June 7, 2009

"The Snowball" rolls into Warren Buffett

How much do you know about Warren Buffett's life? My family knew primarily of his staggering wealth. We knew little about his older business partner, Charlie Munger, or Astrid, the companion his wife Susie found for him.

In The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Alice Schroeder paints a captivating, detailed portrait of the man and key people in his life. The audiobook read by Kirsten Potter runs 37 hours and took three months to finish. This extended listening enhanced the experience and made Warren feel like a part of our lives.

Biographies provide valuable insights into interesting lives. Warren authorized this one and participated. Does that mean the whole story is rosy? No. If there were two conflicting views of a happening, he asked that the less flattering version be used. Alice reveals many blemishes in her quest to help us understand him.

Much of Warren's appeal comes from his wealth. As a person, he's unusual. He brought Moody's manuals on his honeymoon. He doesn't eat a balanced diet and doesn't like to try new food. He neglected his family. He doesn't live a lavish life.

He made investment mistakes over the years. For example, he bought shares in waning textile company Berkshire Hathaway and had an agreement to sell them for $11.50. When the deal got changed to $11.375, he bought the company in retaliation and to his detriment.

Born At An Early Age
Warren focused on making money during childhood. At age 6, he started selling chewing gum. He got inspired by a book called A Thousand Ways To Make $1,000. That's $1,000,000. While in high school, he earned more than his teachers by delivering newspapers. He understood that a dollar today multiplies over the years through the magic of compound interest. This made him reluctant to spend. This made him reluctant to donate until his death, since he wanted to leave a larger sum.

Warren recognized the role luck played. He knew his life would have been very different if he were born at another time or in another country. He wanted to help others who were not as lucky at the Ovarian Lottery. He preferred giving advice over money.

Warren improved over the years. He made the world better for small investors. He supported Main St over Wall St. His actions encouraged better corporate governance. He stuck to his principles for decades.

Warren helped make the world better. What more can you ask? He's changed the world of philanthropy. He doesn't want his name on buildings or scholarships the way many others do. He's happy to donate to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the stipulation that his annual contributions be spent that year.

The Snowball won't make you a billionaire but you will be richer. Highly recommended (especially the unabridged audiobook).

Podcast (13:04)
Bonus: includes interviews with Jeevan and Sharmila, who also listened to the full 37 hour audiobook.

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