Walter Isaacson

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Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson VF 2012 Shankbone 2.JPG
Isaacson in New York in 2012
Chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors
In office
July 2, 2010 – January 27, 2012
President Barack Obama
Preceded by James K. Glassman
Succeeded by Jeff Shell
Personal details
Born (1952-05-20) May 20, 1952 (age 64)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Spouse(s) Cathy Wright Isaacson[1]
Children Betsy Isaacson
Parents Betsy and Irwin Isaacson
Residence New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Alma mater Harvard University
Pembroke College, Oxford
Occupation Author
Awards Benjamin Franklin Medal (Royal Society of Arts) (2013)
The Nichols-Chancellor's Medal (2015)

Walter Isaacson (born May 20, 1952)[2] is an American writer and journalist. He is the President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. He has been the chairman and CEO of Cable News Network (CNN) and the Managing Editor of Time. He has written biographies of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Henry Kissinger.

Early life and education[edit]

Isaacson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Irwin and Betty Lee (Seff) Isaacson.[3] His father, Irwin, was a “kindly Jewish distracted humanist engineer with a reverence for science” and his mother, Betsy, was a real estate broker.[4] Isaacson attended New Orleans' Isidore Newman School, where he was student body president. He attended Deep Springs College for the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) before graduating from Harvard University in 1974, where he earned a A.B. cum laude in history and literature. At Harvard, Isaacson was the president of the Signet Society, a member of the Harvard Lampoon, and a resident of Lowell House. He later attended the University of Oxford in the UK as a Rhodes scholar at Pembroke College, where he read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE).[1][2]



Isaacson began his career in journalism at The Sunday Times of London, followed by a position with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He joined Time magazine in 1978, serving as the magazine's political correspondent, national editor, and editor of new media before becoming the magazine's 14th editor in 1996.[5][6]

Isaacson became chairman and CEO of CNN in July 2001, replacing Tom Johnson, and only two months later guided CNN through the events of 9/11.[7][8] Shortly after his appointment at CNN, Isaacson attracted attention for seeking the views of Republican party leaders on Capitol Hill regarding criticisms that CNN broadcast content that was unfair to Republicans or conservatives. He was quoted in Roll Call magazine as saying: "I was trying to reach out to a lot of Republicans who feel that CNN has not been as open to covering Republicans, and I wanted to hear their concerns." The CEO's conduct was criticized by the Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) organization, which said that Isaacson's "pandering" behavior was endowing conservative politicians with power over CNN.[9][10] In January 2003, he announced that he would step down as president at CNN to become president of the Aspen Institute.[8] Jim Walton replaced Isaacson as president of CNN.[7]

Isaacson became the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2004.[2]


Isaacson is the author of American Sketches (2009), Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) and Kissinger: A Biography (1992). He is the co-author, with Evan Thomas, of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986).[1]

On October 24, 2011, Steve Jobs, Isaacson's authorized biography of Apple Computer's Jobs, was published by Simon & Schuster. It became an international best-seller, breaking all records for sales of a biography. The book was based on over forty interviews with Jobs over a two-year period up until shortly before his death, and on conversations with friends, family members, and business rivals of the entrepreneur. In contrast to Isaacson's previous biographies of Einstein and Franklin, Steve Jobs was written while its subject was still alive, as was the case with his biography of Kissinger.[11][12][13][14][15]

In October 2014, Isaacson published The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, which explores the history of the key technological innovations that are prominent in the digital revolution, most notably the parallel developments of the computer and the Internet. It became a New York Times bestseller.[16] Writing for the New York Times, Janet Maslin described the author as "a kindred spirit to the visionaries and enthusiasts" who Isaacson wrote about.[17]

He is the editor of Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness (2010, W. W. Norton).[2][18]


Isaacson at a State Department briefing 2008

In October 2005, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed Isaacson vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, a board that oversaw spending on the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. In December 2007, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the chairman of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership, which seeks to create economic and educational opportunities in the Palestinian territories.[19] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed him vice-chair of the Partners for a New Beginning, which encourages private-sector investments and partnerships in the Muslim world.[20]

He also serves as the co-chair of the U.S.-Vietnamese Dialogue on Agent Orange, which in January 2008 announced completion of a project to contain the dioxin left behind by the U.S. at the Da Nang air base and plans to build health centers and a dioxin laboratory in the affected regions.[21] In 2009, he was appointed by President Obama to be Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and the other international broadcasts of the U.S. government; he served until January 2012.[22] In 2014, he was appointed by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to be the co-chair of the New Orleans Tricentennial Commission, which is planning the city's 300th anniversary commemoration in 2018.[23] In 2015, he was appointed to the board of My Brother's Keeper Alliance, which seeks to carry out President Obama's anti-poverty and youth opportunity initiatives.[24] In 2016, he was appointed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and confirmed by the City Council to be a member of the New Orleans City Planning Commission.[25]


Isaacson is the chairman emeritus of the board of Teach for America. He is on the boards of United Airlines, Tulane University, Overseers of Harvard University, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Society of American Historians, of which he served as president in 2012.[26]


Walter Isaacson at TechCrunch Disrupt 2014

In 2012, he was selected as one of the Time 100, the magazine's list of the most influential people in the world.[27] Isaacson is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was awarded its 2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal.[28] He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and an Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford.

In 2014, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Isaacson for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. The title of Isaacson's lecture was "The Intersection of the Humanities and the Sciences."[29]

He has honorary degrees from Tufts University, Cooper Union, Franklin College in Switzerland, University of New Orleans, University of South Carolina, City University of New York (Hunter College), Pomona College, Lehigh University, and Duke University. He was the 2015 recipient of The Nichols-Chancellor's Medal at Vanderbilt University.[30]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Robin Pogrebin, "At Work and at Play, Time's Editor Seeks to Keep Magazine Vigorous at 75", New York Times, March 9, 1998.
  2. ^ a b c d Millie Ball, "Steve Jobs' biographer is hometown son Walter Isaacson," The Times-Picayune, December 11, 2011.
  3. ^ "Family of Sid Salinger". Sid Salinger. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  4. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities: " AWARDS & HONORS: 2014 JEFFERSON LECTURER: Walter Isaacson" retrieved August 30, 2016
  5. ^ William C. Skinner (4 May 2016). "Q&A with Walter S. Isaacson". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  6. ^ Paul D. Colford (15 November 2000). "Moving up the Ladder Big Time". New York Daily News. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  7. ^ a b Cook, John (January 21, 2003). "CNN's turmoil continues over identity, ratings". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 17, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "CNN: Head of news network to step down". The Chicago Tribune. January 14, 2003. Retrieved March 17, 2016. 
  9. ^ Eason Jordan (15 August 2001). "New CNN Chief Trying to Please GOP Elite". FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Associated Press (6 August 2001). "New CNN chairman meets with GOP critics". USA Today. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  11. ^ Rene Lynch, "Steve Jobs biography: Release date moves up, skyrockets to No. 1", Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2011.
  12. ^ Brad Stone, "Jobs Is Said to Assist With Book on His Life", New York Times, February 15, 2010.
  13. ^ Eyder Peralta, "Steve Jobs Authorizes Biography; It's Due Out Early 2012", NPR, April 11, 2011.
  14. ^ Kara Swisher, "New Jobs Bio Cover Is All Apple With Pub Date of November", All Things Digital, August 15, 2011.
  15. ^ Walter Isaacson, "The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs," Harvard Business Review, April 2012.
  16. ^ Rachel Pickering (29 October 2014). "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson". Maroon Weekly. Campus Press LP. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  17. ^ Janet Maslin (8 October 2014). "Heralds of the Digital Tomorrow". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  18. ^ Janet Maslin, "The Scale of Einstein, From Faith to Formulas," New York Times, April 9, 2007.
  19. ^ "President Bush Meets with U.S.-Palestinian Public-Private Partnership", White House press release, December 2007.
  20. ^ "Partners for a New Beginning",, April 26, 2010.
  21. ^ Plan addresses Agent Orange legacy in Vietnam - World news - World environment | NBC News
  22. ^ "President Obama More Key Administration Posts", White House press release, November 18, 2009.
  23. ^ Alex Woodward, "Mayor Landrieu unveils New Orleans' tricentennial group," Best of New Orleans, December 1, 2014.
  24. ^ My Brother's Keeper Fact Sheet
  25. ^ New Orleans Times-Picayune, "New Orleans Native Walter Isaacson Appointed to CPC" [1]
  26. ^ SAH, Executive board
  27. ^ Madeleine K. Albright, "The World's 100 Most Influential People: 2012", Time, April 18, 2012.
  28. ^ "2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal Presentation To Walter Isaacson", RSA United States, October 2013.
  29. ^ Chris Waddington, "Best-selling biographer Walter Isaacson will deliver prestigious Jefferson Lecture in 2014", Times-Picayune, January 28, 2014.
  30. ^ "Connect your passion to something that matters, Issacson urges Vanderbilt graduating seniors". 
  31. ^ Maslin, Janet (3 July 2003). "Review of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson". NY Times. 
  32. ^ "Review of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson". Kirkus Reviews. 4 July 1983. 
  33. ^ Maslin, Janet (9 April 2007). "Review of Einstein: His Life and Times by Walter Isaacson". NY Times. 
  34. ^ "Review of Einstein: His Life and Times by Walter Isaacson". Kirkus Reviews. 10 April 2007. 

External links[edit]