in 2009 his wife, Laurene Powell, said bluntly, “If you’re ever going to do a book on Steve, you’d better do it now.” He had just taken a second medical leave. I confessed to her that when he had first raised the idea, I hadn’t known he was sick. Almost nobody knew, she said. He had called me right before he was going to be operated on for cancer, and he was still keeping it a secret, she explained.
I decided then to write this book. Jobs surprised me by readily acknowledging that he would have no control over it or even the right to see it in advance. “It’s your book,” he said. “I won’t even read it.” But later that fall he seemed to have second thoughts about cooperating and, though I didn’t know it, was hit by another round of cancer complications.He stopped returning my calls, and I put the project aside for a while.
Then, unexpectedly, he phoned me late on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2009. He was at home in Palo Alto with only his sister, the writer Mona Simpson. His wife and their three children had taken a quick trip to go skiing, but he was not healthy enough to join them. He was in a reflective mood, and we talked for more than an hour. He began by recalling that he had wanted to build a frequency counter when he was twelve, and he was able to look up Bill Hewlett, the founder of HP, in the phone book and call him to get parts. Jobs said that the past twelve years of his life, since his return to Apple, had been his most productive in terms of creating new products. But his more important goal, he said, was to do what Hewlett and his friend David Packard had done, which was create a company that was so imbued with innovative creativity that it would outlive them.
“I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” he said. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” It was as if he were suggesting themes for his biography (and in this instance, at least, the theme turned out to be valid). The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.
I asked Jobs why he wanted me to be the one to write his biography. “I think you’re good at getting people to talk,” he replied. That was an unexpected answer. I knew that I would have to interview scores of people he had fired, abused, abandoned, or otherwise infuriated, and I feared he would not be comfortable with my getting them to talk. And indeed he did turn out to be skittish when word trickled back to him of people that I was interviewing. But after a couple of months, he began encouraging people to talk to me, even foes and former girlfriends. Nor did he try to put anything off-limits. “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, such as getting my girlfriend pregnant whenI was twenty-three and the way I handled that,” he said. “But I don’t have any skeletons in my closet that can’t be allowed out.” He didn’t seek any control over what I wrote, or even ask to read it in advance. His only involvement came when my publisher was choosing the cover art. When he saw an early version of a proposed cover treatment, he disliked it so much that he asked to have input in designing a new version. I was both amused and willing, so I readily assented.
I ended up having more than forty interviews and conversations with him. Some were formal ones in his Palo Alto living room, others were done during long walks and drives or by telephone. During my two years of visits, he became increasingly intimate and revealing, though at times I witnessed what his veteran colleagues at Apple used to call his “reality distortion field.” Sometimes it was the inadvertent misfiring of memory cells that happens to us all; at other times he was spinning his own version of reality both to me and to himself. To check and flesh out his story, I interviewed more than a hundred friends, relatives, competitors, adversaries, and colleagues.
His wife also did not request any restrictions or control, nor did she ask to see in advance what I would publish. In fact she strongly encouraged me to
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