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Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: It is difficult to
read the opening pages of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs without
feeling melancholic. Jobs retired at the end of August and died
about six weeks later. Now, just weeks after his death, you can
open the book that bears his name and read about his youth, his
promise, and his relentless press to succeed. But the initial
sadness in starting the book is soon replaced by something else,
which is the intensity of the read--mirroring the intensity of
Jobs’s focus and vision for his products. Few in history have
transformed their time like Steve Jobs, and one could argue that
he stands with the Fords, Edisons, and Gutenbergs of the world.
This is a timely and complete portrait that pulls no punches and
gives insight into a man whose contradictions were in many ways
his greatest strength. --Chris Schluep
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Walter Isaacson
Q: It's becoming well known that Jobs was able to create his
Reality Distortion Field when it served him. Was it difficult for
you to cut through the RDF and get beneath the narrative that he
created? How did you do it?
Isaacson: Andy Hertzfeld, who worked with Steve on the original
Macintosh team, said that even if you were aware of his Reality
Distortion Field, you still got caught up in it. But that is why
Steve was so successful: He willfully bent reality so that you
became convinced you could do the impossible, so you did. I never
felt he was intentionally misleading me, but I did try to check
every story. I did more than a hundred interviews. And he urged
me not just to hear his version, but to interview as many people
as possible. It was one of his many odd contradictions: He could
distort reality, yet he was also brutally honest most of the
time. He impressed upon me the value of honesty, rather than
trying to whitewash things.
Q: How were the interviews with Jobs conducted? Did you ask lots
of questions, or did he just talk?
Isaacson: I asked very few questions. We would take long walks
or drives, or sit in his garden, and I would raise a topic and
let him expound on it. Even during the more formal sessions in
his living room, I would just sit quietly and listen. He loved to
tell stories, and he would get very emotional, especially when
talking about people in his life whom he admired or disdained.
Q: He was a powerful man who could hold a grudge. Was it easy to
get others to talk about Jobs willingly? Were they afraid to
Isaacson: Everyone was eager to talk about Steve. They all had
stories to tell, and they loved to tell them. Even those who told
me about his rough manner put it in the context of how inspiring
he could be.
Q: Jobs embraced the counterculture and Buddhism. Yet he was a
billionaire businessman with his own jet. In what way did Jobs'
contradictions contribute to his success?
Isaacson: Steve was filled with contradictions. He was a
counterculture rebel who became a billionaire. He eschewed
material objects yet made objects of desire. He talked, at times,
about how he wrestled with these contradictions. His
counterculture background combined with his love of electronics
and business was key to the products he created. They combined
artistry and technology.
Q: Jobs could be notoriously difficult. Did you wind up liking
him in the end?
Isaacson: Yes, I liked him and was inspired by him. But I knew
he could be unkind and rough. These things can go together. When
my book first came out, some people skimmed it quickly and
cherry-picked the examples of his being rude to people. But that
was only half the story. Fortunately, as people read the whole
book, they saw the theme of the narrative: He could be petulant
and rough, but this was driven by his passion and pursuit of
perfection. He liked people to stand up to him, and he said that
brutal honesty was required to be part of his team. And the teams
he built became extremely loyal and inspired.
Q: Do you believe he was a genius?
Isaacson: He was a genius at connecting art to technology, of
making leaps based on intuition and imagination. He knew how to
make emotional connections with those around him and with his
Q: Did he have regrets?
Isaacson: He had some regrets, which he expressed in his
interviews. For example, he said that he did not handle well the
pregnancy of his first girlfriend. But he was deeply satisfied by
the creativity he ingrained at Apple and the loyalty of both his
close colleagues and his family.
Q: What do you think is his legacy?
Isaacson: His legacy is transforming seven industries: personal
computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing,
digital publishing, and retail stores. His legacy is creating
what became the most valuable company on earth, one that stood at
the intersection of the humanities and technology, and is the
company most likely still to be doing that a generation from now.
His legacy, as he said in his "Think Different" ad, was reminding
us that the people who are crazy enough to think they can change
the world are the ones who do.
Photo credit: Patrice Gilbert Photography