Writing about Steve Jobs



One night, the author, Henry James, lit a gigantic bonfire fueled by his letters and diaries. The idea was to foil any grave-robbing biographer who sought to pillage his life after death. Henry’s "utter and absolute abhorrence" of the biographer is well founded [1]. The biographer is at once a butcher and healer. He selects which information is useful, and which is not. He labours in a messy workshop filled with forgotten objects, precious relics, tweets, testimonies, alibis, emails, and the unverifiable. All of this is bolted and welded together to build a monstrous semblance of someone's delicately formed life. Under the shadow of this abomination, the biographer feels the mighty impotence of the written word. He tries to tell a tale with some sort of momentum using the spare parts of anecdote, rumour and popular myth. What does biography do with facts that are lost or can’t be fixed? How do you write about the life of a man who avoids private questions, who stood up a New York Times reporter and an entire PBS crew, and walked out on a Wall Street Journal interview after the first question? [2]  Biographer, Hermione Lee, says biography is a process of "making up or making over", giving the life story a "bit of shape", collapsing two days into one [3]. Sometimes he shuffles around the time-line, not unlike the tracks on an iPod. This is the challenge set before the biographer. He only wants to know how the giants around him grew into what they are.


[1] Edel, L. (1987) Henry James: A Life. New York: Harper Collins.
[2] Deutschman, A. (2000) The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. New York: Broadway.
[3] Lee, H. (2005) Body Parts: Essays in Life-Writing. New York: Chatto & Windus.

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