Isaacson talks one-on-one with The Daily Gamecock
While Steve Jobs — the brilliant but private former Apple CEO — was often wary of speaking with reporters, he granted Isaacson scores of elusive interviews.
Jobs provided him family pictures, allowed him access to his family's home and explicitly handed him over full reign to write an authorized biography, even admitting in advance he may not like some of Isaacson's conclusions. Jobs only chose the cover photo, a shot taken by Fortune magazine one decade ago.
In his biography, Isaacson delivers a juicy caricature of the most feted man in technology that gives us a complete and detailed look at Jobs, which sometimes demonstrates his admiration for the CEO but often delves into his many nuances and weaknesses. Isaacson gives the reader description-laden pages that highlight Jobs' worst tendencies — his decision to abandon his own child for 10 years, his brash and occasionally rude conduct and his frequent micromanaging.
Isaacson, the former editor of Time magazine who previously crafted biographies of Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin, chatted with The Daily Gamecock earlier this month, and he'll speak inside the Capstone House Campus Room at 7 p.m. tonight. The lecture is open to the public, but university officials encourage students arrive early as they expect a capacity crowd.
The Daily Gamecock: What was your biggest takeaway from meeting Steve Jobs? What'd you learn most by having such unprecedented and exclusive access to him?
Walter Isaacson: He was driven by his emotional passions, which included making beautiful things. He had a passion for perfection. His dad taught him when he was a little kid that the back of the fence had to be as good as the front. Steve said, "Why? No one will know." But his father said, "You will know." And you see that today. Even the parts you can't see inside an Apple product are beautifully and artistically made.
TDG: Interviewing a subject that you knew was dying must be a difficult challenge. Did you become emotionally attached to him at all?
Isaacson: I became deeply inspired by Steve, and I felt emotionally moved by his compelling personality. I actually thought he was going to beat the cancer. He had been beating it for seven years and was on a lot of new therapies. He has a way of making you think he can do the impossible, so I believed he was going to pull it out and beat the cancer. I believed that until the end.
TDG: Here was a CEO who stood among the richest and most elite characters in the world, yet his house was described as fairly modest. He surely could have afforded more yet chose to not seek it. Why do you believe that is?
Isaacson: He dropped out of college and went to India and almost penniless. Then, Apple went public, and he got more than $100 million. He said, "I've been very, very rich and very, very poor." And he said, in both cases, "I learned money didn't define who I was."
TDG: Steve Jobs was a complicated character, by almost all accounts. How well do you feel like you understood him?
Isaacson: Better than anybody I've ever written about. He was so open with his emotions. Every now and then I'd look up, and he'd be crying, and I'd say what's the matter. He'd say, "When I think of great beauty I cry," when he'd see someone acting out of passion, he'd cry. He didn't attempt to hide his feelings at all. He was very comfortable being open and honest, sometimes brutally honest about his emotions.
TDG: You've written biographies of Franklin and Einstein. What, if any, comparisons do you draw between those two and Steve Jobs?
Isaacson: All three of them knew how to think outside the box. They were imaginative. They were innovative. All of us know a lot of smart people, but smart people often don't amount to very much if they don't have imagination. For example, Einstein wasn't the most distinguished physicist in 1905. In fact, he was only a patent clerk. But unlike all the other great physicists, he was able to question whether or not the passage of time was absolute or relative. Steve Jobs, likewise, was able to connect great art to technology, so you have an emotional connection to his products.
TDG: People have discussed the future of Apple at great length after Jobs' death. What's your take on the company's future? Will it survive and prosper without Jobs?
Isaacson: It's a company that's most likely to be at the intersection of creativity and technology a generation from now. I think that Steve was a tough boss, but part of being a tough boss meant the people there were all top players, and they will be creating a great company even a generation from now. His toughness meant he created a really, really great team, and that team will survive him.
This interview was condensed and edited for space constraints.