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Jaimon Joseph
Thursday , October 11, 2012 at 20 : 10

The Book of Jobs


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I'm not a fan of Steve Jobs. He lied, was rude and manipulated people throughout his life. When I told Walter Isaacson that, I half expected he'd slap me. After all, he's penned the man's biography and it hit bestsellers lists internationally.

With a Zen like air that suggested I didn't know what I was messing with, he gently said, "Many of the great inventors we know today, were very complex individuals. Thomas Alva Edison was a complex man. Most of us have forgotten his personality. But all of us still use his invention. (The light bulb.)

Then he fixed me with a clear eye and said, "I've found that people who've done business themselves, become big admirers of Steve's life and his leadership. Those who've never done any business, usually have issues with his personality".

Bam. He'd blown me out of the water without batting an eyelid. Must come easy to a man who was once chairman and CEO of CNN. And managing editor at Time Magazine. Steve Jobs approached Isaacson to do a biography about him, not the other way round. So yes, I was being foolish.

Maybe it's because Walter Isaacson wears his fame lightly. Physically, he isn't intimidating. About five feet tall, sixty years old. With the white hair and painful walk that comes with the age. He smiles easily, speaks gently and is very polite, so even if you know you're being stupid, you do ask him questions.

I asked him how long he took to write the book. "For eight years, I'd been gathering material, preparing and convincing myself for the role", he said. Jobs had approached him years ago, with the idea of doing a biography but Isaacson turned him down. "When I actually started though, I finished the book in two", he said.

Those two years must have been stressful. Because Walter Isaacson talked to almost everyone important in Steve Jobs life. At least 120 people by his own count. Plus at least 50 long conversations with Jobs himself. Was it scary, I asked - being privy to someone's innermost secrets, getting someone's life dissected by his friends and foes?

He didn't answer that one directly. But in a contemplative tone, he said, "There were a lot of personal details that I left out. I only put in the stuff that I thought would help people understand the man".

If you haven't read "Steve Jobs - A Biography" yet, I'd seriously recommend it. Despite everything that Mr Isaacson might have left out, there's enough in there to give you a living, breathing picture of the phenomenon that was Steve Jobs.

The boy who started building his own electronic equipment while still in school. The teen who made his poor adoptive parents admit him in the most expensive college, only to drop out and experiment with LSD. The man who cried when his best friend's dad accused him of piggybacking on his brilliant son's ideas.

The monster who abandoned his girlfriend and daughter. Who refused to give one of his best friends a share in his wildly successful company. Who triggered so much political skulduggery in his own firm, his board of directors threw him out.

And the arrogant genius who refused to give in. The titan who straddled the meeting ground between high art and cutting edge technology. The artist who leaked millions of his own money to keep his companies afloat. Till the time when almost magically, he returned to the limelight. It's got the sweep and flow of a Shakespearean drama.

Which was why I wish I could have asked Mr Isaacson a lot more questions. Like how he decided what to ask and what not to ask Jobs and company, how he decided someone was lying or not, how he worked his subjects to get them to reveal long forgotten hurts, how he drafted and redrafted the book, how he went about his research. It would have been an amazing lesson. Sadly I couldn't - I was part of a gaggle of journalists, each determined to satisfy his or her own curiosity. Someone asked him if the public spectacle that followed Jobs death, left any mark on him.

"I loved the fact that there was an outpouring of emotion after the death of an innovator. That sort of emotion is usually reserved for a drugged out rock star or a British princess. It was nice to know that someone who makes great, beautiful products can make a connection with strangers all around the world", he said.

Somewhere towards the end of the interview, I told Mr Isaacson that my wife had never used an Apple product. Yet, she'd read the book and become an ardent fan of Steve Jobs. She thinks Jobs was a great man. I told him I don't share her fascination. Eyes twinkling, he said "Sure, YOU think he was a jerk."

Later, when we were out of the room and I was trying to get him to accept my business card, he looked up and stared at me. Then he said softly "Tell your wife that she's right."

Sigh. She usually is.


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More about Jaimon Joseph

I've always been scared around gadgets and software. And in awe of people who're good with them. After three years of science and tech reporting though, I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. Before this, I covered automobiles, health, careers and business, for seven years. Nice thing about technology is, it lets me poach into all those fields once in a while. I love this job. But I'm not sure how I managed to land it. I did my BA in Advertising from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and MA in Journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a guitar player and a footballer but sucked in all those fields. I can play the flute and harmonica though. And I have an interest in machines that move - it was cars and bikes earlier but considering there's nothing revolutionary happening there, it's military stuff now. I'm the sort who drools over figures. Not the 36-24-36 types. But top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, drag co-efficient. I drive an Alto though. And usually take the Metro to work.
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