Interview with Walter Isaacson, author of the first official biography of Steve Jobs
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Maria Tabak: Mr Isaacson, how did Steve Jobs appear in the same line with Einstein, Franklin, and Kissinger whose biographies you have already written? Why did you choose him as the character of your new book?
Walter Isaacson: I first got a call from Steve in 2004. He suggested that maybe I wanted to do a biography of him.
So it was his idea?
His idea. But I didn't start working till 2009 because I thought that he had a long career ahead of him. But then I realized that he was battling cancer and I thought it would be a good idea to start right away.
Why did he need a biography? He seemed to be a very low-key person.
I think he wanted people to understand what he did and to have a full biography so his children and everybody of the world would understand what he did. So I think it was a part of his desire to leave a legacy.
Why did he choose you as the author of his biography?
He told me that he wanted somebody who would not only be an historian but also a journalist, somebody who would talk to people and get them to answer the questions. That surprised me because I thought that he would want to have control over the book but he actually wanted it to be independent, he wanted somebody who would do a lot of other interviews.
If it weren’t for Steve's idea, would you write his biography?
I always wanted to do biographies of people who are very creative. I would have liked to do Steve Jobs'. He was very good.
Was Steve a genius as he is often being described or was he just a talented hard working person?
He was a genius in his ability to connect art with technologies. He was not the smartest computer engineer of his time but he was able to put people's ideas together and to make them more beautiful. That was the root of his genius.
What was the main secret of his popularity? He was low-key, harsh, and rough sometimes. So why did his death become such a tragedy for thousands of people around the world?
I think he was able to make an emotional connection with people. He was very emotional and sentimental himself and so he could understand other people's emotions and know how to make a product that would connect emotionally with people. He understood what caused people's emotions and understood how to design products that felt special. So it's mainly his sense of design and artistry that connected emotionally with people, it was the same case as with a good poet or musician.
Did he compare himself with any poets or musicians?
He saw himself as an artist, and he had a personality of an artist, he was a perfectionist. And he thought of himself more like Bob Dylan than Bill Gates. I think he thought of himself as an artist making beautiful things rather than an engineer. And he thought Bob Dylan was a great artist. Jobs always kept improving his products and changing the way he did things. He had a passion for perfection which meant he had trouble in compromising which meant that it was sometimes hard to get a product but when it came out, it was beautiful.
What are your main sources? How did you choose people to speak to about Steve Jobs?
I just talked to everyone who knew him, who worked with him, more than 100 people. It took me three years to collect material.
Can you recollect your first meeting?
[It was in] 1984, when I was at Time magazine and he showed off a Macintosh. He came to Time to show us the Macintosh and I realized what a perfectionist he was, even then. He showed how beautiful the design was and how the software and hardware were tightly integrated. He was rough on people even then and he was nasty about one of Time magazine's writers. But he was also passionate about the product he created. I liked him.
You spoke not only to family members, friends and colleagues of Steve Jobs, but also to his rivals. How did they perceive Jobs?
Bill Gates is a great example. Like anybody with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates liked him but also found him difficult. And Bill Gates respected Steve, was amused by Steve, found him rough to deal with at times. Like in a lot of businesses here people can be friends but also rivals. And that was the case of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
He was a very rough person at times because he was such a perfectionist. Sometimes he could be rough on people close to him but he developed a very strong family who all loved him.
Did he see the last version of your book? It was published soon after his death...
Do you think he would be satisfied with the result of your work?
He would respect the fact that it was honest. He put nothing off limits including his personal life and his professional life. He told me that I could talk to anybody about anything.
Do you plan to write any new biographies?
I don't know. Do you have any ideas?
And my last question: Do you use any Apple devices?
I use iPhone and iPad.
By Maria Tabak, RIA Novosti’s Washington Correspondent
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