Christina Pazzanese in the Harvard Gazette:
Isaacson ’74 is the best-selling author of landmark biographies of Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin. A former journalist who has headed CNN and Time magazine, Isaacson is currently CEO of the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies think tank in Washington, D.C., as well as a Harvard Overseer. He spoke with the Gazette about what he learned in his research and how truly lasting innovation is often found where our humanity meets our machinery.
GAZETTE: What drew you to a subject as complicated and fluid as the history of the Digital Revolution?
ISAACSON: I was always an electronics geek as a kid. I made ham radios and soldered circuits in the basement. My father and uncles were all electrical engineers. When I was head of digital media for Time Inc. in the early 1990s, as the Web was just being invented, I became interested in how the Internet came to be. When I interviewed Bill Gates, he convinced me that I should do a book not just about the Internet, but its connection to the rise of the personal computer. So I’ve been working on this for about 15 years. I put it aside when Steve Jobs asked me to do his biography, but that convinced me even more there was a need for a history of the Digital Age that explained how Steve Jobs became Steve Jobs.
GAZETTE: You’re known for your “Great Man”-style biographies, and yet this is a story about famous, seminal figures and the lesser-knowns who contributed to the Digital Revolution in some way. Can you tell me about that approach?
ISAACSON: The first book I did after college (with a friend) was about six not very famous individuals who worked as a team creating American foreign policy. It was called “The Wise Men.” Ever since then, I’ve done biographies. Those of us who write biographies know that to some extent we distort history. We make it seem like somebody in a garage or in a garret has a “light-bulb moment” and the world changes, when in fact creativity is a collaborative endeavor and a team sport. I wanted to get back to doing a book like “The Wise Men” to show how cultural forces and collaborative teams helped create the Internet and the computer.