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Kurt Vonnegut’s dark, sad, cruel side is laid bare December 4, 2011

A new biography of acclaimed American author Kurt Vonnegut, beloved by fans worldwide for his work’s warm humour and homespun Midwestern wisdom, has shocked many with a portrayal of a bitter, angry man prone to depression and fits of temper.

The book on Vonnegut, who died in 2007, lifts the lid on the writer’s private life, revealing a man far removed from the grandfather-like public figure his millions of devotees adored.

And So It Goes was written by Charles Shields, who also wrote a controversial biography of Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird. The book paints a picture of a man who was often distant from his children, cruel to a long-suffering first wife, caught in an unpleasant second marriage and spent much of his later years depressed and angry. “Cruel, nasty and scary are the adjectives commonly used to describe him by the friends, colleagues, and relatives Shields quotes,” wrote one reviewer, Wendy Smith, on the Daily Beast website. The New York Times reviewer, Chris Buckley, called Shields’s portrayal “sad, often heartbreaking”.

Through novels such as The Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle and the classic Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s career spanned five decades, often working in the science fiction genre, and catapulted him into the canon of great American writers. His work, while often dealing with tragedy, was famed for espousing humanitarian, even socialist values, and often had a strong anti-war, anti-capitalist feel. It is full of references to the virtues of small-town life, volunteer firefighters and the Midwest, especially his home city of Indianapolis.

Yet Shields’s book is unsparing in its portrayal of Vonnegut’s dark side. It reveals that the writer – whose experience as a PoW during the firebombing of Dresden scarred his psyche for life – had no qualms about investing in firms that made napalm or indulged in a host of other morally suspect activities. He fell out with friends, editors and relatives and had a shocking temper. In later life he appeared deeply bitter and lonely. In the opening part of the book Shields describes meeting Vonnegut just a few months before his death. He describes Vonnegut asking him to look up his name in a dictionary (it was not there) and then look up Jack Kerouac (it was there). “How about that?” Vonnegut then states with a frown. The chapter of Shields’s book dealing with Vonnegut’s final 15 years of life is called simply “Waiting to Die”.

“Towards the end he was very feeble, very depressed and almost morose. I think that slants this book,” said Jerome Klinkowitz, an academic at the University of Northern Iowa and one of the world’s leading experts on Vonnegut.

“It is a little naive to be surprised by this,” said Gregory Sumner of the University of Detroit Mercy, who recently wrote a book exploring Vonnegut’s work, called Unstuck In Time. “Personal relationships were difficult for him. He had a lot of survivor’s guilt.”

Vonnegut definitely had survived a lot. His once wealthy family was impoverished by the Great Depression, causing grim strains in his parents’ marriage. His mother committed suicide. His beloved sister died of breast cancer, a day after her husband was killed in a train accident. But the defining horror of Vonnegut’s life was his wartime experience and surviving the Dresden bombing, only to be sent into the ruins as prison labour in order to collect and burn the corpses. The ordeal cropped up continually in his work, but most notably formed the basis of Slaughterhouse-Five, the book that made Vonnegut famous.

But there was more to it than just coping with such traumatic situations. In later life, despite being hailed by so many as an American genius, Vonnegut felt that the literary establishment never took him seriously. They interpreted his simplistic style, love of science fiction and Midwestern values as being beneath serious study.

The book will do little to dampen enthusiasm for Vonnegut’s work. “He’s not a relic of the 1960s. His work is vibrant today even posthumously,” said Sumner. “Maybe we just expect too much of our heroes.”

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Steve Jobs regretted delaying cancer surgery, biographer tells CBS October 21, 2011

Steve Jobs regretted his decision to delay having potentially life-saving surgery for his pancreatic cancer, his biographer has revealed.

After being diagnosed with the cancer in 2004, Jobs embarked on a series of alternative therapies including spiritual healing, said Walter Isaacson, author of the upcoming biography Steve Jobs.

Despite pleas from his family to have surgery, Jobs initially refused, Isaacson said, in an interview for CBS News 60 Minutes to be broadcast on Sunday.

The co-founder of Apple, who died this month after a long battle with the disease, had been told he had a very slow growing type of pancreatic cancer, and that his was one of the 5% “that can actually be cured”.

Isaacson said that Jobs, after his diagnosis, “tries to treat it with diet, he goes to spiritualists, he goes through various ways of doing it macrobiotically – and he doesn’t get an operation.”

Asked why not, Isaacson told CBS: “I’ve asked him that and he said: ‘I didn’t want my body to be opened, I didn’t want to be violated in that way.’ He’s regretful about it.”

Interviewer Steve Kroft asked why “such a smart man could do such as stupid thing”. Isaacson said: “I think he kind of felt: if you ignore something you don’t want to exist, you can have magical thinking. It had worked for him in the past. He’d regret it.”

His wife, Laurene, and others around Jobs convinced him to “quit trying to treat it with all these roots and vegetables and things” and have the surgery nine months later.

But when he finally had the operation it may have been too late, said Isaacson, as the cancer had already spread to the tissues surrounding the pancreas.

After the surgery, Jobs told his employers but played down the seriousness of his condition.

A piece on CBS News website said the interview covers “several of the best stories from the biography, including the fact that Jobs had actually met the man who turned out to be his biological father before he knew who he was.”

They also talk about Jobs’ disdain for excess consumerism. In a taped conversation, he tells Isaacson how he saw Apple staffers turn into “bizarro people” by the riches the Apple stock offering created, it said.

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Steve Jobs refused cancer treatment for too long, says biographer

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs refused potentially life-saving cancer surgery for nine months, shrugging off his family’s protests and opting instead for alternative medicine, according to his biographer.

When Jobs eventually sought surgery, the rare form of pancreatic cancer had spread to the tissues surrounding the organ, his biographer, Walter Isaacson, said in an interview with 60 Minutes on CBS, to be aired on Sunday.

Jobs also played down the seriousness of his condition and told everyone he was cured but kept receiving treatment in secret, Isaacson said in the interview.

The biography hits bookstores on 24 October and emerged from scores of interviews with Jobs. It is expected to paint an unprecedented, no-holds-barred portrait of a man who fiercely guarded his privacy, but whose death ignited a global outpouring of grief and tribute.

The book reveals Jobs was bullied in school, tried various quirky diets as a teenager, and exhibited early strange behaviour such as staring at others without blinking, according to reports.

In his 60 Minutes interview, Isaacson confirmed details that had been speculated upon or widely reported, including that Jobs might have been cured of his “slow-growing” cancer had he sought professional treatment sooner, rather than resorting to unconventional means.

Jobs deeply regretted putting off a decision that might have ultimately saved his life, according to Isaacson.

“He tries to treat it with diet. He goes to spiritualists. He goes to various ways of doing it macrobiotically and he doesn’t get an operation,” Isaacson said in the interview.

“I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don’t want something to exist, you can have magical thinking,” he said. “We talked about this a lot.”

Jobs announced in August 2004 that he had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his pancreas. In 2008 and 2009 – as his weight loss caused concern in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street – he said first he was fighting a “common bug”, then that he was suffering from a hormone imbalance. In 2009, news emerged that he had undergone a liver transplant.

Jobs died on 5 October at the age of 56. Outpourings of sympathy swept across the globe as state leaders, business rivals and fans paid their respects to the man who touched the daily lives of countless millions through the Macintosh computer, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

He had never revealed much about his life or thinking – until he commissioned Isaacson for a biography he hoped would let his children know him better.

Adopted as a baby by a family in Silicon Valley, Jobs met his biological father – Abdulfattah “John” Jandali – several times in the 1980s without realising who he was, according to Isaacson.

Jandali had been running a restaurant in the area at the time. But Jobs never got in touch with Jandali once he found out the restaurateur was his biological father, according to an excerpt from the TV interview posted on CBS’ website.

Jobs also revealed he stopped going to church at age 13 after he saw starving children on the cover of Life Magazine.

He spent years studying Zen Buddhism and has famously travelled through India in search of spiritual guidance.

He talked in his biography about his love for design and called Apple’s design chief Jonathan Ive his “spiritual partner”; Ive had “more operation power” at Apple than anyone besides Jobs himself, according to the Associated Press.

Jobs, who counted The Beatles among his favourites, came up with the name of his iconic company while on one of his “fruitarian diets”. He had just returned from an apple farm and thought the moniker was “fun, spirited and not intimidating,”.

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