People talk, they always have they always will. But then they also write and this happens only when the life one has lived was worth celebrating. They do the talking when life is ordinary but they engrave it in the golden pages of history when someone’s life becomes a lesson, an inspiration and an example to live by. When they are talking about you it could be commemoration or ridicule but when they write about you it means you have arrived.
Great minds generally don’t believe the spoken but once it is a book in our hands, what should we as readers do? Should we blindly accept what the author’s interpretation of a person is or do we have the liberty to form our own opinion of that celebrated person’s life? If the answer happens to be in the affirmative, what then, are our sources of knowing a person because we clearly didn’t know him personally? Whenever a reader picks up a biography, I am sure this question haunts him.
A biography gives us an unprecedented access to a person’s life but we see that life through the author’s perspective. The author is the one who is fortunate enough to conduct multiple interviews with the person, who is blessed enough to meet his family, colleagues, friends and adversaries and listen to umpteen anecdotes of that person’s remarkable life. Thus, the author paints a picture of that person with the colors of his ideas. This picture is a reflection of his understanding of that person. Are we, as readers, bound by the shackles of their words or are we free to read more from other sources and draw our own image? If yes, how reliable are the other sources? The media happens to be a potent source but it is also an unfiltered one and with the kind of yellow journalism which is prevalent in India forming the right image of the person is an uphill task. So we, as readers, are rather powerless and what we think is as good as what we read.
I am not a Biography aficionado, but one fine day I happened to pick up “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson which captures the fascinating life of the Apple Inc. CEO impeccably.
It gives us a more than detailed account of his incredible journey. The book narrates how he lived, how passionate he was about technology and the company. It describes his vision and what course of action he took to achieve his dream. Most of the book did not create a ruffle in me because the book talked about the passion with which he works and described him as the eccentric mastermind, which is clearly visible because Apple Inc. is in fact the most valued company in the world. But excerpts from the book which talk about Steve Jobs chucking out important members of the company and sabotaging some careers and the much talked about Jobs and Gates divide raises some eyebrows. For the hard-core entrepreneurs these acts can be justified as collateral damage and that he shed his blood and sweat for the company and thus the acts were fair enough but for some honest people this might be a big moral wrong. Also, Gates being the philanthropist who wanted to work on numbers and Jobs being the cut-throat competitor who focused on giving his products the luxury value that they hold could never have worked together. The way this separation happened was uncalled for on the part of Jobs but the way it is described in the book proves that the biography was in fact created by the subject himself, that Steve Jobs in fact had the last word. The author doesn’t seem to have any motive of portraying Jobs in a negative or positive light but the contentious turns of his life seem to have been justified by him.
When I read the book I did question some of the decisions he took and I did have a clash with the author’s opinion on it. But I still consider Jobs as one of the biggest entrepreneurs that has ever lived whose vision which was larger than life and was indeed capable of “creating a dent in the universe”. Although, a good read of this book made me believe that more than what the author feels about the person, what matters is what he decides to write about them and that’s how he shapes the image of the legend in the reader’s mind. When an author weaves the tale of a person’s life, we as readers start drawing a parallel image of him as we go about that book. And since that person is an achiever (the precise reason why the biography is written in the first place) who does affect our lives in some way or the other, all his eccentricities and faults fade into the background. How we judge him is not only driven by the author’s perception of him but also by how we define success. A reader is not crippled by the crutches of the author’s words, he always has the freedom to form his own image of the celebrated life.