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Steve Jobs' 'lost years' detailed by veteran reporter

After digging up old audio recordings, journalist Brent Schlender writes an extensive article about Apple's co-founder's "Wilderness Years," from 1985 to 1996.

At the unveiling of the Apple iPad in January 2010, Steve Jobs paces the stage and reflects on the birth of Apple. The black-and-white photo from 1976 shows Jobs (right) with co-founder Steve Wozniak.
James Martin/CNET

Many of the details on how Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs got his start and then later turned the computer company into one of the most revered tech companies in the world are readily available. But certain segments of his life haven't been written about as extensively -- most notably his hiatus from Apple between 1985 and 1996.

Reporter Brent Schlender, a veteran tech writer for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, published an expansive article in Fast Company magazine about this part of Jobs' life. The article is based on taped interviews that Schlender had recorded with Jobs over the past 25 years. Schlender refers to this time period as "The Wilderness Years."

"This middle period was the most pivotal of his life. And perhaps the happiest," Schlender writes. "He finally settled down, married, and had a family. He learned the value of patience and the ability to feign it when he lost it. Most important, his work with the two companies he led during that time, NeXT and Pixar, turned him into the kind of man, and leader, who would spur Apple to unimaginable heights upon his return."

In the article, Schlender details Jobs' life during those years, including starting up NeXT just days after he sold all but one share of his Apple stock, bargaining with George Lucas to buy Pixar, and trash-talking Apple at the time.

"Right now it's like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz: 'I'm melting. I'm melting,'" Jobs complained to Schlender about Apple in the mid-1990s. "The jig is up. They can't seem to come out with a great computer to save their lives. They need to spend big on industrial design, reintroduce the hipness factor."

Schlender also writes about Jobs' family life and his business strategies.

"Jobs may have been impulsive at times, but he was always methodical," Schlender writes. "This kind of nature suited an autodidact with eclectic tastes, empowering him either to obsess impatiently about a pressing problem that had to be dealt with immediately--much like an engineer--or else to let an idea steep and incubate until he got it right."

To read the entire story go to Fast Company's Web site.

Updated at 9:25 p.m. PT to correct Schlender's resume.