When he was restored to the throne at Apple, we put him on the cover of Time,
and soon thereafter he began offering me his ideas for a series we were doing on the most influential people of the century.
He had launched his “Think Different” campaign,
featuring iconic photos of some of the same people we were considering, and he found the endeavor of assessing historic influence fascinating.
After I had deflected his suggestion that I write a biography of him, I heard from him every now and then.
At one point I emailed to ask if it was true, as my daughter had told me,
that the Apple logo was an homage to Alan Turing,
the British computer pioneer who broke the German wartime codes and then committed suicide by biting into a cyanide-laced apple.
He replied that he wished he had thought of that, but hadn’t.
That started an exchange about the early history of Apple,
and I found myself gathering string on the subject, just in case I ever decided to do such a book.
When my Einstein biography came out, he came to a book event in Palo Alto and pulled me aside to suggest, again, that he would make a good subject.
His persistence baffled me.
He was known to guard his privacy, and I had no reason to believe he’d ever read any of my books.
Maybe someday, I continued to say. But in 2009 his wife, Laurene Powell, said bluntly,
“If you’re ever going to do a book on Steve, you’d better do it now.”
He had just taken a second medical leave.
I confessed to her that when he had first raised the idea, I hadn’t known he was sick.
Almost nobody knew, she said. He had called me right before he was going to be operated on for cancer, and he was still keeping it a secret, she explained.
I decided then to write this book.
Jobs surprised me by readily acknowledging that he would have no control over it or even the right to see it in advance.
“It’s your book,” he said. “I won’t even read it.”
But later that fall he seemed to have second thoughts about cooperating and, though I didn’t know it, was hit by another round of cancer complications.
He stopped returning my calls, and I put the project aside for a while.
Then, unexpectedly, he phoned me late on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2009.
He was at home in Palo Alto with only his sister, the writer Mona Simpson.
His wife and their three children had taken a quick trip to go skiing, but he was not healthy enough to join them.
He was in a reflective mood, and we talked for more than an hour.
He began by recalling that he had wanted to build a frequency counter when he was twelve,
and he was able to look up Bill Hewlett, the founder of HP, in the phone book and call him to get parts.
Jobs said that the past twelve years of his life, since his return to Apple, had been his most productive in terms of creating new products.
But his more important goal, he said, was to do what Hewlett and his friend David Packard had done,
which was create a company that was so imbued with innovative creativity that it would outlive them.
“I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,”
he said. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences,
and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
It was as if he were suggesting themes for his biography (and in this instance, at least, the theme turned out to be valid).
The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein,
and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.