Interview: Walter Isaacson, author of the book “Steve Jobs” – by Dusan Velickovic
When I read “Steve Jobs” I had an impression it was an exciting novel. And, really, one can see in your book that there are so many things in Jobs’ life, from his childhood to his last days and fighting with mortal illness, which might be the elements of a good novel. What was your method? Did you have to suppress these “fictional” moments in order to make stable structure of biography of record, or maybe these moments were inspirational, stimulating you to try to build up a sort of a biographical plot?
Steve Jobs’s story was indeed like a novel, and sometimes even stranger than fiction. He gave me deep, revealing interviews, as did more than a hundred people who knew him well. I tried to be a good storyteller, which means relaying things in an accurate way and being careful not to get in the way of a good tale. I let the story tell itself, based on the fascinating things I was told.
Now, when your book has been published more than six months ago, translated into a number of languages, attracting large attention and lot of reviews, what do you feel when you look back at the whole process – the beginning of your research and interviews?
I felt very emotionally drained after the book came out. Steve Jobs was a genius, and a very intense person. He was also difficult at times, and I wanted to be truthful but also make sure his brilliance came through. And it became very emotional for me when it became clear that he was dying.
For you personally, what were the most important moments in your work on “Steve Jobs”, and are there any facts and/or stories, opinions which you didn’t or couldn’t include in the book?
The important things for me were the stories that showed how his intense personality turned into a passion for great products. Yes there are things I chose not to include in the book, including details about future products that Apple had in the works and some things that might have been hurtful to people. I do not plan to reveal them, however.
What happened with the original title iSteve: The Book Of Jobs? It was your decision to change it, or what?
My daughter hated that title, Steve Jobs hated that title, and I decided that it was too cute and not proper for the book.
Compared with biographies of Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin, long-dead geniuses, what was the challenge of writing about an exceptional man during his life even in a very delicate moment when he was mortally ill. How did you cope with it?
It was very emotional and difficult to write about a great man who was alive and also fighting for his life.
What do you think (or maybe what did Jobs think, as well) about the economic disparities caused by Jobs’ projects. All the cheap labor in China to make iPhones and iPads, yes. But also the consumer demand that these products create in economies like, for instance, Serbia and elsewhere Eastern Europe– where there are few reliable alternatives?
I believe information technology is valuable and enriches our lives. There are many alternatives to iPhones for those who don’t like the cost or the way they are made. I did feel that Steve Jobs should have paid more attention to worker conditions in China, and I admire Tim Cook for doing so. –
Do you see technological innovations such as those created by Jobs emerging anywhere else in the world? Or does the US for better or worse have a sort of creative headlock on this sort of innovation?
I think it’s important to combine an appreciation for the arts (beauty, design, imagination) with science (engineering, technology). That can happen everywhere.
I have a feeling that in Serbia there are lot of exceptional and very talented people who can’t get the opportunity to realize their visions, not only because of the poor economy, but also because of a sort of dominating mediocrity. To be the average is much more desirable than to be an exceptional. Those average who are in power consider exceptional talents as a danger for their own positions, and do their best to disable them, and get rid off them. I guess it’s typical for many societies, especially those in the so called transition. What would you suggest, what is necessary to be done in order to have “talents friendly” society?
I think that it’s important to allow people to think and communicate and explore freely.
Sometimes around 2000, Foreign Policy asked a number of leading figures to name the new age, the age in which we live. I remember some interesting answers. For example, Brian Eno said it was “the age of big market”, and Mario Vargas Llosa called it “the age of culture of freedom”, etc… How would you call our age after “Steve Jobs”?
The digital age.
Can you tell me something about your own journalism career. From Sunday Times, Time, CNN to Aspen Institute, what are the points you see as most important? Are there some permanent ideas and principles that guided you through these different posts.
It’s important always to be curious about new things.
I see the Secretary of State appointed you vice-chair of the Partners for a New Beginning, which encourages private-sector investments and partnerships in the Muslim world. Is it a long-term idea and in what way, and what are the objectives and results which can be achieved?
I think we can build lasting partnerships between business and non-governmental organizations.
You were listed as one of the 2012 Time 100 most influential people. How do you see your influence, and in what way you can conduct it? An, of course, what might be the influence of “Steve Jobs”?
I think that telling the tales of smart and creative people is a way to influence the world by helping people understand and celebrate those values.