BOOKCASE: The Snowball: Warren Buffet And The Business of Life

• Alice Schroeder
• Bloomsbury
• RRP: $59.95 hardback

Uniquely crafted snowflake by snowflake, Warren Buffet has spent all but the first six of his 79 years rolling up personal fortune, one of the largest in the world.  And now, the idiosyncratic competencies of this compulsive collector and fortune-builder are revealed. It is long, 900-page story but undoubtedly worth the commitment.
Buffet’s life story is meticulously told, layer by personal and professional layer, by trusted and award-winning former insurance analyst, Alice Schroeder. She first met Buffet in 1998 and, with his growing respect for her integrity and research skills came an invitation to write the Oracle of Omaha’s biography because, he said, she “would do it so much better” than he.
Schroeder’s five years of interviews with Buffet, his family, friends and acquaintances are woven into an intriguing and compellingly scripted chronology of personal and financial ambition, dedication, tribulation, resolution, failure and ultimate success in accomplishing the man’s all-consuming dream to make as much money as possible.
Snowball does not enlighten the reader who wants to know how to get rich.  It is, instead, the story of how Warren Buffet got rich, and that is not “get rich quick” story.  And for managers it offers few, if any, insights into running business – though ultimately it is based on Buffet’s understanding of just which businesses offer most to wise investor. 
It is the story of an obsessive information-gathering, number-crunching, return-compounding investor who made it his life’s mission, sometimes at the expense of dearly held personal relationships, to gather money just as snowball gathers mass and momentum on downhill journey.
The book also illustrates Buffet’s prophetic wisdom.  His insights are  based on experience and dedication to measuring the financial realities of the world in which fortunes are quickly made and lost. Buffet is more interested in enduring fortunes and so gave the ’90s technology boom miss because, it defied his rules. He did not understand how loss-making business, no matter how esoteric the product, could deliver sustainable returns. And they didn’t.
From home-town chewing gum seller and newspaper delivery boy to the chairman’s office of the world’s most successful investment company is quite journey. And the individual episodes along the way make absorbing reading, the more so because the central character is man of surprising contrast. Though he loved his wife dearly until she died, for much of their long married life he lived with another woman. He denied his children money throughout their youth only to eventually bestow $1-million birthday gifts.
And now, having acquired riches beyond the dreams of all but handful, he is giving it all away. This lengthy but intriguing read provides convincing understanding of what motivates Warren Buffet and how he sees the world. And how he sees the world may surprise you.
An intelligently researched, cleverly crafted and exquisitely edited book which, on the downside, is short on critical judgement of its subject. It still rates nine out of 10 as great read.

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