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  1. Alice Schroeder does a good job

    Posted by Janene Murdoch on 16th Jun 2009

    “The snowball just happens if you're in the right kind of snow, and that's what happened with me. I don't just mean compounding money either. It's in terms of understanding the world and what kind of friends you accumulate. You get to select over time, and you've got to be the kind of person that the snow wants to attach itself to. You've got to be your own wet snow, in effect. You'd better be picking up snow as you go along, because you're not going to be getting back up to the top of the hill again. That's the way life works."
    Warren Buffett
    The Snowball is the first biography of the world's richest man, Warren Buffett, written with his full cooperation and collaboration. When Alice Schroeder met Buffett she was an insurance industry analyst and a gifted writer known for her keen perception and business insight. Schroeder tried to convince Buffett to write an autobiography, he ended up convincing her to write this book. “You’ll do a better job than I would, Alice”
    Warren Buffett
    Warren Buffett started on the road to wealth at the tender age of 6, selling chewing gum. He then moved on to stamp collecting and declared at age 11 that he would be a millionaire by the age of 35. He achieved that goal by 30. Buffett in his teen years, less than excelled at school and was drawn to petty crime. Buffett’s father a highly principled Congressman obviously influenced Buffett and turned his life back on the right track, to become the man that he is today. Through his life Buffett has campaigned for the rights of Jews and African Americans and most recently committed his wealth to charity, mostly to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated to curing problems like malaria & Aids in poorer parts of the world.
    The book gives an account of Buffett’s adulation for his father and his strained relationship with his mother Leila, who showed little love or warmth to her son. This may be the underlying reason for Buffett’s desire for kindness from women, who often slotted into a motherly role. The frankness in Schroeder’s description of some of these encounters demonstrates the level of access that Buffett allowed her.
    Much of the fascination is in the ordinariness of such a supposedly extraordinary man. He allows Schroeder unprecedented access to his thoughts and neuroses, as well as people and events within his personal life. His love of burgers, fries and cherry coke are only some of the elements of his life that fans of Buffett find so endearing.
    An excerpt within the book discusses one instance where he took his children on a flight to Sun Valley on his private jet. He drove himself to the airport and carried his own bags on board and would have thought very little of doing so. Yet new staff members who witness this were amazed.
    Of specific interest to many readers is the openness of which the levels of his financial successes are discussed. For students of business and investment, the book details clearly the growth of his business knowledge early on and the success of his many investment partnerships. However it does not shy away from describing the problems he experienced in owning Berkshire Hathaway and other businesses that later rolled in to create the present Berkshire. The book acknowledges the important collaborative role Buffett had with other investment managers, as well as the earlier flaws in judgement.
    In 1994 Buffett was thought of as a technophobe, however he was already in the process of pushing internet related changes within Berkshire’s auto-insurance subsidiary GEICO, stating:
    “He, who wins the internet, wins the war.”
    On reflection of her notes in 2003, Schroeder recalls a warning given to her by Buffett of the “major bank failures” that would be to come. Put simply, “the good banks will get pulled down by the bad banks.” Given that the book continues up to the collapse of Bearn Sterns in March 2008, this shows remarkable insight, and offers Buffett’s thoughts on the current credit crisis.

    The Snowball provides a comprehensive, richly detailed insight into one of the world's most extraordinary and much loved public figures. It leaves you with the sense and motivation that anything is possible.

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