The snowball : Warren Buffett and the business of life

by Alice Schroeder

Paper Book, 2008




New York : Bantam Books, 2008.


Portrays the life and career of investment guru Warren Buffett and sheds new light on the man, as well as on the work, ideas, business principles, strategies, and no-nonsense insights that have guided his business endeavors.

User reviews

LibraryThing member sundaraz
Anyone who follows Buffett would surely treasure this book. It starts out interestingly, kind of stretches in the middle, and gets interesting again towards the end. I'm not sure about the judgments that the author makes about some people and their behavior. For example, about Kay Graham's insecurity, whether it was Buffett's opinion or an acknowledged fact or author's own judgments. This book is more about looking at Buffett's life, the principles and environment that guided his motives rather than understanding his investment success. Really interesting read but I'm kind of left with a feeling of being a little lengthy than needed. I'm sure Buffett's adorers wouldn't have complaints about that though.… (more)
LibraryThing member ALincolnNut
Warren Buffett, after a career spanning more than 50 years, has justly earned his nickname "the Oracle of Omaha." His ultrasuccessful career as an investor, coupled with his famous inexpensive tastes, have added layers of myth to his legend. Alice Schroeder, a former analyst at Morgan Stanley, offers an extensive look at Buffett and his life, with his significant assistance, in "The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life."

Although not an autobiography, there are extensive passages throughout the book (printed in italics) of Buffett's firsthand reminiscences, evidently taken from personal interviews with Schroeder. This gives parts of the book the feel of an intimate memoir, replicating Buffett's distinctive speaking style and offering insight into both his self-image and his particular way of analyzing situations. It also shows the depth of cooperation that Schroeder received in researching and writing this biography.

Despite the book's length, those hoping to figure out the unique source of Buffett's success will likely be disappointed. In some extent, Buffett rises to become the world's richest man because of his narrowly focused desire to accumulate wealth, which Schroeder hypothesizes is the main scorecard that motivates Buffett. Neither this trait, nor Buffett's unique "bathtub brain," can adequately explain his success beyond so many others.

If Buffett's business attributes -- singular focus, dedication to long hours of hard work and research, skill in valuating companies -- seem to be shared by many others who have been successful in business over the years, his moral compass is completely unique. Schroeder is much more successful detailing Buffett's peculiar habits in developing relationships with family and a few close friends over the years. Indeed, Buffett's behavior is often bizarre by any standard, combining his professional acumen with emotional avoidance, obliviousness to social propriety (including his famous refusal to eat anything he does not want to), his generosity of spirit with his occasional miserly approach to family finances. In these recurring details, Schroeder's book finds emotional root and depth and offers a glimpse into how Buffett's finely honed moral compass has evolved, and perhaps softened, throughout his lifetime.

If anything, though, Buffett's consistency -- in business, in his approach to family, in his personality, in his ethics, in his routine -- is more impressive than his personal growth. Part of the reason that he still lives in the same house in Omaha is that although his lifestyle has changed (he can fly anywhere he wishes on a private jet, he counts the rich and powerful as his friends), his conception of life has not. While his financial resources are larger, his approach to investing and business is the same.

In the end, the book's strengths outweigh its weaknesses, particularly the involvement of Buffett himself in the process. Schroeder has a good ear for writing and a knack for retelling anecdotes and stories in an engaging manner. She also handles the specific business concepts and issues with aplomb.
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
Anyone with even a tepid interest in business will some fascinating insights buried in Schroeder's biography of one of the world's richest men. It's the story of a fragile, needy boy who seemed to lack confidence in virtually every facet of life except finances. The author recounts an intriguing tale of a kid whose entrepreneurial pursuits and obsession with setting goals shaped the rest of his life.

Some delightful anecdotes help readers to get to know the Oracle of Omaha. For example, his noted penny-pinching even manifested itself during family outings to the local movie theater when he would have to think twice about buying popcorn for the kids. But the author also focuses on Buffett's altruistic side as well as his effort to maintain a solid business reputation. The message is clear: withdrawing capital from one's "bank of reputation" can take a permanent toll.

The book does tend to drag in some spots. Even inveterate business buffs may find Schroeder's lengthy review of Buffett's involvement with Solomon Brothers to be overkill. Still, "Snowball" is both enjoyable and educational. As an employee working at a newspaper owned by Buffett (The Buffalo News), the book gave me an enlightening glimpse of a man whose reputation looms larger than life.
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LibraryThing member smcbeth
This is by far my favorite book of the year. What an interesting, brilliant man. What an amazing life. Every detail interesting and I laughed all through the book at his quips and ecentricities. I was so sorry it was ending after some 900 pages.
LibraryThing member joecflee
Tough to separate the man from the book. Warren Buffet's life is fascinating, and I commend the author for extracting as much as she did from Mr. Buffet. It is truly an amazing tale of a man who started as a collector and watched it snowball into billions.

Some parts are a bit preachy, but then, we learn that Buffet loves to preach and teach. This is as close to an autobiography as Warren Buffet will allow.

It is surpising to learn that a man of his stature could be so fragile emotionally, though. Those were some of the best parts of the book. I had a difficult time reconciling the two. Perhaps there is a final chapter that still needs to be written.
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LibraryThing member TigerLMS
This is an early review, as I'm still reading the book. After all, this title has almost as many pages as Buffett has dollars. So far, this is one of the more engaging business memoirs I've read in quite some time. Schroder effectively weaves Buffett's childhood narrative to show how some of his core principles evolved, then mixes in more current scenes to keep the story moving. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to make-- and keep-- money, although plan on investing some quality time to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Dangraham
One of my favorite books. A great story of one of the world's richest men and how life fell into place around him.
LibraryThing member adribabe
Boy was this book long and dragged at times. All in all i enjoyed reading about the quirkiness of Warren Buffet and understanding how genuinely fascinated he has always been with business. It cut a very painful reality of how unaware and unsophisticated the general public is about business and Wall Street. Amazing how much greed gets the better part of Wall Street on a daily basis and clouds the judgment of those who could make or break our country economically. The carelessness with which some deal with money. It also touched upon Buffet's social perspective that we all owe something to society and even the wealthiest of people should give back. Very interesting how he also views trust funds as a private welfare system which decreases productivity while consuming resources. If you are interested in learning about the entire man (business decisions & personal life), this is the book for you.… (more)
LibraryThing member normaleistiko
What a writer! The best biography I have EVER read!
LibraryThing member Figgles
Really interesting read, can't pretend to understand the minutae of the financial transactions but the story of the man who became wealthy by obsessing on the process, taking his time and sticking to a high set of principles is engrossing.
LibraryThing member fxm65
This book was great which he is simple person who doesn't go along to get along. He also showed how wall street they love spending and don't appericaite small business. Yes, I love the example he gave of the cigaret bud which when he was a kid, he would collect them. he would take the last puff, it was good. Yes, it's like buying something used, but it's still good it's only been used for a while.... Great idea, why buy the new thing if you can get a used one.... I also related with the loss of his wife which my mother passed and I know what he went through... Great book....… (more)
LibraryThing member leeanne.pedersen
I had no idea Warren Buffett is such a fascinating person. I am amazed by how much detail is encapsulated in this book. It was a long haul to get through 30 CDs but the audio presentation was well done.
LibraryThing member carterchristian1
Useful, well written biography
LibraryThing member MartinBodek
I can't believe I read the whole thing! It was the longest non-fiction book I've ever read. So long, in fact, that to feel like I read something about him in full, I read a few shorter books on him during the duration. My full five stars is completely skewed by two facts: 1) I'm completely fascinated by the man and his mind, so even sloppily put-together garbage would have made me very happy. 2) This is her first book! Now that's really something. I enjoyed every minute I read this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member N7DR
I struggled through the first 100+ pages before giving up. I could not persuade myself that it was reading any further about a small-time juvenile delinquent who was (or at least represented as being) so shallow that his sole goal in life was to make money. Edifying this book was not (at least the part that I managed to read).… (more)
LibraryThing member kaulsu
I listened to the audible, unabridged, version of this book.
I found the book --extremely long at 800+ pages or 37 hours hours listening time-- absolutely engrossing. Buffett's life is like no one's that I know. He wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but earned every penny of it.

I find him fascinating, and will pay more attention to what he is up to. Most people, I think, with the single-minded focus of a Buffett, would not make it in life. But he did. He not only had one wife that allowed him his idiosyncrasies, but he later had a second that took over from the first. His children were not tabloid fodder. He wasn't a pushover for a hardluck story, yet he believed in supporting others. His immense wealth will be disbursed through his own charitable foundations, those of his children's, and the Bill & Melinda Gate's foundation.

The book spans his lifetime up to the age of 79. Trust me, he didn't spend those years twiddling his thumbs. But you are in for an interesting read.

The book is long: you don't need to read a long review!

But ps: Potter did an excellent job of narration.
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LibraryThing member bogopea
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.… (more)


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