Steve Jobs’ biographer felt lashing of his sharp tongue

December 14, 2011

Isaacson's Jobs biography in a store (Photo: Reuters)

Getting off a plane earlier this year, Walter Isaacson got hit with what he called “the thing you least want to see on your iPhone”– six or seven missed calls from his biography subject, Steve Jobs.

Speaking to a crowd at the Computer History Museum Tuesday night in Mountain View, Calif., Isaacson described finally connecting with Jobs, who apparently had just seen the book’s proposed cover and didn’t care for it. Jobs let loose a stream of invectives. “He just started yelling,” Isaacson recalled. “You have no taste. The cover is gimmicky. It’s ugly.”

Jobs, who hadn’t asked for editorial input into any other aspect of the book, said he would withdraw his cooperation unless he could have editorial input into the cover. Isaacson said he agreed in a matter of seconds, and then Jobs spent time choosing the two jacket photos— a recent shot on the front, and a younger Jobs on the back– and making sure the cover looked clean and simple.

Otherwise, the issue of editorial control “never came up,” said Isaacson. “I was stunned.” Jobs told him he wanted the biography to feel “independent” rather than like an “in-house project.”

At other moments, Isaacson said, Jobs reassured him that nobody would read it anyway– not because they didn’t care, but because people don’t read books anymore.

The biggest laugh of the night came from an audience question on film rights and if Isaacson thought George Clooney was right to play Jobs in a movie. Isaacson sidestepped the query by claiming ignorance of all things Hollywood,  to the point where he had to download the Pixar movies Jobs greenlighted due to lack of familiarity with them. “It’s one of my blindspots,” he said.



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