Steve Jobs: Revelations from a tech giant

Steve Jobs was already gravely ill with cancer when he asked author Walter Isaacson to write his biography. Jobs told Isaacson to write a honest book -- about his failings and his strengths.

CBS All Access
This video is available on Paramount+

His products - the Mac, iPhone, iPad and others - forever changed the way we think about technology. But how should we think about the man behind them, Apple's hard-driving co-founder Steve Jobs? In the years before his death, Jobs granted biographer Walter Isaacson more than 40 interviews, many recorded on tape. The result, as Steve Kroft reveals in this two-part story, is a rich portrait of an extraordinary innovator, whose outsized talents were matched by very human limitations.

The following script is from "Steve Jobs" which aired on Oct. 23, 2011. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. Graham Messick, producer.

Seven years ago, Steve Jobs asked Walter Isaacson, a former editor of TIME Magazine, if he would write his biography. Isaacson, who has done books about Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, thought the request presumptuous and premature, since Jobs was still a young man. What Isaacson didn't know at the time, and only a few people did, was that Jobs was about to undergo surgery for pancreatic cancer and was feeling his mortality. It speaks to the secrecy with which Jobs conducted his life and his business, adding mystery to an already compelling figure.

In 2009, with Jobs already gravely ill, Isaacson began the first of more than 40 interviews with him - the last was conducted a few weeks before his death. Some of them were tape recorded and you will hear parts of them tonight. "I have no skeletons in my closet that can't be allowed out," Jobs said. And like a well-timed Apple launch, the book titled simply - "Steve Jobs" - will be in stores tomorrow just two-and-a-half weeks after he died.

Complete coverage: Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

When Walter Isaacson first began working on the book, which is published by Simon and Schuster, a division of CBS, Steve Jobs' wife, Laurene Powell, told him, "Be honest with his failings as well as his strengths. There are parts of his life and his personality that are extremely messy. You shouldn't whitewash it. I'd like to see that it's all told truthfully."

Walter Isaacson: He's not warm and fuzzy.

And to do it, Isaacson interviewed more than 100 people - Jobs' friends, family, co-workers and competitors.

Steve Kroft: I think it's a tough book.

Isaacson: It's a book that's fair. I mean, this is a real human being.

Kroft: He had lots of flaws.

Isaacson: He was very petulant. He was very brittle. He could be very, very mean to people at times. Whether it was to a waitress in a restaurant, or to a guy who had stayed up all night coding, he could just really just go at them and say, "You're doin' this all wrong. It's horrible." And you'd say, "Why did you do that? Why weren't you nicer?" And he'd say, "I really wanna be with people who demand perfection. And this is who I am."

Isaacson believes that much of it can be traced to the earliest years of his life, and to the fact that Jobs was born out of wedlock, given up by his birth parents, and adopted by a working class couple from Mountain View, California.

Isaacson: Paul Jobs was a salt-of-the-earth guy who was a great mechanic. And he taught his son Steve how to make great things. And he--once they were building a fence. And he said, "You got to make the back of the fence that nobody will see just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you're dedicated to making something perfect."

Jobs always knew he was adopted, but it still had a profound effect on him. He told Isaacson this story from his early childhood during one of their many taped interviews:

[Steve Jobs, audio: I was, I remember right here on the lawn, telling Lisa McMoylar from across the street that I was adopted. And she said, "So does that mean your real parents didn't want you?" Ooooh, lightning bolts went off in my head. I remember running into the house, I think I was like crying, asking my parents. And they sat me down and they said, "No, you don't understand. We specifically picked you out."]