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The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
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Product Description

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Superior Investment, Average book
    Warren Buffett certainly knows an undervalued company when he sees one, but the same can't be said of his judgement in writers. The Snowball reported earned a $7 million advance, but the result is a book that is too long and ultimately lacks focus and insight.

    Several writers have made the switch from the investment world to the writing world with grace (William Cohan and Liaquat Ahamed come to mind), but unfortunately Alice Schroeder, a former insurance analyst at Morgan Stanley, seems to fallen under the spell of her subject. In The Snowball, Buffett's words appear in italic, as though Ms. Schroeder were carrying the tablets down from Mt. Sinai.

    Ms. Schroeder is at her best writing about Buffett's business dealings. Much has been written about them before but Schroeder got unprecedented access to Buffett and his family, so much of the book is consumed with Buffett's unusual family life. Buffett's family life is indeed fascinating, but Ms. Schroder's analytic skills fail her when she needs them most. As a result, parts of The Snowball read like hagiography.

    Buffett was curiously detatched from everything but money. He seems emotionally frozen, possibly as a result of the upbringing by his stern and frigid mother. His children hardly knew the man who holed himself up in his office to read his Moody's Manual after dinner. Everything was left to his wife, and the strain ultimately drove her away. Yet, Buffett slavishly came running when Kay Graham called.

    Does Buffett regret this? It's hard to tell from reading The Snowball which treats all his actions with equanimity. Schroeder grinds the reader down with too many details and insufficient analysis. Susie Buffett's singing career got too much attention for my liking. Do we really need to read her set lists? What possible value does that add? The more interesting subject of Buffett's painful relationships with his children fade into the background or are covered up with superficialities.

    There's much to be admired in Buffett -- when it comes to handling money. The great irony of Buffett's life, however, is one of the assets he most undervalued was his own family. The world's greatest investor is not the world's greatest family man. But those sorts of insights will have to wait for another book....more info
  • THE Book on Warren Buffet
    "The Snowball" a wonderful book that gives you insight into the life of the greatest investor of our time. On the one hand he is a humble, somewhat quirky individual with strong Mid-Western values, on the other he is prodigy with an incredible business mind. I previously read the other Buffet biography, "Making of an American Capitalist," which was also very good, but this book gives you a very detailed picture of Warren Buffet, the human being, who is shaped by his family and his experiences. ...more info
  • traskstman
    This is an excellent book, so far very interesting the first 250 pages. Warren is a remarkable man. The author di a wonderful job....more info
  • The Snowball
    Very interesting, informative and amazing to hear about this one-of-kind
    man of our times....more info
  • Good but way too long
    The book definitely satisfies my desire to know Warren Buffett the person, the business man, the philanthropist. It has ample detail which is well put together on all the subjects.

    Yet, I feel the book could be cut in half. For one, I didn't care that much about reading 20 odd pages on every single character that had a role to play in or around Buffett's life. That's where I had to lose one star.

    Otherwise this is a great book....more info
  • Great Book
    Let's be clear on what this book is NOT about: it is NOT about giving you a quick and dirty tipsheet to make money off stocks.

    This book is about Warren Buffet's life. The very length of the book will have you seeping into Warren's life since he was a toddler, all the way up to the present. You'll learn about how investing for him began with collecting coins, selling newspapers and franchising pin-ball machines. And since Warren has been involved with American finance closely, you'll also get an inside look at some of the most important financial events of our time in the past century.

    For example, the seeds of the current financial crisis were sown to a large extent in 1996 when Greenspan did not let Long-term Capital Management go bankrupt in fear of the "systemic risk" argument. That allowed other large i-banks to believe that they would be similarly saved if things went sour and they took crazy, speculative risks. Very few people know that and understand how the current credit crisis was directly a result of poor decisions by the Fed that started many, many years ago. This book will walk you through all this since Warren was involved with most of the important financial events in our time.

    You will learn that it takes emotional intelligence, hard work and discipline to be a good investor as much as IQ. ...more info
  • An exellent read.
    Very well written. A superb view of a financial guru. The history timeline and humor were a plus....more info
  • The Greatest Investor
    Warren Buffett authorized Alice Schroeder, a former insurance analyst with Paine Webber, to pen his biography. He told her if there are 2 versions of a story, use the "less flattering version". This tidbit demonstrates how humble the greatest investor in history is. This book is 838 pages excluding notes. I read this book carefully and I will be reading it again. I admire Buffett. I bought my first BRK share in 1997 and its share price dropped 40% recently and fell below liquidation value. I bought a few more. BRK is my single largest holding, accounting for a third of my portfolio. If the price drops more, I will buy more.

    The title Snowball refers to the power of compounding (snowflakes become snowballs). Buffett compounded businesses. He began to sell products (chewing gum) at age 6 years. He always had a fascination with numbers and money. He was a precocious child, very intelligent, good in math. By age 10 he visited Wall Street and developed an interest in stocks. Bought stocks shortly afterwards. By the time he was 16, he was worth $5000 (in today's dollars that would amount to $53,000).

    He was born to intelligent parents who afforded him a good education. He states he won the "ovarian lottery". Had he been born in Bangladesh, for example, to a poor family, his skills in capital allocation would have been useless. As such, he states he was very lucky to be born in the USA. His father was a libertarian Republican congressman whom Buffett admired greatly and mourned his death. He was not close to his verbally abusive mother. Buffett himself is a well known liberal democrat and talks about the need for higher income and capital gains taxes. He says he is a democrat because of the party's stance on civil and reproductive rights. Buffett is an atheist. He has contributed to the democratic party, family planning and "nuke free" organizations.

    Interestingly, Buffett wanted to attend Harvard but was rejected. He was accepted into Columbia where he fell under the sway of Graham and Dodd. He recommends Grahams' book Intelligent Investor. (He recently gave an interview asking investors to pay particular attention to chapters 8 and 20). He married Susan Thompson, the daughter of a prominent local physician. Susie bore him 3 children. Buffett was distant to his kids, he was busy and focused in his work of compounding money. He adored his wife but she became burned out caring for Buffett that later in life she moved to San Francisco and set up a waitress named Astrid Menks to care for Buffett. After Susie died a few years ago, Buffett married Astrid. Susie, with Warren's blessing, was a social activist. She was very engaged in the civil and gay rights movements. After Susie died, he became very close to his kids.

    Buffett befriended Kay Graham, the owner of Washington Post Co. Kay was famous for her Washington DC parties. Buffett the country bumpkin from Nebraska, met many famous people at these parties which he called elephant bumping. After initial reticence, he found that he enjoyed elephant bumping very much.

    Berkshire Hathaway was a textile mill that Buffett bought. It did not make any money, it was a losing business. Buffett sold it many years later but kept the name. He partnered with Charlie Munger and began to acquire more businesses. Their business dealings became so complex that they were investigated by the SEC in 1975. This caused Buffett a lot of lost sleep and anxious moments. The SEC commissioner, Stan Sporkin concluded that Buffett and Munger mistepped, but were not crooks. They got a gentle tap on the wrist. The incident caused Buffett and Munger to simplify their partnership.

    Another anxious moment for Buffett and Munger was acquiring a stake in Salomon Brothers which became involved in a scandal in buying Treasury bonds. One rogue trader caused so much trouble. Buffett took over as chairman and worked with the federal regulators and paid a massive fine and returned Salomon to health and sold it off. One of the players in this incident was John Merriweather, who later left and founded Long Term Capital Management. In 1999, LTCM nearly imploded and risked causing a global financial meltdown. Buffett offered to buy LTCM only if Merriweather left. Buffett guarded his reputation zealously and Merriweather was considered tainted. The feds, led by Alan Greenspan, saved LTCM, creating a moral hazard. We are still paying the price today because the feds are intervening everywhere these days. Had Buffett taken over LTCM, there would have been no moral hazard.

    Buffett said he made a mistake in investing in US Air. But he bought Net Jets and liked it so much even though it is not making much money. His purchase of General Re took years to pay off. He warned about derivatives long before they became toxic. He cleaned out bad management at Gen Re. His purchase of a utility company caused consternation at the time but with the recent alternative energy boom, his purchase now appears to be a stroke of genius.

    He has now created a wonderful collection of businesses that will long outlast him at least by a generation. Like JP Morgan, John Rockefeller, and Sam Walton, Buffett's BRK will live on long after his death. Buffett is giving away his billions to the Gates Foundation. He is giving his children enough money but not too much. As Buffett says, his death with be a "buying opportunity".

    ...more info
  • Value Investing-the skinny and long version of it
    The book has surprising insights into Warren Buffett's life. I learned a lot about cigar butts, the bathtub memory, and value investing. However, as it is a biography there is a lot of info that is just about the life of the Oracle of Omaha. I wish there was more info on how he does his analysis of companies. I, therefore, have bought another two books including "security analysis"by his mentor Ben Graham. An aperitif, but you will leave the book-nearly 1000 pages later-still hungry. A bit sketchy and superficial-you can tell that Warren went through it with a heavy handed editing brush, but a good insight into his life....more info
  • Kindle version lacks graphs
    The book is fine, but none of the charts referenced in the text are in the kindle version, leaving it incomplete....more info
  • A great book, especially in today's economic crisis
    I purchased this book for my husband and gave it to him for Christmas. Since then, he has been devouring it. The book is quite large and my husband describes it as "heavy reading" because there is a great deal of detail about Warren Buffet's life and the people in it, both from a personal perspective and also from a business perspective. My husband reads passages of the book to me because he is so enthusiastic about it, and I have to admit that the content does indeed sound very interesting. It appears that the content of Warren's book and especially Warren's financial philosophies are very relevant to the current economic crisis in which America finds itself right now.

    From the amount of enjoyment my husband is getting in reading this book, I would have to recommend it highly....more info
  • Should have been more selective
    I don't like the book. It's too long, full of superficial insides. You will not learn nothing for your business or your investments....more info
  • Interesting Subject, Some Stiff Writing
    I'm fascinated by this folksy Richest Man in The World, and so I can't put the book down. Lots of background information and description of his life and business. After reading more about him as a person, I'm coming away less in awe of the man than I was.

    However, I don't think the writing is all that great. At times it reads like a bland listing of life events and investments made. The author rarely offers much commentary on what she is describing. Seems like she is trying so hard to describe every day of his life that she didn't have time to make any insightful comparisions or comments.

    Still, I'm fascinated by the guy and am enjoying learning more about him....more info
  • Joaquin de la Guardia, Panama
    Monumental ! Thorough and honest.

    Buffett is without peer for his generosity, integrity and investment talent. Picking one winner after another through out his long career. Always adding new streams of "cash flow" to his "cash machine". Businesses as diverse as prison guard uniforms, candies, energy, apparel, insurance, finance, consumer staples, etc., "the learning machine" was able to study them and handicap them perfectly. Always sharing his wisdom and treating his shareholders with the outmost respect and consideration.

    His observations on corporate America were prophetic.

    Personal problems didn't dim his enthusiasm and joy of life.

    Astonished the world with his accumulation of wealth, and then out did himself as a philanthropist. The famous "tightwad" gave away the totality of his net worth without "putting his name on a single building".

    "Choose your heroes carefully", Buffett fits the bill.
    ...more info
  • Review from a simpleton
    For those of you who have ever wondered about the man himself, or for those who simply would like some insight into what makes one of the greated financial minds work, this book is an invaluable review of his life and the significant historical companies he has been involved in. It also does a fair amount of explaining what goes on behind the scenes at the executive level and board level of America's greatest companies....more info
  • The Snowball that continues to GROW:
    Amazing how the author has taken a very complex subject (the life of Warren Buffett) and made it understandable and fascinating for all of us. His principals are so simple and straightforward. Thank you Warren Buffett for sharing your life story with us at a time when many of us have little trust in wall street....more info
  • Exhaustive and definitive
    Clearly the definitive Buffett bio, the insight into the personal life vs business life is the most fascinating piece of this work. Everything is here and well-written.
    My only criticism is that this book needs some editing. There are pages of deep, detailed minutia that could have been struck from the book. At times the writing about the business dealings becomes very academic and I don't think people are reading this bio for lessons in stock ownership.
    Overall, a great work of research and structure by the author about a fascinating figure....more info
  • Very unhappy
    I bought this book as a Christmas present for my Son. I ordered it on 28th November but did not receive it until after Christmas so am very very very unhappy....more info
  • Very Good Book
    This book was amazing. even though it was a little on the long side for my taste, it was absolutely beautifully written and tells the story of one of the smartest business men in history....more info
  • Snow ball
    I believe that the authors of this book needed to do alot of research with the parties involved and the technical nature of the businesses, which shows a good deal of credibility for such a book. Most books are written with alot less research and actual fact. This is the type of book I will buy again and again. ...more info
  • Wired differently? Yes, indeed. But terrific parents?
    The growth of the famous multi-billion dollar fortune is traced step by step in great detail and Warren Buffett's personality is laid out. His unrelenting focus on doing what he loves, making money, is fascinating and instructive (most of us don't have the necessary wiring and should stick to low-cost index funds). All the 830 pages are not, however, narrowly focused on Mr. Buffett. Many mini-biographies of relatives, friends, partners and associates who influenced Warren Buffet are included and richly expand the scope of this book. In interviews on television Warren Buffett routinely states that he is wired differently. There is proof for that statement in almost every chapter. But usually he also says that he had terrific parents. This is a misleading but a kind thing to say, because various chapters document the fact that one parent, his mother, subjected Warren Buffet, as a child, to terrible verbal abuse (could that have affected the wiring? the author is not psychiatrist and does not speculate). But she was his mother not an investment, icy cold judgment and honesty would make no sense, kindness does. But obviously "terrific parents" are not a requirement for becoming a billionaire. The "wiring" seems to be the key.

    ...more info
  • The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
    I have always been interested in people like Warren Buffett and how they got started in life and what has led them to be successful. Especially Mr Buffett since he is such a down to earth type person, not your typical Billionaire. So, since I'm retired now, I decided to expand my reading horizons and launch into a 900 page book. I am enjoying reading it a little at a time and would recommend this for anyone that likes biographies. My husband asked me if I wanted him to bury me with this book since it will probably take me a life time to read it. Ha! Thanks....more info