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The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder

The SnowballThe Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

By Alice Schroeder
Bantam, 2008

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4 stars: Thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating materialI confess to having read The Snowball twice since its release in September 2008, prior to offering to review the book for GBR. This 836-page biography traces the life and career of arguably the most interesting businessman since the captains of industry during the Gilded Age. The author, who was an insurance analyst for Morgan Stanley, became Buffett’s biographer upon his invitation. Buffett provided her an extraordinary level of access to his archives, as well as over 2,000 hours of interviews with him and numerous friends, relatives, and associates. The result is a fascinatingly comprehensive story of how a stockbroker and subsequent U.S. senator’s son reached the pinnacle of accomplishment in the financial and business leadership spheres. The irony of this man is the simple, informal nature that underlies all he is and does. The book aptly illustrates that Buffett as a child displayed three prodigious traits that foretold his potential. Young Buffett loved to collect things, he loved to tally and keep an accounting of these things, and he had a towering capacity for learning and retaining knowledge. The biography follows a loose chronology weaving together the subject’s well documented business deals and associations, personal friendships, and family life. Typically an investment banking analyst with a background as a CPA and project manager at FASB might not be expected to craft a rich, complexly layered, and free-flowing work; but that is exactly what Schroeder does. She allows the reader to freely observe, without being noticed, an anthology of prominent people and business events. Far from being a heavily structured timeline, The Snowball reads like a series of interrelated anecdotes.

It is a very highly decorated book. It debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times and Publishers Weekly lists of nonfiction best-sellers. Time Magazine named The Snowball one of the 10 best books of the year. Other best-of-the-year lists on which The Snowball appeared were Publishers Weekly, The Financial Times, Business Week, USA Today, and The Washington Post. The book was selected a Top 100 Editor’s Pick and one of the five best biographies of the year by editors.

While many books about Buffett have simply focused on him as a businessman or investor, Schroeder has created a comprehensive narrative of this extraordinary life.  Therefore, those who seek a management guide or investing manual are surely to be perplexed by the numerous personal insights. However for the reader who enjoys biographies, history, and business, this panoramic view of an iconic life could not be more entertaining.

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