Full disclosure: Steve Jobs was my white whale, the interview I wanted more than any other and the day he died I fashioned a black band across the Apple logo on my MacBook. But after reading "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, I'm fighting the urge to peel it off.
For one, the near-600 page tome is a reminder of how much Jobs would hate a sentimental piece of electrical tape ruining the clean lines of his creation. But there's also the disappointment that comes with discovering an intellectual hero's massive flaws, for this is the portrait of a deeply selfish man with a mean streak that bordered on pathological.
"I ended up really liking Steve Jobs," Isaacson told me, and when he draws from their 40-plus interviews and conversations, it is easy to see why. But he also includes horror stories gathered from employees, ex-girlfriends and rivals while drawing on unauthorized biographies long-loathed by Jobs and his team at Apple.
It is hard to imagine his family and close colleagues being pleased with the final result and Isaacson (more accustomed to examining icons like Franklin and Einstein through the dusty lens of history) seems to understand that he is in for some blowback from sources still in mourning.
"One of the difficult things about this book is everybody sort of remembers things slightly differently," he told me. "In fact, the day he resigned as CEO of Apple, I talked to him for an hour right after his resignation, and then I talked to four people who were at the meetings within the next day, and all of them had slightly different versions of who said what, and what Steve said, and what they showed him."
With that in mind, the black stripe remains on a laptop used to convey the 11 most startling revelations in "Steve Jobs."
|His 'Reality Distortion Field' Built an Empire, Estranged a Daughter and May Have Hastened His Death|
By all accounts, Jobs was notorious for bending facts to fit his will. With this headstrong conviction and a seductive charm, he would push people past their limits to hasten or perfect the latest Apple project. Once he made up his mind, he refused any contrary evidence. Bud Tribble, one of Apple's early software developers, borrowed a phrase from Star Trek to describe it: "Steve has a reality distortion field."
But the dark side of that trait came out most vividly at age 23, when his longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend Crisann Brennan gave birth to their daughter. Isaacson writes that after helping choose the name Lisa, Jobs refused to acknowledge paternity for years, even after a court-ordered DNA test proved he was the father. It set the course for a painful and complicated relationship with his daughter and Jobs told Isaacson: "I wish I had handled it differently. I could not see myself as a father then, so I didn't face up to it."
In 2003, that self-delusion turned self-destructive after he was diagnosed with a rare, treatable form of pancreatic cancer. Isaacson writes that at the alarm of his friends and family, Jobs rejected surgery in favor of megadoses of carrot and fruit juice, acupuncture and other random treatments he found on the Internet.
"I really didn't want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work out," he told Isaacson, with a hint of regret. His widow, Laurene Powell explained, "He has that ability to ignore stuff he doesn't want to confront. It's just the way he's wired."
|He Was Attracted to Brilliant Women and Drove Them Crazy|
When he was in the throes of a new idea, nothing else mattered. Isaacson writes that he aimed the same sort of obsessive tendencies at the women in his life.
Jobs dated folk singer Joan Baez and novelist Jennifer Egan, who's A Visit From the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. In the mid 80's, around the time he was ousted from Apple, he met a computer consultant named Tina Redse and later described her as "the first woman I truly loved."
They lived together for years, through swings of intense passion and severe emotional detachment. After one epic fight, she scrawled the words "neglect is a form of abuse" on the wall of their apartment. After rejecting his marriage proposal in 1989, Redse told Isaacson that she eventually decided he suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. "Expecting him to be nicer or less self-centered was like expecting a blind man to see," she said.
He met Laurene Powell during a lecture at Stanford, and on a whim, blew off a dinner with a team from Apple, took her out for vegan food and they were together--in one way or another--ever since. After proposing to her on the first day of 1990, Jobs didn't mention it again for months. Even after she'd gotten pregnant with their son, Reed, Jobs remained so detached that Powell moved out. He tried to reunite with Redse and asked a number of friends who was prettier, Tina or Laurene? Who should he marry?
Time proves that he chose wisely. Jobs and Powell wed at a lodge in Yosemite National Park and over a 20-year partnership, raised three children.
|In a Bizarre Twist of Fate, He Unwittingly Met His Biological Father|
Steve Jobs was born to--and placed for adoption by--a pair of graduate students at the University of Wisconsin. His father, Abdulfattah Jandali, was a Syrian Muslim teaching assistant and his mother, Joanne Schieble was a Catholic of German-Swiss decent and her father threatened to disown her if they married. He died about a week after the adoption was finalized, so the couple married, had a daughter and named her Mona. Five years later, Jandali left them and moved west.
In 1986, Jobs sought out his birth mother and after a tearful reunion, she told him of his sister--novelist Mona Simpson. She later called Simpson and cryptically broke the news of her brother, describing him as a good-looking, rich and famous man who lived in California. This touched off a guessing game among Simpson and her friends in which John Travolta edged "one of those guys who started Apple Computer" as the best option.
After Jobs and Simpson met and grew close, she decided to track down their father but Jobs wanted nothing to do with the man. "I don't hold anything against him," he told Isaacson. "But what bothers me most is that he didn't treat Mona well. He abandoned her."
Simpson hired a detective and eventually found their father working in a restaurant in Sacramento. He mentioned that they'd had another baby before she was born. "We'll never see that baby again," he told her. "That baby is gone." Then Jandali wistfully described another restaurant he'd managed near Silicon Valley. "All the successful technology people use to come there," he told her. "Even Steve Jobs. He was a sweet guy and a big tipper."
Jobs remembered meeting his father "He was Syrian. Balding. We shook hands." But he still had no desire to get to know a man he often described as his "sperm donor."
"I was a wealthy man by then," he told Isaacson, "and I didn't trust him not to try to blackmail me or go to the press about it. I told Mona not to tell him about me."
File photo shows a young Steve Jobs, taken in 1977
|He Advised Presidents on Policy and Scandal|
"You're headed for one-term presidency," Steve Jobs told President Barack Obama during a 45-minute meeting in October of 2010.
While the Apple chief supported Obama and even offered to help produce his campaign ads in 2008 and 2012, he felt the administration wasn't adequately business-friendly, and described how needless costs and regulations here made it much easier to build factories in China.
Isaacson writes that he also lectured the president on America's broken education system, insisting that until teachers' unions are broken -- and they are paid for performance -- there is no hope for reform.
The topic came up a few months later at a dinner for the president thrown by a small group of Silicon Valley executives. Jobs explained how he had 700,000 factory workers building his products in China mainly because he needed 30,000 engineers to support them and "you can't find that many in America to hire."
He suggested that any foreign student who studies engineering in the U.S. receive a visa after graduation but Obama described why such an idea would never get past Republicans in Congress.
"The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us why things can't get done. It infuriates me." And later, during his final death bed conversation with Isaacson, Jobs said, "I'm disappointed in Obama. He's having trouble leading because he's reluctant to offend people or piss them off....not a problem I ever had."
Jobs was also friendly with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who would stay in his vacant Woodside house while they were visiting daughter Chelsea at Stanford. Before one visit, Jobs' wife noticed that a painting of a hanging dress was missing from one wall. The Secret Service explained that in light of Monica Lewinsky's infamous blue garment, they'd hidden the painting from the first lady. And during one of their late-night phone chats, President Clinton asked Jobs how best to handle the exploding Lewinsky scandal. "I don't know if you did it," Jobs replied "but if so, you've got to tell the country."
His advice was greeted with silence.
|He Liked Rupert Murdoch, But Loathed Fox News|
Since the head of News Corp took an early liking to the iPad, and even launched the first digital-only newspaper tailored to the Apple device, Jobs took a professional liking to Rupert Murdoch, even hosting him at home on his birthday and agreeing to appear News Corp's management retreat in 2010. But he also used the dinner to vent his opinion of Murdoch's biggest American business.
"You're blowing it with Fox News," Jobs told him. "The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive, and you've cast your lot with the destructive people. You can be better, and this is going to be your legacy if you're not careful."
|He Admired His Replacement Tim Cook, "But..."|
Isaacson's book paints Tim Cook as a smart, disciplined and respected Chief Operating Officer, a successor hand-picked by Jobs.
"I'm a good negotiator, but he's probably better than me because he's a cool customer," Jobs told Isaacson. But after a bit more praise, Jobs added a serious, though rarely spoken reservation: "but Tim's not a product person, per se."
Since the predictable release of game-changing product is the source of Apple's success, it may be the most potent "but" Jobs ever uttered.
A company spokesperson declined to comment but I asked Isaacson -- how will Jobs' dig reverberate from Silicon Valley to Wall Street?
He could have brushed it off as a moment of "Steve being Steve;" a moody perfectionist who found fault with nearly everything. Instead, he gave the only answer Apple could approve.
"I think that they created a team there that's infused with Steve's DNA in a way," he said. "Tim Cook has enormous capabilities that Steve didn't have, like how to keep things running smoothly. But I think he needs to have around him people like Jony Ive, who's a brilliant product person and designer. People like Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller and together, I think, they bring what Steve brought to the party."
|The Reason You Can't Watch Adobe Flash Video on Your iPad? Steve Jobs Would Hold More Than the Occasional Grudge|
When Jobs announced that the iPhone and iPad would not play Adobe Flash video files, both Apple critics and users had trouble understanding why. Though ubiquitous on the web, Jobs dismissed it as a "buggy" battery hog made by "lazy" people.
But his real resentment went back to 1999, when Apple was seeking video editing software on the iMac. Since Apple had invested in Adobe years earlier, he was certain his old friends at the digital graphics company would help, but they turned him down and Jobs was furious.
"I put Adobe on the map and they screwed me," he said.
|Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates: Frenemies Who Changed the World|
The book vividly describes clashes between the heads of Apple and Microsoft as they vied to become the Valley's undisputed heavyweight champions. They were the polar ends of a fundamental debate, with Gates insisting all technology should be "open" to crowd-sourced development while Jobs believed in "closed," pristine machines.
Isaacson writes that in 1996, Gates "went into orbit," when Apple CEO Gil Amelio informed him that they were buying NeXT Computer and bringing Jobs back into Apple's fold.
"Don't you understand that Steve doesn't know anything about technology?" Gates railed. "He's just a super salesman...99 percent of what he says and thinks is wrong. What the hell are you buying that garbage for?"
But after Jobs regained power at Apple, one of his first calls was to Gates. Though he was convinced Microsoft had been stealing his ideas for years, he agreed to drop numerous lawsuits if Gates would help create apps for the Mac. He went on to announce the deal at a Macworld convention in Boston and the crowd was stunned when a huge, live satellite image of Gates appeared on the screen behind Jobs.
"That was my worst and stupidest staging event ever," Jobs said later. "It was bad because it made me look small...and as if everything was in Bill's hands."
A few months ago, when Jobs was too weak to even climb the stairs in his home, there came a rap on the back door. It was Gates. Isaacson writes that the two spent three hours in the Jobs living room, reminiscing. And then, after a lifetime of battles, came a stunning concession.
"I used to believe that the open, horizontal model would prevail," Gates told Jobs. "But you proved that the integrated, vertical model could also be great."
"Your model worked too," Jobs replied.
It was the last time they ever spoke.
|He Bought Pixar for the Wrong Reasons|
When Jobs first saw the mind blowing animation being created by a small division at Lucasfilm, he originally thought their mix of hardware and software could be sold on the mass market and snapped up Pixar for $10 million.
But he soon came to realize the machines at Pixar weren't nearly as valuable as the creative minds who worked there with the dream of reinventing animation. He became their guardian angel and spent enormous amounts of his own time and money betting that their vision for "Toy Story" was better than anything at Disney.
And thanks to a peace accord brokered by current Disney CEO Bob Iger, Isaacson writes that Pixar ultimately saved Disney's box office bacon.
|What Did He Want To Do Next? Textbooks and TV|
In conversations with President Obama and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs often came back to the idea that education should be revolutionized. Lectures should be watched on computers or iPads at home after school, and class time should be reserved for discussion and problem-solving. He also had plans to reinvent the textbook for the digital age, turning blocks of dry prose into moving, animated lessons.
"The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt," he told Isaacson. "But if we can make the textbook free, and they come with the iPad...we can give them an opportunity to circumvent the whole process and save money.
He also told Isaacson, "I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use...It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
|That Rousing Stanford Speech Was Almost an Aaron Sorkin Production|
Aside from his tightly controlled product launches and the occasional Apple-specific interview, Jobs never talked publicly about his personal life. But in early 2005, as he was approaching his 50th birthday, Jobs felt he had some life lessons to share and accepted an invitation to give the commencement address at Stanford a few months away.
He called Aaron Sorkin of "A Few Good Men," "The West Wing" and "The Social Network" fame and asked for help. "That was in February and I heard nothing, so I ping him again in April, and he says 'Oh, yeah,' and I send him a few more thoughts," Jobs told Isaacson. "I finally get him on the phone, and he keeps saying 'Yeah,' but finally it's the beginning of June, and he never sent me anything."
In a panic, Jobs finally sat down and in one night wrote the most revealing speech of his life, including a poignant bit of fiction.
As he encouraged the students to live each day to the fullest, he described how his doctor cried with joy upon realizing his pancreatic cancer could be safely removed. "I had the surgery," he told the crowd, "and thankfully I am fine now."
Five years later we know that he actually rejected that surgery in favor of alternative treatment; the sort of twist not even an Aaron Sorkin could imagine.