Bob Dylan’s lover and he loved the connection. When he was deciding whether or not to marry Laurene Powell, it was such a huge decision for him that he asked friends and family if they thought she or his previous girlfriend was the prettier. And diagnosed with cancer in 2003, he studiously avoided surgery for months, instead restricting himself to juices and bowel cleanses, even consulting a psychic in the attempt to cure himself. His thinking was that “In the past he had been rewarded for.. his assumption was that he could will things to be as he wanted. But cancer does not work that way.” Issacson writes.
This book is based on more than forty interviews with Jobs that were conducted over the last two years and interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues. But what shows the true mark of the man is that Jobs did not ask to see what was written and did not want any control over what was finally published. He left everything up to Issacson and encouraged the people he knew to speak truthfully and honestly.
When Steve Jobs died in 2011 there was a national outpouring of grief only ever seen before when Princess Diana met her death. It was the kind of sadness that is usually reserved for monarchs, major political figures or beloved celebrities. It just goes to show how respected and loved Steve Jobs was and how the American public viewed him as one of their own, without knowing that much about the man himself. Now, thanks to Walter Issacson, they can know him, and know the real him, warts and all.
Available from www.amazon.com for $35 or less.