The Two-Way
5:24 am
Mon January 6, 2014

Book News: Steve Jobs Biographer Asks Internet To Help Edit New Book

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Walter Isaacson, the author of a bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, is posting chapters of his next book online for crowdsourced edits. The as-yet-untitled book, which he describes as "a narrative about the people who helped to create the most important innovations of the digital age," argues that innovation is often the result of collaboration, rather than a single inventor. In keeping with that idea, he has posted sections on websites including LiveJournal, Scribd and Medium, and asked for "notes, comments, [and] corrections." In an email to NPR, Isaacson said that in the few weeks since he posted the excerpts, "I have gotten close to 200 suggestions that I would consider substantive and useful." Among the responses was one from Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, who is the subject of one of the excerpts. Isaacson wrote in the email that "[Brand] has subsequently enlisted some of his fellow key players to help fill in a few of the gaps. Other comments range from small word fixes to ideas that have caused me to add a couple of paragraphs to my narrative." Isaacson emphasized that while he is asking strangers via the Internet to edit his work, he is also relying on more traditional editors, including two at his publisher, Simon and Schuster, as well as "ten friends who are carefully editing it, plus two paid fact checkers who are experts in computer programming and the history of technology."
  • In a tribute in the Daily Mail, Martin Amis credits his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, who died last week, with sparking his literary career: "When Jane took me on I ... read nothing but comics, plus the occasional Harold Robbins and (for example) the dirty bits in Lady Chatterley's Lover; I had recently sat an A-level in English — the only subject in which I showed the slightest promise — and I failed."
  • Journalist and author Simon Hoggart, who was known for his wry and fast-flowing wit, died Sunday at age 67. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than three years ago. A columnist for The Guardian and a regular guest on NPR's Weekend Edition, Hoggart also published some 20 books, which ranged from political writings to a wine guide to Don't Tell Mum: Hair-raising Messages Home from Gap-year Travellers. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said in a statement, "He wrote with mischief and a sometimes acid eye about the theatre of politics. But he wrote from a position of sophisticated knowledge and respect for Parliament."

The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • Leaving the Sea: Stories by Ben Marcus — "And on the eighth day, God made his creatures so lonely they wept." If any one sentence captures the essence of Leaving the Sea, that would be it. Much of Marcus' latest short story collection is made up of Sad Guy stories: Maybe he's sick, he's definitely lonely, and he's probably a whiner. And yet, somehow, Marcus makes you love each of his Sad Guys; he forces you to empathize against your will. It's difficult and exhausting, and utterly masterful.
  • Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart — The title of Gary Shteyngart's new memoir comes from a nickname his mother gave him: "Failurchka," or "Little Failure." But NPR reviewer Meg Wolitzer writes that his book succeeds brilliantly: "Little Failure is a rich, nuanced memoir. It's an immigrant story, a coming-of-age story, a becoming-a-writer story, and a becoming-a-mensch story, and in all these ways it is, unambivalently, a success."
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