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The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Lifeby Alice Schroeder
..."Schroeder's brave book offers a close-up of the same cellulite, but more fairly, in the context of a genuinely delightful character. Buffett might not like it, but this book has done him a very Buffett-like service. Twenty years from now, when the financial markets have forgotten our current trauma, and finance is once again fashionable, some young person will pick it up and discover that history's most legendary investor was not a cartoon but a real live human being. And still, somehow, deeply admirable." Michael Lewis, New Republic Online (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
Here is THE book recounting the life and times of one of the most respected men in the world, Warren Buffett. The legendary Omaha investor has never written a memoir, but now he has allowed one writer, Alice Schroeder, unprecedented access to explore directly with him and with those closest to him his work, opinions, struggles, triumphs, follies, and wisdom. The result is the personally revealing and complete biography of the man known everywhere as "The Oracle of Omaha."
Although the media track him constantly, Buffett himself has never told his full life story. His reality is private, especially by celebrity standards. Indeed, while the homespun persona that the public sees is true as far as it goes, it goes only so far. Warren Buffett is an array of paradoxes. He set out to prove that nice guys can finish first. Over the years he treated his investors as partners, acted as their steward, and championed honesty as an investor, CEO, board member, essayist, and speaker. At the same time he became the world's richest man, all from the modest Omaha headquarters of his company Berkshire Hathaway. None of this fits the term "simple."
When Alice Schroeder met Warren Buffett she was an insurance industry analyst and a gifted writer known for her keen perception and business acumen. Her writings on finance impressed him, and as she came to know him she realized that while much had been written on the subject of his investing style, no one had moved beyond that to explore his larger philosophy, which is bound up in a complex personality and the details of his life. Out of this came his decision to cooperate with her on the book about himself that he would never write.
Never before has Buffett spent countless hours responding to a writer's questions, talking, giving complete access to his wife, children, friends, and business associates — opening his files, recalling his childhood. It was an act of courage, as The Snowball makes immensely clear. Being human, his own life, like most lives, has been a mix of strengths and frailties. Yet notable though his wealth may be, Buffett's legacy will not be his ranking on the scorecard of wealth; it will be his principles and ideas that have enriched people's lives. This book tells you why Warren Buffett is the most fascinating American success story of our time.
"Manual labor is for the birds," Warren Buffett decided somewhere around the 8th grade. At this precocious age the Nebraska native had also already discovered his extraordinary facility with facts and figures, the very attribute that would transform a socially awkward misfit into "the Oracle of Omaha," the most successful investor of modern times, the world's richest man and most generous philanthropist.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) This quintessentially American tale about the ultimate self-made man — and in some ways the least changed — unfolds for the first time with Buffett's full cooperation in Alice Schroeder's gargantuan authorized biography, "The Snowball." Born in 1930 to a self-righteous Protestant stockbroker (who went on to serve four terms as a Republican U.S. congressman) and a verbally abusive mother who made him feel "worthless," Buffett divided his boyhood between Omaha and wartime Washington. He had no use for girls; instead his eyes leapt at statistics and money-making schemes. Young Buffett tabulated the numbers and letters on license plates; handicapped mortality rates; trolled discarded racetrack slips; sold used golf balls; delivered newspapers; rented pinball machines; ran numbers; printed betting sheets; shoplifted; and "Tom Sawyered" classmates into his ventures. At 14, he purchased a tenant farm and filed his first tax return; he was a millionaire at 30. Buffett worshipped post-Depression Wall Street gurus like Ben Graham, who demystified the stock market for lay investors by explaining how publicly available data — financial statements, news reports — could help unlock a stock's "intrinsic value." Later, influenced by "class handicappers" like Phil Fisher, who urged speculators to look beyond a stock's price/earnings ratio, Buffett gravitated toward more qualitative judgments about companies' worth. Still, Buffett's "value investing" philosophy, even where marked by innovative cross-pollination, always remained fundamentally cautious. "He would forgo the chance of profits any day to avoid too much risk," Schroeder writes, "and viewed preserving his capital as an almost holy imperative." Buffett himself, explaining why he frowned on diversified portfolios, told partners in November 1965: "We might invest up to forty percent of our net worth in a single security under conditions coupling an extremely high probability that our facts and our reasoning are correct with a very low probability that anything could drastically change the underlying value of the investment." There was no arguing with the results: In his first six years on his own, managing relatively modest sums invested by friends and relatives — and operating with total, and highly unusual, autonomy — Buffett unfailingly outperformed the market and grew his partnerships' net assets from $105,000 to $7.2 million (almost $49 million in current, inflation-adjusted figures ). In later years, as Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway empire grew, ambition forced him to expand from investing in companies to acquiring them and to overcome his aversion to diversification. A former insurance analyst at Morgan Stanley, Schroeder appears to have been hand-picked as Buffett's Boswell. Though not a trained journalist, she doggedly spent five years interviewing her subject, along with 250 friends, family members and colleagues, and made skillful use of her unfettered access to Buffett's document vaults. "Whenever my version (of events) is different from somebody else's," Buffett advised his biographer, "use the less flattering version." This Schroeder does, unflinchingly chronicling Buffett's emotional and financial withholding from his family; his romances outside his marriage (including a long affair with Katharine Graham, the late publisher of The Washington Post, on whose board he serves); and his panic during a 1975-76 brush with the Securities and Exchange Commission ("There's got to be an indictment in there somewhere," fretted one of Buffett's lawyers, though no charges were brought). Most affecting is Schroeder's portrayal of the "triangulated" relationship between Buffett, first wife Susie — the financier's "most powerful asset," and one whose intrinsic value he seems, uncharacteristically and cruelly, not to have recognized — and the much younger woman who would eventually become Buffett's second wife, Astrid Wenks. "Astrid ... accompanied Warren only to the backstage social events, just as she did in real life," Schroeder writes, "while Susie attended the 'official' public social events in the role of 'wife.'" "If you knew everybody well," Buffett would say, "you'd understand it quite well." "The Snowball," whose title is derived from one of the Oracle's homespun aphorisms ("Life is like a snowball. The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill."), marks a titanic achievement of research and reporting. It's the definitive portrait of a complex man of simple tastes, a power player who trembled from anxieties worthy of Charlie Brown, a triumphant outsider who revolutionized Wall Street from a modest office in Omaha, a money-obsessed genius who amassed unprecedented wealth and then gave it all away. To be sure, Schroeder could have used an editor; at 960 pages, her book devotes pages and pages of description, however thoroughly researched, to peripheral characters, family histories and houses that could have been sketched, no less ably or helpfully, in a few sentences. She is also prone, in scene-setting detours into political history, to embarrassing factual errors, as with her references to Richard Nixon as "a young senator on the House Un-American Activities Committee" and to "Senator Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee." And while Schroeder is a gifted writer, her similes sometimes get away from her ("working like a woodpecker in April," "stocks often dropped like doves thwacked full of bird shot," etc., ad avium). But if the replication of any great achievement first requires knowledge of how it was done, then "The Snowball," the most detailed glimpse inside Warren Buffett and his world the world will ever get, should become a Bible for capitalists. James Rosen is a Fox News Washington correspondent and author of "The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate." Reviewed by James Rosen, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Ms. Schroeder is as insightful about her subject's precise anticipation of current financial crises as she is about his quirky personal story." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"[A] fast-paced, precisely drawn profile of a man who, despite his high visibility in the financial world, isn't someone we've known much about." Kansas City Star
This highly-anticipated book recounts with intimate detail the life experience and life-wisdom of the man known as The Oracle of Omaha: Warren Buffet.
Warren Buffet, known as the Oracle of Omaha, is the subject of this biography-of both the man and his ideas. This great American story includes two 16-page black-and-white photo inserts.
About the Author
Author Alice Schroeder was a noted insurance industry analyst and writer who was a managing director at Morgan Stanley. She first met Warren Buffett when she published research on Berkshire Hathaway; her grasp of the subject and insight so impressed him that he offered her access to his files and to himself. Their friendship and mutual respect make her ideally positioned to write the The Snowball.
Ms. Schroeder was born in Texas, and she earned an undergraduate degree and her MBA at the University of Texas at Austin before moving east to work in finance. She is a former CPA and lives in Connecticut with her husband.
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