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I recently re-read Roger Lowenstein's biography, Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist (first published in 1995 and now re-issued with a new Afterword), and then read this more recent one by Alice Schroeder. Both are first-rate. Which to select if reading only one? That depends on how much you wish to know about Buffett's personal life, including his relations with various family members, and how curious you are about his personal hang-ups, peculiarities, eccentricities, fetishes, etc. If you can do without any of that, Roger Lowenstein's biography is the one to read. I also highly recommend the recently published Second Edition of The Essays of Warren Buffet: Lessons for Corporate America, with content selected, arranged, and introduced by Lawrence Cunningham.

The heft of Schroeder's biography may discourage some people from obtaining a copy. To them I presume to suggest that they not be deterred by that factor. Schroeder has a lively, often entertaining writing style that drives the narrative through just about every period and (yes) interlude of Warren Buffett's life and career thus far. There is much more information provided than most readers either need or desire. However, she had unprecedented access not only to Buffett but to just about everyone else with whom he is (or once was) associated as well as to previously inaccessible research resources. It is possible but highly unlikely that anyone else will write a more comprehensive biography than Schroeder has, at least for the next several years, if not decades. Also, her opinion of Buffett seems to me to be balanced and circumspect. No doubt he wishes that certain details about his life and career were not included. However, there has been no indication from him or those authorized to represent him that any of the material in this biography (however unflattering) is either inaccurate or unfair. Both halos and warts are included.

Others have shared their reasons for holding this book in high regard. Here are two of mine. First, although I had already read various Buffett's chairman's letters that first appeared in a series of Berkshire Hathaway's annual reports, I did not understand (nor could I have understood) the context for observations he shared, especially his comments about especially important 12-month periods throughout BRK's history. Schroeder provides the context or frame-of-reference I needed but previously lacked. For example, whereas in previous letters, Buffett merely offered brief updates on how each BRK company was doing, in 1978 he began to share his thoughts about major business topics such as performance measurement for management and why short-term earnings were a poor criterion for investment decisions. With the help of Carol Loomis, especially since 1977, his chairman's letters "had grown more personal and entertaining by the year; they amounted to crash courses in business, written in clear language that ranged from biblical quotations to references to Alice in Wonderland, and princesses kissing toads." As Schroeder explains, these gradual but significant changes of subject and tone reflect changes in Buffett's personal life as he became more reflective about business principles and more appreciative of personal relationships. His children were growing up and departing the "nest" in Omaha. His wife Susie decided to relocate to San Francisco. Meanwhile, his personal net worth continued to increase substantially. His national and then international recognition also increased. The "Oracle of Omaha" had finally become sufficiently confident of himself to reveal to others "a sense of him as a man."

I also appreciate how carefully Schroeder develops several separate but related themes that help her reader to manage the wealth of information she provides. The biography's title suggests one of these themes: the "snowball" effect that compounded interest can have. From childhood when he began to sell packs of gum (but not single sticks) and bottles of soda, and a money changer was his favorite toy, Buffett was fascinated by the way that numbers "exploded as they grew at a constant rate over time was how a small sum could be turned into a fortune. He could picture the numbers compounding as vividly as the way a snowball grew when he rolled it across the lawn. Warren began to think about it a different way. Compounding married the present to the future. If a dollar today was going to be worth ten some years from now, then in his mind the two were the same." Early in life, Buffett avoided making any purchases unless they were almost certain to generate compound interest. This theme is central to understanding Buffett's investment principles and to his own leadership of BRK. It also helps to explain why he could become physically ill when an investment cost others the funds they had entrusted to his care. Other themes include his determination to simplify his life to the extent he could (e.g. eating hamburgers and wearing threadbare sweaters, minimizing participation in family activities) so that he could concentrate almost entirely on business matters; his dependence on a series of women, beginning with his mother and two sisters (especially Doris) that continued with his first wife Susie (and their daughter "Susie Jr.") and then companion Astrid Menks whom he married in 2006; and his passion for helping others to understand the business principles to which he has been committed since childhood.

There is one other theme of special interest and importance to me: over the years, how Buffett has interacted with various associates, notably with Jerome Newman and Benjamin Graham, Sandy Gottesman, Charlie Munger, Bill Ruane, Katherine Graham, and Bill Gates. By all accounts, Buffett is a superb business associate once he agrees to become involved. He cares deeply about each relationship, does whatever may be necessary to protect and defend the best interests of his associates, and is extraordinarily generous with material rewards as well as recognition. Here is an especially revealing excerpt from Cunningham's Introduction to The Essays of Warren Buffett: "The CEOs at Berkshire's operating companies enjoy a unique position in corporate America. They are given a simple set of commands: to run the business as if (1) they are its sole owner, (2) it is the only asset they hold, and (3) they can never sell or merge it for one hundred years." These three "commands" are wholly consistent with what Lawrence explains earlier in the same Introduction: "The central theme uniting Buffett's lucid essays is that the principles of fundamental business analysis, first formulated by his teachers Ben Graham and David Dodd, should guide investment practice. Linked to that theme are management principles that define the proper role of corporate managers as the stewards of investment capital and the proper role of shareholders as the suppliers and owners of capital. Radiating from these main themes are practical and sensible lessons on the entire range of important business issues, from accounting to mergers to valuation." Those who shared Buffett's same core values of honesty and integrity, and who are also committed to the same basic principles, cherish their relationship with him.

To me, Alice Schroeder's rigorous and eloquent analysis of this theme of mutually productive and beneficial collaboration is her single greatest achievement among many in this definitive biography of one of the most important and yet least understood business leaders in recent years. Bravo!
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on January 29, 2015
If you want some technical tips on how to be the next Warren Buffet, go grab a copy of Ben Graham's Security Analysis from 1934. But if you want a look at the man Warren Buffett, you have come to the right place. Want to know what kind of family man Buffet is? Want to know how a billionaire treats his children? Or how a young millionaire budgets money to his homemaker wife? Fascinating stuff.

You can also learn about his early career and how he got started, as well as his father the politician and the impact that had.

To many of us Warren Buffet is a billionaire investor who knows the ins and outs of Wall Street way better than most of us. Being a financial celebrity, you would expect to find his whole life online. That though isn’t the case with Warren. Little was known about his personal life until Alice Schroeder wrote this book- The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life. Reading through the book you will realize that you don’t have to be successful after everyone else has failed. Warren, commonly known as the “Oracle of Omaha” is a financial investor who also doubles up as a mentor. For only $13.84, you will get to meet Warren in this 832 pages book. He will endow you with timeless financial wisdom and proper business ethics that aren’t taught in school.

His practical approach to life will motivate you to kick start your own. The pity party story that one may tend to propagate as reason as to why they aren’t succeeding will diffuse after reading this book. Warren worked to be where he is currently and was never born with a silver spoon. He is a practical inspiration. As you read along, you will learn that no man is an island and that having a strong support system will go a long way in ensuring you succeed. For example, his associate Charles Munger has been his associate since 1959. It doesn’t have to be the perfect system but rather a unit you can count on.

The book is full of insights and it is by reading it that one will be able to grasp and even apply some of the insights in his/her life. Unlike some autobiographies that are boring to tears, this one is different. There are hilarious snippets after every other chapter and with no time you will complete reading the autobiography and even probably re-read it. It will feel just like the first time you opened the book to read. Alice has also included notes to help you understand the book better.

The title of the book is a metaphor that depicts the ever growing wealth of Warren. The book is lengthy and has a lot of details some of which one may not find necessary but the conversational writing that Alice has employed in penning this book will keep you glued to the book. This is a must read book that walks you through the life of a legend.
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HALL OF FAMEon September 29, 2008
The title of this book refers to Buffett's likening life to a snowball - "the important thing is to find wet snow and a really long hill." Buffett certainly has had that effect with money.

"The Snowball" begins with a Buffett presentation to an elite 1999 group at Sun Valley, suggesting in a humorous manner that the ".com" frenzy was no more than a bubble. Then, its on to learning why his associate Charles Munger (an inseparable partner since 1959) is both the opposite and highly similar to Buffett.

Warren Buffett, we learn comes from a heritage of very thrifty small business owners. His parents initially struggled through the Great Depression, carried initially by grandfather's letting the food bill run at his grocery store, then by the success of his newly opened stock brokerage that focused on conservative investments. Unfortunately, his mother was somewhat unbalanced, directing frequent tirades at Warren and his sister, creating a lifelong need for the approval of women. Calculating the comparative life spans of religious song writers while in church led Warren towards religious skepticism at an early age.

Armed with his father's nostrums and examples, his early business experiences (selling gum, pop, magazines, refurbished golf balls, delivering papers) and stock investment (sold too early, losing most of his potential profit), learning that he didn't like physical work (helping his father and grandfather), an early meeting with the head of Goldman Sachs (Buffett just pumped $5 billion into the firm), and knowledge from Benjamin Graham at Columbia Business School (Harvard turned him down), he went on to become the richest man in the world (had $5,000 by the time he finished high school - equivalent to $53,000 today) in a series of interesting stories within "The Snowball."

Buffett learned a number of important lessons en route to becoming the richest man in the world. 1)Commitments are so sacred that they should be rare; allies are important; grandstanding rarely gets anything done. 2)Customer loyalty is valuable (bought a gas station across from one with established clientele - never did well). 3)GEICO had a sustainable competitive model - lowest costs, protected by limiting clientele to government workers (more likely to be responsible), ability to invest funds prior to use. 4)Looking at management, ability to maintain sales growth (Charlie Munger) are important in addition to financial data emphasis (Benjamin Graham). (This was an important change because the number of statistical bargains had shrunk to virtually nil and tended to be small companies which did not work when large sums of money were involved.) 5)Public often overreacted - eg. American Express hit by Kennedy Assassination + DeAngelis soybean scandal at same time = good opportunity. 6)Diversification was not a good thing, as long as investment analysis had a high probability of correctness and low probability of drastic change. 7)Corollary of #6 was ruling out investing in complex technology or human problems (eg. strike, layoffs, plant closings).
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on October 24, 2008
This review is to balance off the many positive reviews in Amazon:
(and to apply an expression from Berkshire Hathaway's brilliant Vice Chairman, Charlie Munger:
"Invert, always invert".)

~
point #1 on Alice Schroeder's Buffett biography:
When someone asked "what factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they`d gotten in life" (sic), both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates answered: "focus" (p. 623)

Unfortunately, focus is missing in Schroeder's wordy, rambling 960 page biography. A quarter to a third of the content could have been pruned. This book could have used a few more months of rewriting, with more disciplined editing. Schroeder's book was at least five years in the making, yet With the world financial maelstrom upon us now, one wonders its September 2008 release is merely opportunistic publishing.

point #2: To use a Buffett expression: Schroeder is beyond her "circle of competence" . Schroeder has a finance background. When reading this book, We see can tell she does not have any past experience on writing an extensive in-depth personal biography.

~
In contrast, I would recommend you also read the Buffett biography written by Roger Lowenstein. Although published in 1995, it has a professional writer`s mark of clarity. Regrettably, Buffett gave Lowenstein a chilly reception after its publication. Lowenstein may have unfortunately become shut out from accessing Buffett for a subsequent revision.

In summary, Schroeder`s biography is worth reading, but you should expect to exert much patience and persistence when plowing through it. You will find nuggets in there, if you mentally block out certain sections and read between the lines.
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on April 20, 2010
I loved this audio book. The story of Warren Buffett is of course very interesting. However, they hired a professional narrator instead of the author to deliver the story. This made the story riveting. The author provided in-depth background into Warren's childhood and personal life through his entire career that gives you a deep insight into Buffett as a person. I found it fascinating that one of the richest men in the world has just as many if not more hang-ups as me. You also get a good sense of how his childhood shaped him into the successful investor he became. From a small boy he was fascinated with earning money. It takes your breath a way to watch the evolution of Warren Buffett as a result of focused concentration on his craft for over 50 years.

David
[...]
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on December 13, 2014
A detailed review of every aspect of Warren Buffett's life and professional development starting in early childhood. A look behind the scenes of several of his most noteworthy and complex business involvements, family situations and personal strengths or shortcomings. Interesting, revealing and worthwhile.
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on July 14, 2014
I AM A HUGE FAN OF WARREN BUFFETT AND THIS IS JUST ABOUT ONE OF THE MOST ENTERTAINING BOOKS EVER PUBLISHED. I LAUGHED ALL THROUGOUT THE BOOK AT HIS ANTICS. THE MATERIAL IS PURE FUN AND PRESENTS A SIDE OF HIM THAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW IS THERE. BUT THIS IS TRUE OF MOST PERSONALITIES WHOSE HUMOR IS INFECTIOUS AND SUPRISING. WELL WORTH THE READ!
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on March 20, 2015
Face it. Youll never be Warren Buffett and neither will I because he reads all the stuff that comes in the mail. I'm a modest investor. I have ideas and hunches but I don't take any risks my financial adviser doesn't approve of. Buffett is a great man. He's smart, reasonable, ethical even socially conscious. I enjoyed reading about his life, even about his unorthodox relationship with his wife. But this book won't help you get rich. There's just one rule: Do your homework. And for some of us the homework is too hard.
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on December 2, 2013
Warren Buffett is fascinating! The book is well written and gives you some insight into the complex man with simple straight forward motivations. His early life explains a lot about his adult life. He believes in fairness but is not a soft touch.. Giving billions of dollars to the Gates Foundation made sense to him. Anything he does is with the idea that it should be the most ideal solution to a given problem

He seems to have two passions MAKING MONEY and playing bridge. His taste are simple but he loves his jets! .

He is not a people person but he has relationships that have stood the test of time. He makes relationships work out in interesting ways...perhaps that is because he is unaware of most of the small things the average person pays attention to..

From the book you get the impression he has lots of things in common with other nerds...perhaps a remarkable touch of Asperger's! If this is the case the world could use a little more Aspergers.
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on December 22, 2015
Although i did not understand the business deals and the financial ideas like a business pro would. but this book kept me turning pages because how it is written, personal matters of warren intertwined with business let you go inside the head of a giant man and learn something about success.
I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for inspiration.
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