Walter Isaacson

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Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson VF 2012 Shankbone 2.JPG
Isaacson in New York City, 2012
Chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors
In office
July 2, 2010 – January 27, 2012
Preceded byJames K. Glassman
Succeeded byJeff Shell
Personal details
Born (1952-05-20) May 20, 1952 (age 67)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Spouse(s)Cathy Wright Isaacson[1]
ChildrenBetsy Isaacson
ParentsBetsy and Irwin Isaacson
ResidenceNew Orleans, Louisiana
Alma materHarvard University
Pembroke College, Oxford
OccupationHistorian, journalist, writer
AwardsBenjamin Franklin Medal (Royal Society of Arts) (2013)
The Nichols-Chancellor's Medal (2015)

Walter Isaacson (born May 20, 1952)[2] is an American historian, journalist, and writer. He is the University Professor of History at Tulane University. He has been the President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C., chairman and CEO of CNN and Managing Editor of Time. He has written biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, 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. His father was a "kindly Jewish distracted humanist engineer with a reverence for science" and his mother Betty was a real estate broker.[3][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 majored in History and Literature. At Harvard, Isaacson was the president of the Signet Society, member of the Harvard Lampoon, and resident of Lowell House. He later attended the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar at Pembroke College, where he studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and graduated with First-Class Honours.[1][2]



Isaacson began his career in journalism at The Sunday Times in 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 served as the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute from 2003 until 2018, when he announced that he would step down to become a professor of history at Tulane University and an advisory partner at the New York City financial services firm Perella Weinberg Partners.[11] In November 2017, the Aspen Institute named Dan Porterfield, the president of Franklin and Marshall College, as Isaacson's successor.[12]

In March 2017, Isaacson launched a podcast with Dell Technologies called Trailblazers, which focuses on technology's effects on business.[13] In 2018, Isaacson was named as a cohost of "Amanpour & Company," a new show on PBS and CNN that replaced "The Charlie Rose Show."[14]


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][15]

On October 24, 2011, Steve Jobs, Isaacson's authorized biography of Apple Inc.'s Jobs, was published by Simon & Schuster, only several weeks after Jobs' death. 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.[16][17][18][19][20]

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.[21] Writing for the New York Times, Janet Maslin described the author as "a kindred spirit to the visionaries and enthusiasts" who Isaacson wrote about.[22]

He is the editor of Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness (2010, W. W. Norton).[2][23]

His biography of Leonardo da Vinci was published on October 17, 2017, to positive reviews from critics.[24][25] In August 2017, Paramount Pictures won a bidding war against Universal Pictures for the rights to adapt Isaacson's biography of da Vinci. The studio bought the rights under its deal with Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions, which said that it planned to produce the film with DiCaprio as the star.[26] Screenwriter John Logan (The Aviator, Gladiator) has been tapped to pen the script.[27]


Isaacson at a State Department briefing in 2008

In October 2005, the Governor of Louisiana, 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.[28] 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.[29]

He also served 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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] He is a member of the U.S. Department of Defense Innovation Advisory Board. In 2018, he was appointed by New Orleans mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell to be co-chair of her transition team.


Isaacson is an advisory partner at Perella Weinberg, a financial services firm. He is the chairman emeritus of the board of Teach for America and is on the boards of United Airlines, Tulane University, The New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune, New Schools New Orleans, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Society of American Historians, of which he served as president in 2012.[35]

In March 2019, Isaacson became the editor-at-large and senior adviser for Arcadia Publishing, where he will be promoting books for the company as well as editing, new strategy development, and partnerships.[36]

Isaacson is an Associate of the History of Science Department and a member of the Lowell House Senior Common Room at Harvard University. He is also an Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. Isaacson teaches a course at Tulane called History Of the Digital Revolution, an open seminar filled with discussion about technology, culture, and the progression of society.


Isaacson‘s book Steve Jobs about the life of the entrepreneur, earned Isaacson the 2012 Gerald Loeb Award.[37]

In 2012, he was selected as one of the Time 100, the magazine's list of the most influential people in the world.[38] Isaacson is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was awarded its 2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal.[39] 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."[40]

He has honorary degrees from Tufts University, Cooper Union, William & Mary, Franklin University Switzerland, University of New Orleans, University of South Carolina, City University of New York (Hunter College), Pomona College, Lehigh University, Duke University, and Colorado Mountain College, where the Isaacson School of Media and Communications is named after him.[41] He was the 2015 recipient of The Nichols-Chancellor's Medal at Vanderbilt University.[42]


  • The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. (Simon & Schuster, 1986) ISBN 978-1451683226. Co-authored by Evan Thomas. Published simultaneously in London by Faber and Faber.

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 Millie Ball, "Steve Jobs' biographer is hometown son Walter Isaacson," The Times-Picayune, December 11, 2011.
  3. ^ National Endowment for the Humanities: " AWARDS & HONORS: 2014 JEFFERSON LECTURER: Walter Isaacson" retrieved August 30, 2016.
  4. ^ "Family of Sid Salinger". Sid Salinger. Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  5. ^ William C. Skinner (May 4, 2016). "Q&A with Walter S. Isaacson". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  6. ^ Paul D. Colford (November 15, 2000). "Moving up the Ladder Big Time". New York Daily News. Retrieved July 5, 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 (August 15, 2001). "New CNN Chief Trying to Please GOP Elite". FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  10. ^ Associated Press (August 6, 2001). "New CNN chairman meets with GOP critics". USA Today. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  11. ^ "Walter Isaacson leaving the Aspen Institute". Washington Business Journal. March 15, 2017.
  12. ^ Thompson, Krissah (November 30, 2017). "Aspen Institute names Dan Porterfield, president of Franklin and Marshall College, as its new leader". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  13. ^ "Walter Isaacson Is Getting Into Podcasting With a Series About Technology". Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  14. ^ "Christiane Amanpour Will Lead New PBS Late-Night Program".
  15. ^ "Walter Isaacson". Author page. Simon & Schuster. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  16. ^ Rene Lynch, "Steve Jobs biography: Release date moves up, skyrockets to No. 1", Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2011.
  17. ^ Brad Stone, "Jobs Is Said to Assist With Book on His Life", New York Times, February 15, 2010.
  18. ^ Eyder Peralta, "Steve Jobs Authorizes Biography; It's Due Out Early 2012", NPR, April 11, 2011.
  19. ^ Kara Swisher, "New Jobs Bio Cover Is All Apple With Pub Date of November", All Things Digital, August 15, 2011.
  20. ^ Walter Isaacson, "The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs," Harvard Business Review, April 2012.
  21. ^ Rachel Pickering (October 29, 2014). "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson". Maroon Weekly. Campus Press LP. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  22. ^ Janet Maslin (October 8, 2014). "Heralds of the Digital Tomorrow". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  23. ^ Janet Maslin, "The Scale of Einstein, From Faith to Formulas," New York Times, April 9, 2007.
  24. ^ "Bookmarks reviews of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson". LitHub. Retrieved October 19, 2017.
  25. ^ Isaacson, Walter (October 17, 2017). Leonardo da Vinci. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781501139154.
  26. ^ Fleming Jr., Mike (August 12, 2017). "Update: Paramount Wins Leonardo Battle: Lands Walter Isaacson Da Vinci Book For DiCaprio". Deadline. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  27. ^
  28. ^ "President Bush Meets with U.S.-Palestinian Public-Private Partnership", White House press release, December 2007.
  29. ^ "Partners for a New Beginning",, April 26, 2010.
  30. ^ Plan addresses Agent Orange legacy in Vietnam - World news - World environment | NBC News
  31. ^ "President Obama More Key Administration Posts" Archived November 20, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, White House press release, November 18, 2009.
  32. ^ Alex Woodward, "Mayor Landrieu unveils New Orleans' tricentennial group," Best of New Orleans, December 1, 2014.
  33. ^ My Brother's Keeper Fact Sheet
  34. ^ New Orleans Times-Picayune, "New Orleans Native Walter Isaacson Appointed to CPC" [1]
  35. ^ SAH, Executive board
  36. ^ Hoff, Patrick (March 25, 2019). "Walter Isaacson joins Arcadia Publishing". Charleston Regional Business Journal. SC Biz News. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  37. ^ "UCLA Anderson Announces 2012 Gerald Loeb Award Winners". UCLA Anderson School of Management. June 26, 2012. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  38. ^ Madeleine K. Albright, "The World's 100 Most Influential People: 2012", Time, April 18, 2012.
  39. ^ "2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal Presentation To Walter Isaacson", RSA United States, October 2013.
  40. ^ Chris Waddington, "Best-selling biographer Walter Isaacson will deliver prestigious Jefferson Lecture in 2014" Archived February 4, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Times-Picayune, January 28, 2014.
  41. ^
  42. ^ "Connect your passion to something that matters, Issacson urges Vanderbilt graduating seniors".
  43. ^ "Review of Kissinger by Walter Isaacson". Kirkus Reviews. July 1, 1992.
  44. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 3, 2003). "Review of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson". NY Times.
  45. ^ "Review of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson". Kirkus Reviews. July 4, 1983.
  46. ^ Maslin, Janet (April 9, 2007). "Review of Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson". NY Times.
  47. ^ "Review of Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson". Kirkus Reviews. April 10, 2007.
  48. ^ Kafka, Alexander C. (October 12, 2017). "Review of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson". The Washington Post.

External links[edit]