I find the Steve Jobs-Mona Simpson story fascinating — biological brother & sister (with a Syrian father) raised in separate families, who never knew about each other until Jobs was 27 – In a nutshell: Jobs, raised in a modest middle-class family in California, becomes the highly successful genius head of Apple, then discovers that he has a sister who was raised by their (American) biological mother in Wisconsin, who is also a genius, novelist Mona Simpson. After meeting, they form a close relationship.
The 1997 New York Times Magazine article by Steve Lohr that’s excerpted below (which was written soon after Simpson’s 1996 novel A Regular Guy and also soon after Jobs’ return as Apple CEO) is the best source I’ve found on the relationship — Especially because it includes rare remarks by Jobs about it. Below the excerpt, I discuss the difficulty of finding information on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, and other sources of information. Here’s the NYT excerpt, taken from the middle of a long article on Jobs:
When Jobs found Mona Simpson, a sister who had grown up in entirely different circumstances, it was as if they had been part of some nature-versus-nurture experiment. He was struck by the similarity in their intensity, traits and appearance.
Since he was a teen-ager [Jobs] had made occasional efforts to locate his biological family. He had nearly given up when he discovered, at the age of 27, that his biological parents had another child later whom they had kept, his younger sister. For reasons of privacy, Jobs explains, he won’t discuss his biological parents or how he ultimately tracked down his sister.
As it turns out, his sister is the novelist Mona Simpson, whose new book, “A Regular Guy,” is about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who bears a striking resemblance to Steve Jobs. After they met, Jobs forged a relationship with her, often visiting her in Manhattan, where she lived and still maintains an apartment. Theirs is a connection that, to this day, neither Jobs nor Simpson have discussed in the press, and now do so sparingly. “My brother and I are very close,” Simpson says. “I admire him enormously.”
Jobs says only: “We’re family. She’s one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days.”
A few words about how I found this article, and the difficulty of finding information on the Jobs-Simpson relationship — I started, of course, with a Google search for Steve Jobs Mona Simpson – The first two hits are the Wikipedia articles on Jobs and Simpson, which is an indication that there’s nothing very definitive about the relationship between the two — If there were, it would be more highly ranked than the Wikipedia articles. The Lohr/NYT article above is #3. It deserves this high ranking, because it has the best commentary on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, looked at from both siblings, instead of being from the viewpoint of one or the other of them, as in the other top 10 hits. Oddly, however, Google links to a reprinted version of the article instead of the original NYT version, maybe because it’s all on one page.
The Wikipedia article on Simpson has nothing on Jobs. The article on Jobs has rather oddly documented, brief mention of Simpson, with Notes 10 and 21-25 about her relationship with Jobs, but the NYT/Lohr article, above, is only listed in the general Articles on Jobs, with no acknowledgment of its discussing Simpson. Another puzzling ovesight in Wikipedia documentation — There’s an article listed in the Notes section that, while it doesn’t have much on the Jobs-Simpson relationship, does have good information on Simpson’s family background in Green Bay, where she was raised by her mother. It’s especially useful because it discusses Jobs’ biological Syria-native father. In the Wikipedia article Notes, there’s not a link to the actual article, only to the newspaper site:
22. Andy Behrendt, “Apple Computer mogul’s roots tied to Green Bay,” Green Bay Press-Gazette, December 4, 2005.
Presumably the article is unlinked because it’s no longer available from the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It is available here (scroll ca halfway down page for it).
Finally, one last little piece in this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction narrative — From the Wikipedia article on Simpson — Her husband is Richard Appel, and he is a writer for The Simpsons. Hmmm …
Picture Sources: Steve Jobs | Mona Simpson
Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp
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Fascinating story, and all the better, for not being “fiction”.
Seems to put the lie to the idea of the “environment” playing a huge role in how people turn out.
Biological siblings, raised in completely different environments, both turning out with uncommon intelligence.
Does this mean that “genius” is a function of genetics?
I think not. Too many cases of the “child prodigy” springing from mediocre parentage to make that argument.
What then? – more questions than answers.
Truth is stranger than fiction because in fiction the story has to “make sense”. Real Life, on the other hand, affords us no such luxury.