The Book of Jobs, version 3.0

19 Apr 2011 | in Steve Jobs history, Steve Jobs news, Steve Jobs personality

Most of you have probably heard the news already, but it’s too important for me not to leave any trace of it on the blog.
The rumors surrounding Steve Jobs’ authorized biography have been confirmed. The book exists indeed, written by Walter Isaacson, and will be published by Simon & Schuster early next year. I will be called (hold your breath): iSteve: The Book of Jobs. The news broke out thanks to Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who writes the Apple column of PED makes an interesting portrait of the writer in his column. Apparently the idea was his, and he had enough nerve and talent to seduce Steve into writing his biography.

I am, as I imagine you are, incredibly excited by the coming of this book.

The biggest news is of course that the book is ‘authorized’, meaning Steve, as opposed to previous biographies, helped its making instead of blocking it. What usually happens is that whenever a journalist or writer tries to interview someone from Steve’s entourage, he faces a wall of silence, akin to an omerta. Indeed, they should be wary of what they say, because historically Steve has shown some pretty harsh un-forgiveness with indiscreet friends and relatives.

The most famous example of this trait is Michael Moritz’s 1982 piece, The Updated Book Of Jobs, which he wrote as Time Magazine’s Silicon Valley correspondent (Moritz later wrote the first good book on Apple, and arguably the first Steve Jobs biography, The Little Kingdom). Moritz had been given carte blanche at Apple to write the portrait of Steve Jobs who was a serious candidate to become Man of the Year 1983. Instead, he turned out this much more critical piece, including a testimonial from Steve’s college friend Dan Kottke: “something is happening to Steve that’s sad and not pretty, something related to money and power and loneliness. He’s less sensitive to people’s feelings. He runs over them, snowballs them”. Steve apparently broke all ties with Dan after that article was published.

But this time, Steve is said to give biographist Isaacson acces to his closest friends and relatives. I imagine among the friends there will be Larry Ellison, Bill Campbell, Bob Metcalfe, perhaps Al Gore. I am curious about Steve’s relatives. Will Laurene speak up on her husband? I’ve never found any trace of her speaking of Steve in public. Or perhaps his biological sister Mona? That’s more likely.

The active collaboration of Steve will have of course positive as well as negative effects. So far, previous biographies (such as my personal favorite, Alan Deutschman’s The Second Coming of Steve Jobs) only could be based on interviews of ghosts from Steve’s past life (I’m referring to you, Dan Kottke and Andy Hertzfeld), or of pissed off former employees who had regained their ‘freedom of speech’. This is nicely put by Chris Smith in an article I will refer to below:

In recent years, several biographers have gamely tried to chart the depths of Jobsʼ psyche, with little help from the man himself. He rarely speaks to the press, save for tightly scripted sound bites, so all these accounts are based on talks with old colleagues and Apple Deep Throats, supplemented by occasional in-depth interviews heʼs granted to a few lucky reporters over the years.

Any journalist who’s tried to go a little deeper had to endure Steve’s legendary wrath, as described by Rich Karlgaard in his 2006 WSJ article Vladimir llyich Jobs? (for the heck of me I can’t find a link to it, but I have a scanned version on my Mac):

Years ago, he phoned me on a Saturday morning and tried to squash a story my then-magazine, Upside, was about to print on NeXT, Inc. NeXT was his second startup after Apple. But it was failing and our story said so. On the phone Mr. Jobs cooed and threatened, including warnings to “watch my backside” and strangely, “don’t ride a bicycle alone on dark roads.” We ran the story. Michael Moritz, before he was a venture capitalist funding Yahoo and Google, once covered Apple as a Time magazine reporter. Mr. Jobs repeatedly tried to get him fired. Dozens of journalists have stories like this.

Of course, it’s no wonder in these circumstances that Steve Jobs portraits tend to be dark. What’s to be feared from an authorized biography is the opposite, that it’d be too polished. The only example I can think of is the excellent TV documentary on the history of Pixar, The Pixar Story (2007). Jobs appears in the film, but in exchange, there is barely any mention of Alvy Ray Smith, one of Pixar’s visionary co-founders , whom Steve fired in the early 1990s (after they’d had a rough argument in which Alvy criticized NeXT and Steve, Alvy’s Southerner accent).

An excellent article was posted by Michael Wolff on this precise issue, it’s called The Steve Jobs Biography: What Story Will Be Told? Wolff makes a wish that Isaacson will perhaps criticize Steve to sell even more copies. Quote:

If Isaacson likes to associate with great men, to imagine himself as a great, too, what he really understands is the shape of the modern career, the strategic, even Faustian mastery of the commercial world that produces epic success. That’s the darkness that animates Isaacson’s Kissinger book— preternatural talent depends on preternatural ruthlessness.

Finally let’s come back to the title of the book. It’s not only interesting because it re-uses the clever pun Moritz made up in his 1982 article (as well as the not-so-clever use of Apple’s trademark i prefix, already used by Steve Wozniak in his own autobiograhy, iWoz). It’s also to me the latest in Steve’s many whimsical allusions to biblical culture. I can think of several, including the Tablet of Commandments during the iPad introduction, or the clever quote pictured below: “we’ve consulted every possible higher authority” (to make the G5 run cooler), during the Macworld 2006 keynote.

Which leads me to the article I mentioned earlier, by Chris Smith, which is three years old now, but which I only stumbled across very recently, appropriately called Is Steve Jobs God? It is definitely one of the finest (and most delightful to read) pieces I’ve ever read on the state of Steve Jobs literature, and it’s error-free to boot. I agree with its final stance, that basically the best Steve Jobs portrait so far is perhaps by Dan Lyons, aka Fake Steve (in his blog and his derived book, oPtion$):

Much like Hunter S. Thompsonʼs Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, whose phantasmagoric, not strictly factual probing of the rot at the core of the American dream told us more about the shifting cultural winds of ʼ60s-era America than any number of straight histories could, oPtion$ digs deep into the zeitgeist and comes up with a foundation myth that resonates.

The last two paragrahs are too good to be left out. They put the justification for my enthusiasm to build and maintain all about Steve Jobs, which Mike Cassidy called “a digital shrine to a tech god”, in beautiful words:

The gods donʼt have to play by our rules, and Jobs, bless his sometimes Grinchlike heart, is a god for our times, a secular deity who for years has offered us a better tomorrow courtesy of technology and design. Now he has his finger on the pulse of three major industries—computers, music, and movies—and is busily threading them together. In the process, heʼs forging a whole new world. Such is the power of his vision that we cheer his victories as if they were our own and forgive his occasional missteps (remember the underpowered and overpriced Cube?), because, well, God created both the peacock and the mosquito, and his ways are sometimes inscrutable.Even if you spend your Sunday mornings with the Times instead of the Bible, youʼre probably still looking for the meaning of it all. I know I am.
Jobs, the computer geek who elevated design to high art—and who once dressed up as Jesus for a Halloween party—has provided that spiritual heft for many of us. Thereʼs a reason Apple fans used to make Kool-Aid jokes. Forget the legions of politicians, prognosticators, and fire-and-brimstone preachers: When Jobs talks of a new day rising, we canʼt wait for dawn to break.

Steve, I’m definitely not the only one waiting for your Holy Book!


One Response to The Book of Jobs, version 3.0

  • I’m a librarian and a history student. I’ve read many books about him, and I’m so, SO glad this book is coming.

    Historians have got to have sources. We can’t say that Steve Jobs is a human being without some evidence. But what sources do we have? Once Jobs is gone (a long time from now I hope), no voices would be left to tell his story except those who hated or feared him. And his family would have to deal with all that.
    So I’m really glad he’s finally taking some initiative here.

    Most of all I really want to hear more about Paul and Clara Jobs, his parents. They’re so important, but are under-represented in the literature. If his dad had not let Steve move back in and take over his garage, where would Apple be? They deserve credit, and if Steve doesn’t say something, they’ll never get it.
    And what about Patti?

    At the end of “The Journey is the Reward,” only one sentence mentions his mother’s death after a “prolonged” battle with Cancer in 1986. That means that she might’ve been ill while the shake-up at Apple was going on. That sounds really tough! But no one ever connects his very emotional state during the breakup and her illness. I can only guess.

    “iCon” totally screwed up Paul Jobs’ death date. It makes it seem like he died before Steve got married, but he died in 1993, a few years after. It only took me 10 min. on at a public library to get that. This book was awfully sloppy!

    The 2012 publishing date of “iSteve” makes me a little nervous. Steve uses the mystery and menace of his persona as a tool; it allows him to control and coerce. If he’s going to reveal himself, he might be less powerful. That might mean that he knows he won’t need the veil anymore then. Maybe.