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The Snowball

Cover of The Snowball

The Snowball

Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
Borrow

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 second-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.

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 second-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.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Chapter One

    The Less Flattering Version


    Omaha, June 2003

    Warren Buffett rocks back in his chair, long legs crossed at the knee behind his father Howard's plain wooden desk. His expensive Zegna suit jacket bunches around his shoulders like an untailored version bought off the rack. The jacket stays on all day, every day, no matter how casually the other fifteen employees at Berkshire Hathaway headquarters are dressed. His predictable white shirt sits low on the neck, its undersize collar bulging away from his tie, looking left over from his days as a young businessman, as if he had forgotten to check his neck size for the last forty years.

    His hands lace behind his head through strands of whitening hair. One particularly large and messy finger-combed chunk takes off over his skull like a ski jump, lofting upward at the knoll of his right ear. His shaggy right eyebrow wanders toward it above the tortoiseshell glasses. At various times this eyebrow gives him a skeptical, knowing, or beguiling look. Right now he wears a subtle smile, which lends the wayward eyebrow a captivating air. Nonetheless, his pale-blue eyes are focused and intent.

    He sits surrounded by icons and mementos of fifty years. In the hallways outside his office, Nebraska Cornhuskers football photographs, his paycheck from an appearance on a soap opera, the offer letter (never accepted) to buy a hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management, and Coca-Cola memorabilia everywhere. On the coffee table inside the office, a classic Coca-Cola bottle. A baseball glove encased in Lucite. Over the sofa, a certificate that he completed Dale Carnegie's public-speaking course in January 1952. The Wells Fargo stagecoach, westbound atop a bookcase. A Pulitzer Prize, won in 1973 by the Sun Newspapers of Omaha, which his investment partnership owned. Scattered about the room are books and newspapers. Photographs of his family and friends cover the credenza and a side table, and sit under the hutch beside his desk in place of a computer. A large portrait of his father hangs above Buffett's head on the wall behind his desk. It faces every visitor who enters the room.

    Although a late-spring Omaha morning beckons outside the windows, the brown wooden shutters are closed to block the view. The television beaming toward his desk is tuned to CNBC. The sound is muted, but the crawl at the bottom of the screen feeds him news all day long. Over the years, to his pleasure, the news has often been about him.

    Only a few people, however, actually know him well. I have been acquainted with him for six years, originally as a financial analyst covering Berkshire Hathaway stock. Over time our relationship has turned friendly, and now I will get to know him better still. We are sitting in Warren's office because he is not going to write a book. The unruly eyebrows punctuate his words as he says repeatedly, "You'll do a better job than I would, Alice. I'm glad you're writing this book, not me." Why he would say that is something that will eventually become clear. In the meantime, we start with the matter closest to his heart.

    "Where did it come from, Warren? Caring so much about making money?"

    His eyes go distant for a few seconds, thoughts traveling inward: flip flip flip through the mental files. Warren begins to tell his story: "Balzac said that behind every great fortune lies a crime. [1] That's not true at Berkshire."

    He leaps out of his chair to bring home the thought, crossing the room in a couple of strides. Landing on a mustardy-gold brocade armchair, he leans forward, more like a teenager bragging about his first romance than a...
Reviews-
  • Forbes

    "The mandatory book to read in these treacherous times of financial crisis....A thoughtful and intimate biography of the globe's wisest investor."

  • New York Times "Will mesmerize anyone interested in who Mr. Buffett is or how he got that way." The Snowball tells a fascinating story."
  • Los Angeles Times "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 that we likely will ever get, should become a Bible for capitalists." --Washington Post

    "
    Anyone who has been watching events unfold in recent months--which would be everyone--can now appreciate the wisdom of Buffett....The most authoritative portrait of one of the most important American investors of our time."
  • Time Magazine "Even people who don't care a whit about business will be intrigued by this portrait... Schroeder, a former insurance-industry analyst, spent years interviewing Buffett, and the result is a side of the Oracle of Omaha that has rarely been seen."
  • People, four stars "Schroeder... has a meat-and-potatoes style that matches the homespun wisdom of her subject...Now more than ever, Buffett's emphasis on fundamentals seems like genius. It's the perfect moment for a great book on an immensely inspiring capitalist."
  • New Yorker "Schroeder...is well equipped to elucidate Buffett's deals...[and] Buffett's life abounds with good stories."
  • Boston Globe "You will learn a lot about one of the nation's most compelling and important men from reading The Snowball."
  • Christian Science Monitor "In The Snowball, novice biographer Alice Schroeder gives us one of the most detailed, candid life stories ever published...It is almost impossible to stop reading."
  • BusinessWeek "A penetrating and personal look at the Oracle of Omaha...An astute, and at times riveting, read--especially now."
  • Financial Times "Everyone knows that in a deep and liquid capital market like that of the US, it is just about impossible to beat the stock market averages over anything more than the short term. But Buffett has been ahead of the curve for most of the past 50 years, making him one of the world's richest people. Alice Schroeder's massive authorized biography, The Snowball, provides some clues about how he's done it."
  • Publishers Weekly "In this startlingly frank account of Buffett's life, Schroeder, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley--and hand picked by Buffett to be his biographer--strips away the mystery that has long cloaked the word's richest man to reveal a life and fortune erected around lucid and inspired business vision and unimaginable personal complexity."
  • Library Journal "This massive--and highly readable--text (produced with Buffett's full cooperation) is an unvarnished and well-paced biography that is essential for all public and academic business collections."
  • New York Post "For students of the Oracle of Omaha, or even those looking for a little reassurance during the crisis, Schroeder's book is a fascinating study of America's most successful investor."
  • Times Literary Supplement "... Alice Schroeder's accumulation of detail, her vivid, artless descriptions of people and places, and the resulting narrative fluidity make this a compelling book. It has the bouncing vitality of an early Sinclair Lewis novel..."
  • Houston Chronicle "If you've looked at your 401(k) statement and started to fear that everyone in financial markets is either greedy, predatory or incompetent, do yourself a favor. Take $35 out of the mattress and buy a copy of Alice Schroeder's The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. At a time like this, it's a real comfort: Buffet is living proof there's at least one wholly rational person managing money...an excellent and highly enjoyable look at the business titan."
  • Washington Times "Ms. Schroeder does a good job of pulling...volunteered disclosures out of Mr. Buffett but her real contribution is her own investment expertise which enables her to make the convoluted financing schemes over the last 50 years understandable to lay readers and truly instructive to the business information junkie."
  • Kansas City Star "This is 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... We do now."
  • LibraryJournal.com "This massive--and highly readable--text (produced with Buffett's full cooperation) is an unvarnished and well-paced biography that is essential for all public and academic business collections."
  • Buffalo News "Top-notch biographies demand thorough research and crisp, finely honed writing. Schroeder exhibits both.... It's hard to imagine a more complete account of Buffett's life had he written it himself."
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