Ever since Steve Jobs died on Oct. 5, much has been written but little revealed about a man who was the face of an iconic American company. But now comes the official biography, published less than three weeks after the death of the Apple co-founder. Over the course of two years and 40 interviews, biographer Walter Isaacson had unique access to Jobs, right up until Jobs' death at age 56.
The biography, simply titled Steve Jobs, delves into the computer visionary's personal life and professional legacy — from learning the art of good craftsmanship as a kid, to becoming a notoriously demanding boss, to fighting the cancer that eventually killed him.
Jobs told Isaacson that he was "50/50" on the existence of God, and that he wasn't sure whether there was an afterlife. But he was hopeful, he said, that something would endure after death. There's no question for Isaacson that Jobs' legacy will endure: "History will place him in the pantheon right next to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford," he writes.
On Tuesday's Morning Edition, Isaacson talks with NPR's Renee Montagne about what he learned from conversations with Jobs' family, friends, competitors and colleagues.
On Jobs' father, who rebuilt cars, and held design and craftsmanship in high regard:
"He would show Steve the curve of the designs and the interiors and the shapes ... and even have pictures of the cars he liked the most in the garage. He put a little workbench in the garage, and he said, 'Steve, this is now your workbench.'
"One of the most important things he taught Steve was [that] it's important to be a great craftsman, even for the parts unseen. When they were building a fence, he said, 'You have to make the back of the fence that people won't see look just as beautiful as the front, just like a great carpenter would make the back of a chest of drawers ... Even though others won't see it, you will know it's there, and that will make you more proud of your design.'"
On asking his adoptive parents about whether his biological parents didn't want him:
"They said, 'No, no, no, Steve. It wasn't as if you were abandoned. You were special. We specially picked you out. You were chosen.' ... And as Jobs told me when he talked about it, [he felt] slightly apart, slightly independent."
On Jobs' 'reality distortion field':
"[The term] was invented ... by two engineers at the original Macintosh team. ... Steve will say something like, 'This piece of software needs to be written by the end of the week.' And they say, 'No, no, it'll take three months.' And he says, 'No, in reality it has to be done by the end of this week and it will be done.' And then it would happen. ... [Apple co-founder Steve] Wozniak said [Jobs'] reality distortion field made you believe you could do things that were impossible."
On Jobs being extremely demanding, and how the Macintosh team responded:
"[Jobs] would say, 'This is a dumb idea. This stinks.' ... In the original Macintosh team, they gave an award to the person who each year stood up to Steve Jobs the best."
On what Jobs thought of Bill Gates:
"[Jobs and Gates are] the binary star systems of the digital age: two stars whose gravitational pull is so strong that their orbits are linked. To say that they loved each other would be wrong. To say that they hated or disliked each other would be wrong. It was one of those complex digital-age relationships where there is both a rivalry and a respect, and they realize how interrelated they are.
"One of the things, though, that Bill Gates felt about Steve Jobs correctly was that he was not a great technologist. He correctly said, 'Steve Jobs doesn't code.' He doesn't ... he's not an engineer. On the other hand, Jobs felt, also correctly, that Bill Gates did not have intuitive taste. He didn't have a passion for the aesthetics or the design."
On how Jobs responded when he learned he had pancreatic cancer:
"He tried alternative treatments. ... For a few months, he thought, I don't want my body opened. I don't want to be violated. I want to see if there are alternative methods. But he does have the operation nine months later. ... He told me he regrets waiting so long, and we'll never know whether he would have caught the cancer. But let's remember: He lives for another seven years — and seven astonishingly productive years. ... He beats back the cancer, stays one step ahead of it, for quite a long time."
On Jobs' thoughts about God and what happens when you die:
"[One afternoon we] were sitting in his backyard ... and he was not in the best of health at the time. ... He said, 'You know, I'm kind of 50/50 on believing in God. But I want to believe that something endures, that your wisdom that you accumulate, that the knowledge that you have somehow is able to endure after you die.'
"And then he pauses, and he says, 'Maybe that's just wishful thinking. Maybe that's just like an on-off switch.' And he goes, 'Click, you're off. You're gone. It's over.' And then he paused for a moment and he said, 'Maybe that's why I didn't like to put on-off switches on Apple devices.' "