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 talk?
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 customers.
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
“A superbly told story of a superbly lived life”—The Wall Street Journal
“Enthralling”—The New Yorker
“A frank, smart and wholly unsentimental biography…a remarkably sharp, hi-res portrait…Steve Jobs is more than a good book; it’s an urgently necessary one.” —Time
“An encyclopedic survey of all that Mr. Jobs accomplished, replete with the passion and excitement that it deserves.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“If you haven’t read the bestselling, superb biography and inspiring business book, Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, do so. … [A] masterpiece.”—Steve Forbes, Forbes
“The ability of Isaacson to write books that capture an age as well as a man makes him one of our best and most important biographers. Steve Jobs shows Isaacson at his best.”—Foreign Affairs
“The book should be required reading for future M.B.A.s”—Time
“A nuanced portrait of the brilliant, mercurial, complicated genius. … Isaacson has taken the complete measure of the man. This is a biography as big as Steve Jobs.”—Entertainment Weekly
“For the generation that's grown up in a world where computers are the norm, smartphones feel like fifth limbs and music comes from the Internet rather than record and CD stores, Steve Jobs is must-read history…The intimate chapters, where Jobs' personal side shines through, with all his faults and craziness, leave a deep impression. There's humor, too… it's a rich portrait of one of the greatest minds of our generation.” —Associated Press
“Isaacson’s biography can be read in several ways. It is on the one hand a history of the most exciting time in the age of computers, when the machines first became personal and later, fashionable accessories. It is also a textbook study of the rise and fall and rise of Apple and the brutal clashes that destroyed friendships and careers. And it is a gadget lover’s dream, with fabulous, inside accounts of how the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad came into being. But more than anything, Isaacson has crafted a biography of a complicated, peculiar personality — Jobs was charming, loathsome, lovable, obsessive, maddening — and the author shows how Jobs’s character was instrumental in shaping some of the greatest technological innovations of our time.”—Washington Post
“A wonderfully robust biography that not only tracks Jobs’ life but also serves as a history of digital technology. What makes the book come alive, though, is Isaacson’s ability to shape the story as a kind of archetypal fantasy: the flawed hero, the noble quest, the holy grail, the death of the king.”—Booklist
“A nuanced, balanced portrait that is sure to become mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in big business and popular culture…Isaacson is to be commended for explaining the genius of Jobs in fascinating fashion, launching a discussion that could reach infinity and beyond.”—Christian Science Monitor
“Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs comes as a breath of fresh air…a reliable and captivating guide to a man who reshaped the computing industry and more.” —CNET.com
“It's a testament to Isaacson's skill as a biographer that readers can at last obtain the picture of Steve Jobs as a human being rather than a legend…anyone who's ever wondered how so very much about the technology landscape has changed so fundamentally in just 35 years, owes it to themselves to read this book.”—TUAW.com
“Walter Isaacson’s book is an unflinching biography of a manifestly great man…Steve Jobs’s life was a great story with a near mythic arc, and Isaacson captures it well…the book moves at a fast pace with a great eye for detail…Isaacson is perceptive and original.”—CultofMac.com
“Isaacson's biography lives up to the hype, showing readers the private turbulence that spurred Jobs to public greatness”—ShelfAwareness.com (- )