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Local Author Alan Deutschman Makes a Big Splash with The Second Coming of Steve Jobs
By Kathy Dalle-Molle
In his 12-year career as a writer for such notable publications as Fortune, GQ, and New York, Noe Valley journalist Alan Deutschman has published stories on just about every business bigwig you can think of--from Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson and junk bond king Michael Milken to Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos and Microsoft's Bill Gates.
But none has been as tough to figure out nor as anxious to protect his privacy as the subject of Deutschman's new book: Steve Jobs, the 45-year-old charismatic chief executive of Apple Computer.
Since midsummer, The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, due in bookstores Oct. 10, has been the subject of intense curiosity among the business press and Apple watchers. With a 27,500 initial print run, foreign rights sales to Germany, Japan, and Taiwan, an excerpt in the October issue of Talk magazine, and reviews slated to appear in the New York Times, Washington Post, Fortune, and Business Week, the 304-page-turner is likely to create even more buzz in the coming weeks.
And Jobs, who refused to be interviewed for the book, is not pleased.
In early August, he phoned Peter Olson, the chief executive at Random House, whose Broadway Books division is publishing the book, to complain about Deutschman's warts-and-all approach.
Deutschman wasn't surprised. "I had heard from a number of people that when they told Steve they were being interviewed by me, he would roll his eyes and say, 'That book is a hatchet job.'"
But Random House wasn't about to budge. "Both my editor Suzanne Oaks and publisher Steve Rubin said they would not change a comma in the book," Deutschman says. "In fact, Random House was annoyed that Steve would try to influence them and interfere with their editorial integrity. They told me that they are 100 percent behind me, and I have no doubt of that.
"My editor even sent me a fruit basket that week, which was good, because I was so barraged with phone calls from the press about the situation that I couldn't get out of the house to get anything to eat!"
Deutschman's book offers a behind-the-scenes look at Jobs' tenure at Apple, Pixar Animation Studios, and the failed Next Computers, spanning the years 1985 to 2000. The book, written in an informal style--as if a good friend is confiding the secrets of a fascinating mutual acquaintance--provides insight into Jobs' intimidating leadership style and his thirst for power and fame.
Deutschman also offers up lots of juicy tidbits--from Jobs' blind date with Diane Keaton and his double dates with Bill Gates (along with Gates' prank phone calls to Jobs), to the fact that he "liked to personally deliver Macintoshes to celebrities he had long admired," including Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, and Andy Warhol.
Deutschman labels Jobs "the Jackie Kennedy Onassis of business and technology--a figure who was ubiquitous as a symbol of his times but little known as a human being."
Some of the book's more interesting details include:
x After being let go from Apple in 1985, Jobs considered a run for the U.S. Senate. He also contemplated flying on the space shuttle Challenger, and working with Mikhail Gorbachev to promote computers in Soviet schools.
x One friend feared that Jobs was close to suicide as he reached age 30.
x Jobs tried to sell Pixar before the release of the box-office hit Toy Story. After realizing the movie was a winner, Jobs whipped the company off the market.
Deutschman also writes about the friendship between Jobs and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and Jobs' relationship with his sister, novelist Mona Simpson.
For most of 1999 and into early 2000, Deutschman, now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, spent countless hours poring through piles of press clippings and shelves of books written about Jobs and Apple. He interviewed close to 100 sources, including Apple, Next, and Pixar insiders, as well as journalists, publicists, and other competitors.
Not surprisingly, about 40 of his sources would not talk for attribution.
"Silicon Valley is organized like a floating crap game," Deutschman explains. "People never know who they're going to end up working for again, so they're concerned about revealing information, particularly about powerful, sometimes vindictive, people. But," Deutschman adds, "I also talked to a lot of accomplished people who are very secure in who they are and felt free to speak their opinions and offer their insights."
During the reporting process, it wasn't unusual for Deutschman to schedule an early-morning breakfast with a source in Palo Alto, then head to Marin for a long lunch with another source, and finally sit down for late-afternoon coffee in Berkeley with yet another interviewee.
"Some people I spent an entire day with," he says. "Some I interviewed over multiple long lunches. Some people I spoke to for just 10 minutes and got one good anecdote. In Silicon Valley, almost everyone has at least one Steve Jobs story. I figured that if I got one really good lead a day or one insight or one fact, and if I did this for enough days, I would have a pretty rich understanding of Steve Jobs."
Deutschman, 35, wrote the book from a corner of his sun-filled, shabby-chic living room in the Dolores Street flat he shares with his girlfriend of four years, Katharine Mieszkowski, a senior technology writer for the online magazine Salon. From the papers, files, and notebooks strewn about the sparsely furnished flat, there's no doubt this is the home of two reporters.
Starting his days with a double espres-so, Deutschman pounded away at his computer from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., then spent afternoons unwinding by strolling up and down 24th Street, stopping into some of his favorite haunts: Martha's for coffee, Real Food for produce, Manhattan Bagel for a snack, and Cover to Cover, Phoenix, and Good News for the latest reading material. "I'm a magazine and book junkie," he confesses.
Born and raised in Monmouth County, N.J., Deutschman is the son of two teachers. His father Hal is a college professor while his mother Elaine is a public school teacher, now retired. His younger brother Robert also teaches public school. Deutschman, on the other hand, earned a bachelor's degree in politics from Princeton University and was always interested in journalism.
In elementary school, he published his own newspaper, and by junior high he was writing articles for a local community paper. While at Princeton, he interned at the Wall Street Journal and U.S. News & World Report and was a stringer for Newsweek.
After graduating, he was hired as a fact checker for Fortune in New York and worked his way up to a writing position by 1991. In 1992, he moved to San Francisco to man Fortune's one-person Silicon Valley bureau.
"No one else wanted to go," recalls Deutschman. "A decade ago, there really wasn't much interest among the New York media in what was going on in Silicon Valley. No one wanted to uproot their life in New York to take the position. I was the youngest, least experienced writer. I was single, no kids, so I said, 'Hey, I'll go to California.'"
For three years, Deutschman was Fortune's sole presence on the entire West Coast. "A corner of my apartment in Pacific Heights was Fortune's West Coast bureau," he laughs.
"It was an amazing change for me," he continues. "I went from living in this decrepit 19th-century tenement building with crumbling wallpaper in Manhattan to living in an apartment in Pacific Heights with a beautiful view of the Bay and light and sun."
When he turned 30 in 1995, Deutsch-man decided he needed a change and quit Fortune. "I realized I had spent my entire 20s writing for a business magazine when I had a lot of other interests--arts, culture, politics--that I wanted to write about," he explains. "Plus, being immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, people kept wondering what was wrong with me. I had been in the same job for seven years when most people here have three or four jobs in that amount of time."
He freelanced for a year and then took a staff writing position at GQ and moved back to New York, but came back to San Francisco frequently to visit his girlfriend Katharine. After two years, he quit GQ to move back to San Francisco. "Two years of long-distance dating was enough," he says.
In early 1999, he got a call from Suzanne Oaks at Broadway Books, whom he had met for lunch in New York almost two years earlier. She wanted to know if he was interested in writing a book about Steve Jobs' comeback.
"I instantly said it was a great idea," Deutschman recalls. "I'd had a long history of writing about Silicon Valley billionaires/moguls/CEOs. I'm fascinated with megalomaniacs, and I'm interested in power and what people will do for it and how it affects them. In the '90s, there's really a new awareness of businesspeople and their power and impact on society.
"For years, I'd been looking for the right topic for a book, but Silicon Valley changes so rapidly, and with books you need to predict two to three years into the future what people are going to want to read about. But people have been interested in Steve Jobs for 20 years, and I think they're going to be interested in him for a long time to come."
Deutschman is nonplused that some of the early reviews of The Second Coming of Steve Jobs have criticized the book for being gossipy in nature.
"To understand a person, you have to look at his whole life and how crises and decisions in both his personal and professional life shape his character," he explains. "Steve Jobs' work life does not just happen in a vacuum.
"Who he dates, who he marries, for example, reflects his character and personality. I'm not presenting the material to dish the dirt or gossip. I do it to weave together different aspects of his life for a richer portrayal--to show he is a real person, that he's done fun, wacky things, but he has that extra drive, ambition, and perseverance. For some people, this is called gossip. To me, it is about humanizing icons, showing they are extraordinary people but with the same fears, passions, and flaws as the rest of us."
Even though Deutschman believes "the next 15 years of Steve Jobs' life will be as interesting and as tempestuous as the last 15," he is ready to tackle some new reporting challenges. He's currently interviewing winemakers, cheesemakers, and organic farmers for his next book--about the people and culture of the Sonoma and Napa valleys--which is as yet untitled and due to be published by Broadway Books in 2002.
"At 45, I don't think Steve Jobs is going to sit quietly at home any time soon, but I need a little time to pass before I think about writing about him again. Who knows, though? Maybe there'll be a book called 'The Third Coming of Steve Jobs,'" he laughs.
Alan Deutschman will be reading from The Second Coming of Steve Jobs at Cover to Cover, 3910 24th St., on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m., and at Stacey's Books, 581 Market St., on Oct. 23 at 12:30 p.m. For more information on the book and Deutsch-man's other scheduled readings, visit his web site at www.alandeutschman.com.