Pre-Sales High for University Overseer’s Bio on Steve Jobs

In the wake of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ death, the innovator’s first authorized biography, written by Harvard Overseer Walter S. Isaacson ’74 and scheduled to debut on October 24, has become the most popular pre-ordered book on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Jobs—who died last Wednesday of complications from pancreatic cancer at age 56—first approached Isaacson to write the book roughly two years ago. Isaacson is well known for his best-selling biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, and joked in a TIME Magazine memorial that he wondered if Jobs saw himself as the “natural successor in that sequence.”

Sony Pictures has already purchased the film rights to the book, which will be released almost a month earlier than anticipated since publisher Simon & Schuster has moved up the biography’s release date.

Computer Science Professor Eddie Kohler said he believes the public reaction to Jobs’ death is reflective of his enormous impact on the technology world.

He added that the recent surge of interest in Jobs’ life is “not to cash in [on Jobs’ death],” he said, “but to be inspired by his legacy.”

Simon & Schuster has advertised the book as an “unvarnished view” of Jobs’ life, writing in the preview on Amazon.com that Jobs asked for no control over what Isaacson wrote.

Isaacson recently wrote in TIME that a few weeks before Jobs’ death, he asked Isaacson over to his Palo Alto home and told him that his motivation for authorizing the biography was to document his life for his four children.

“I wanted my kids to know me,” Jobs told Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute and a former TIME managing editor. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

Kohler said that he was not necessarily convinced that this sentimental anecdote was representative of the importance of Jobs’ life and work.

“It’s obvious that his work life was what was important to him,” he said, “Maybe he died too young for his kids to be able to talk about it with him.”

Some suggest that Jobs is a dualistic figure—both an innovator and a capitalist—but Kohler criticized that perspective.

“There weren’t two Steve Jobs: the good Steve Jobs who created products and the evil one who sold them,” Kohler said, adding that Jobs was “totally willing to use his image to sell his vision.”

Computer Science Professor James H. Waldo expressed doubts that the biography would have any major impact on how people see Jobs in the future.

“Our image of him today is still wrapped up in what he did at Apple. We won’t know his true legacy for five years,” Waldo said.

He went on to say that while the media can “try to capitalize” on public grief over Jobs’ death, its impact would ultimately be limited.

“The legacy is what it is, and the legacy will stand on its own,” he said.

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