Commentary

Apple Leaders Rally Behind New Bio Of Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs, an unauthorized biography that will be released tomorrow, has not only been garnering headlines for a Fast Company excerpt and selected leaks, but also is being positioned as a more accurate — and sympathetic — portrayal of the Apple founder than the one in Steve Jobs, the authorized and bestselling biography by Walter Isaacson. 

The new book, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli and published by Crown Business, carries the subhead The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. Schlender “covered Steve Jobs intimately for over 25 years, and knew him better than any other journalist,” according to his bio for the book. Tetzeli is executive editor of Fast Company — hence the beat on the excerpt. Another sample is available on iBooks. 

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Citing provocative recent quotes from current Apple CEO Tim Cook, design chief Jony Ive and software and Internet chief Eddy Cue, Brian X. Chen and Alexandra Alter point out in The New York Times that the “the book-on-book criticism is a rare public cavalcade from Apple executives, who under Mr. Jobs kept quiet about the company’s activities. It shows the lengths that Apple is going in its effort to reshape the posthumous image of Mr. Jobs as a kinder spirit, rather than a one-dimensional mercurial and brash chief.” 

Isaacson conducted more than 40 interviews with Jobs, who hand-picked him to write the book, as well as speaking with “more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues,” according to the promotional copy. The resulting efforts, first published in hardcover by Simon & Schuster in 2011 and since distributed in 34 formats and editions by Amazon’s tally, have garnered 4.5 out of 5 stars from more than 4,000 reviewers on the site.

“It was an instant hit. In it, Isaacson broke major news, ignited one of Apple’s longest-standing rumors (the TV), and broadly painted Jobs as the impatient, relentless, perfectionist Apple founder we remember today,” recount Fletcher Babb and Harrison Weber on VentureBeat.

But “since then, some protested Isaacson’s portrayal. Apple designer-in-chief Jony Ive called it inaccurate (“My regard couldn’t be any lower,” he said in an epic New Yorker profile). Apple watcher and Markdown creator John Gruber also fiercely criticized the book, suggesting that Isaacson 'mistrusted Jobs'."

Cook says in the new biography that Isaacson’s effort was a “tremendous disservice” to Jobs. A story he toldSchlender and Tetzeli about Jobs immediately rejecting his offer to donate part of his liver — the two shared the same rare blood type — is part of the effort to rehabilitate Job’s reputation as a self-absorbed autocrat.

At first, Apple refused to cooperate with the book. 

“We decided to participate in Brent and Rick’s book because of Brent’s long relationship with Steve, which gave him a unique perspective on Steve’s life,” Apple spokesman Steve Dowling tells the NYT’s Chen and Alter. “The book captures Steve better than anything else we’ve seen, and we are happy we decided to participate.”

For his part, Isaacson tells them: “It’s really cool that there are other books coming out by people who knew Steve and where those who really loved him can put forth their views, because that’s how history is made.” 

Isaacson has said in past interviews that he felt he’d “got very emotionally — more, normally, than you do as a journalist — involved in” the writing of the biography, according to a piece by the Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama when his book was published, including getting “a little caught up in Jobs’s 'reality-distortion field' after the late Apple co-founder told the author that he would wait a year to read the book,” making him hopeful that his subject might survive the pancreatic cancer that actually was in its late stages.

Some of the headlines out there this week will, one would expect, justify Crown’s upping its initial print run of the new book from 40,000 to 85,000: “Steve Jobs Had A Crazy Idea For Pixar's Office To Force People To Talk More” (Business Insider); “Disney CEO Bob Iger Knew Steve Jobs' Cancer Was Back Before Pixar Deal” (Fast Company); “Steve Jobs Rudely Snubbed Neil Young's Peace Offering” (Cult of Mac); “Why Jony Ive Once Thought Steve Jobs Was Going To Fire Him” (BGR).

With an “unforgiving” new documentary — “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” debuting last week at SXSW and a movie based on Isaacson’s book — starring Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Seth Rogen as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak — due out later this year, Jobs is proving to be a story that just keeps on giving.

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