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Monday
Oct242011

Steve Jobs' Biographer on the Apple CEO's Polarizing Persona

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Steve Jobs, in the eyes of his biographer Walter Isaacson, was an enigma -- a tough businessman with the temperament of an artist, a sometimes-cruel executive who also cried easily, and an exacting innovator with a messy personal life.

"He wanted perfection," said Isaacson in an interview with ABC's Nightline anchor Bill Weir. "And it was like a Picasso.  It was either perfect or it was worthless.  And so that was his main temperament, which caused him to be, at times, very prickly, very tough on people.  He could yell and scream.  But he's also awesomely charismatic and building the most insanely great machine in the world."

In Steve Jobs, Isaacson describes a driven man, given up as an infant for adoption, a college dropout who had a child out of wedlock and became fascinated by Zen Buddhism, but also had overwhelming success at an early age with the first Apple computers.

Isaacson said Jobs often sought out father figures in his career, then fought them, whether it was deliberately driving without license plates on his car, or early on in his career, skipping showers and wearing shoes to the office -- the former habit, coupled with his prickly personality, that left his superiors at the video game company Atari to banish Jobs to an overnight shift.  

Only after he had been badly wounded, forced out of Apple in 1985 and then brought back a decade later, did he become the disciplined technological titan who brought out the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.

"You know, he's a very emotional guy," said Isaacson, talking about the late Jobs in the present tense.  "And there are many times, even in our conversations just sitting around at his house with him, where tears come to his eyes.  Tears come to his eyes when he's talking about the beauty of what they designed for the Macintosh."

"So one of the things that struck me the most," Isaacson said, "is how deeply emotional he is, which is why he makes emotional connections very strongly with people."

But he could be merciless in his rants at co-workers and competitors -- "willing to go thermonuclear war" against Google when he thought his one-time friends there were copying the iPhone with their Android software.

Isaacson talked about the "reality distortion field" around Jobs -- the uncanny power he had to make people think he was right and make things go his way.

In the end, he found it didn't always work.  In 2003, he was first diagnosed with cancer and delayed surgery while he tried herbal remedies, acupuncture and treatments he found on the Internet.

Isaacson writes that Jobs' wife, Laurene, was exasperated and increasingly desperate.

"He said that, in retrospect, he's sorry," Isaacson said.  "He said that he didn't want his body to be opened up.  He said that he regrets, you know, waiting so long."

"A lot of people wait before they have an operation," the author continued. "I just think that he has such belief in his power of magical thinking that, in this case, it failed him."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio