Steve Jobs left few visible tracks in Washington politics, but it wasn’t for a lack of influence, according to a new biography.
During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he told President Bill Clinton in a late-night phone call that if he had a dalliance with the intern, “you’ve got to tell the country.”
As the Justice Department prepared its landmark antitrust suit against Microsoft, Jobs advised the lead prosecutor to keep the company, Jobs’s rival, tied up in litigation.
And in fall 2010, during a private meeting with President Obama, Jobs lectured that the United States must be more business-friendly and keep factories free from unnecessary regulations.
“You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” he warned Obama.
The biography, “Steve Jobs,” is due in stores Monday, but The Washington Post and other media outlets obtained copies and flooded the Internet with excerpts Friday. Author Walter Isaacson, who received more than 40 interviews with the mercurial co-founder of Apple, covers the life of one of the nation’s most important innovators, from his sometimes appalling personal behavior to the creation of the products that transformed personal computers and music consumption.
The book, like the iPod and Mac, came about in large part because Jobs — who died two weeks ago at 56 — wanted it to.
Months after he first had cancer diagnosed in late 2003, Jobs called Isaacson, the noted biographer of Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein, and asked whether Isaacson would write about about him, too.
Jobs had decided to open up, eventually speaking to Isaacson about everything from his feelings about being adopted to his yet-unfulfilled plan to revolutionize television sets. He encouraged those closest to him to answer questions. The famously private chief executive even talked to Isaacson as he was close to death. Why?
“I wanted my kids to know me,” he told Isaacson shortly before he died, according to the new book. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”
The portrait created in “Steve Jobs” is largely favorable. The handpicked biographer likens Jobs to Ford and Edison, though not to his previous subject, Einstein. It gives detailed accounts of Jobs’s transformative innovations with the Apple II, the Mac, the iPod and the iPhone.
It also delves into the mystery of genius. If Jobs had any engineering inclinations early on, they seemed well-hidden — at least to his adoptive father, Paul Jobs, who liked to tinker with cars.
“He really wasn’t interested in getting his hands dirty,” the father is quoted as saying. “He never really cared too much about mechanical things.”
But as Isaacson tells it, Jobs grew up around Silicon Valley and was swept up in the ambient excitement over technology.
The trail that Jobs traveled to the top is littered with wounded, many of them the people closest to him, and the book seeks to answer the question of what motivated Jobs to be both brilliant and bullying.
Jobs asked for no control over the book’s content, according to Isaacson, and it shows. The book chronicles the sometimes shabby treatment he accorded his adoring and ever-accommodating adoptive parents; the daughter he fathered when he was 23 and largely abandoned until she was 10; and how he appears to have cheated Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, during one of the duo’s first business ventures.
As one of Jobs’s old friends tells Isaacson: “The one question I’d truly love Steve to answer is, ‘Why are you sometimes so mean?’ ”
If there was one trauma that persisted throughout much of his life, and which seems somehow connected to his extreme behavior, it was the effect of his adoption.
At the age of 6 or 7, Jobs told the girl who lived across the street that he was adopted and she asked if that meant his “real parents didn’t want you.”
His adoptive parents, whom Jobs seemed to revere, explained that they had picked him out. But through much of his life, Jobs appeared to have been on an ill-defined spiritual quest — including a seven-month trip to India, extreme diets and primal-scream therapy. And the quest at times seemed to relate to his adoption, his friends told Isaacson.
“The primal scream and the mucusless diets, he was trying to cleanse himself and get deeper into his frustration about his birth,” a friend, Greg Calhoun, said.
Jobs was as obsessive and difficult to deal with in his romantic relationships as he was about his work, according to Isaacson. In the book, Jobs singles out the three women who had the greatest impact on him: folk singer Joan Baez, computer consultant Tina Redse and former Goldman Sachs trader Laurene Powell.
“There were only two women in my life that I was truly in love with, Tina and Laurene,” Jobs told Isaacson. “I thought I was in love with Joan Baez, but I really just liked her a lot.”
Jobs met Baez in 1982 through her sister, who was seeking charity donations of computers. Jobs was 27; she was 41.
He described it as a serious relationship between “two accidental friends who became lovers,” but a college friend surmises in the book that one of the only reasons Jobs went out with her was that she had once been involved with one of Jobs’s greatest idols, Bob Dylan.
Jobs’s relationship with Washington is not a major element in the book, but he had moments when he offered testy political opinions. He said he was disappointed in Obama because “he is reluctant to offend people.” Jobs smiled and added, “Yes, that’s not a problem I ever had.”
Questions about religion seemed to weigh on Jobs throughout his life. He said that he spent years studying Zen Buddhism and that he thinks “different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery.”
Later, he told Isaacson, “I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God.”
“I like to think that something survives after you die,” Jobs said. “It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.”
Jobs then fell silent for what Isaacson describes as a “very long time,” before continuing.
“But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch. . . . Click! And you’re gone.”